B2B marketers often ask how to create successful advocacy and influencer programs. Advocacy programs are known to benefit companies in many ways, including humanizing their brand, fostering open dialogue with their users who critique the companies products, positively and negatively, when warranted and recognizing enthusiastic customers and partners in a way that inspires others.

Mark Finnern
Mark Finnern (right) leads the SAP Mentors by embodying values that the group lives by.

Two weeks at SAP Tech Ed, our annual technical conference, has compelled me to share a key ingredient in the success of SAP’s much-admired online community the SAP Mentor initiative.

SAP Mentors are the top community influencers in SAP’s ecosystem. Most of the 130 or so mentors work for SAP’s customers and partners. All of them are hands-on experts of an SAP product or service, as well as excellent champions of community-driven projects.

Here’s what I’ve learned from SAP’s Mentor program: 

Have an inspirational leader.

The SAP Mentor Initiative is led by Mark Finnern, (pictured) along-time SAP employee who exudes passion, competence and leadership. The members rally around Mark’s brand of leadership and the culture of the group, making membership something that many community participants aspire to. He articulates the program’s benefits well and sets the bar high for adding new members (which happens twice a year). Mark’s persona is synonymous with the group – he embodies the values the group seeks to operate by.

Ensure the group’s ability to influence your company’s direction on strategy and products. The SAP Mentors are highly regarded by SAP’s leadership team. Co-founder Hasso Plattner, co-CEO Bill McDermott, CTO Vishal Sikkha and CMO Jonathan Becher always have appointments with Mentors at SAP’s SAPPHIRENOW and SAP TechEd. These are lively, challenging sessions where execs know they can get honest, unfiltered feedback that represents the views of SAP customers and partners.

Offer a substantive agenda that keeps advocates informed about company products and strategies. The SAP Mentors keep a rigid, no-nonsense schedule, with calls at least once a week (Mentor Mondays) where they are briefed by SAP and each other on the latest technology offerings. Marketing hype is not allowed. These conversations are by practitioners, for practitioners – with straight talk about evaluating, implementing and upgrading our software and services.

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SAP Mentors strive to both work hard and have fun. (http://flickr.com/photos/koehntopp)

Cultivate a “work hard-have fun” culture.

The Mentors are hard-working community members. They rank at the top of the contributors’ list with the greatest number of community points, badges and followers. They author the most highly-rated content (i.e., blog and discussion posts) and are generally regarded as thought leaders for their product of interest. No posers in this group. This merry “wolf pack,” as they call themselves, have a grand time at SAP’s major events connecting socially. Lots of pictures capture the fun, which continues on Twitter every day. The group has its own @sapmentor Twitter handle that is one of SAP’s most active accounts.

Listening and observing is the best form of market research, so follow @sapmentors on Twitter or visit their homepage on the SAP Community Network. Then, launch your own program.

If done well, it broadcasts positives vibes throughout your company’s ecosystem about your transparency, progressiveness and inclination towards open innovation.

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