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Evangelism -- How the Role Can Benefit Your Business
My 3rd Social 101 session from Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (#WPC13) (www.digitalwpc.com) in Houston, TX. This session focused on the role of the technology evangelist, and how organizations can benefit from adopting the role.
Evangelism -- How the Role Can Benefit Your Business
How the Role Can
Benefit Your Business
Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference
July 2013 – Houston, Texas
Social 101 Sessions
Director, Product Evangelism
Evangelism is an increasingly common role within the Information Technology sector
as companies look for creative ways to build out customer and partner advocacy, and
to quickly respond to customer feedback and industry changes.
Depending on the company, or on the capability of the individual, the role of
Evangelist may take many different forms. Within Microsoft, evangelism is managed
largely within engineering, with most evangelists coming from a deep technical
background, often with consulting, support, or sales engineering experience.
Evangelism is an interdisciplinary function, often tasked with “filling the gaps” of
other, more traditional business administration, marketing, and engineering teams.
Organizations looking to leverage this function should be clear on what they want to
achieve with the role: hiring a deeply technical evangelist may not be a fit for a
company looking for help in building out their partner channel, for example. Even if
you plan to have your evangelist wear several different hats, its best to begin with
roles and ownership clearly defined so that your Evangelist can add the most value to
the other teams.
Where to Focus
Many evangelists have focused roles where they own product or service advocacy for
a specific product category and/or a defined market segment (for example, all CRM
products for the small-to-medium business segment). Occasionally, however, you run
into evangelists with much broader responsibilities, with opportunistic commitments.
That is to say, they have general commitments, but may focus intently on different
business problems as they arise, shifting focus as the business grows.
That’s a great definition of my current experience with Axceler (www.axceler.com),
a SharePoint ISV and Microsoft Gold partner. While I have very detailed
commitments, my priorities may shift from partner activities to customer
enablement based on what the business needs. One month I am defining a process
or creating mock-ups for a customer solution, and the next I am focused more on
content and product messaging.
At a high-level, my own role is almost evenly divided between community, product,
and partner activities. At a more granular level, however, the activities of most
evangelists can be broken down into five main categories:
1. Community Development
The most obvious aspect of the evangelism role is involvement with your
industry, helping raise your company’s visibility by helping build and support the
community. This involves both online and offline activity, answering questions,
providing feedback, and developing good will. Successful evangelists are not
product “pitchmen,” but instead act in the best interests of the community, and
thereby become trusted experts. As visibility and trust grows for your evangelist,
your company will find more and more opportunities to talk to prospective
customers and partners.
This category overlaps the others, but is important to
call out as a separate activity within the evangelism
role. For most evangelists, thought-leadership is
demonstrated through content creation, and may be
tied closely to your overall content marketing strategy.
But similar to community involvement, the goal is not
to be self-serving, but to demonstrate leadership and
answer real-world customer questions and provide
ideas and commentary around industry issues. If done
correctly, the focus of your evangelist’s content will
naturally lead customer toward your company’s
products and services. For example, as a SharePoint
ISV, I will often write content on a broad range of social
collaboration topics, and identify gaps in out-of-the-
box solutions – which is a natural segue into
discussions around how my company can solve these
gaps. Because your content is focused on the broader
industry problems, you will once again develop good
will and trust with prospective customers and partners,
opening the doors to future opportunities.
3. Product Management
In many organizations, the evangelist is
often on the road, attending industry events
and user groups, talking to customers,
partners, and Microsoft to learn about the
changing trends, and to talk about what is
working and what is not within your
products and services. These interactions
can provide an excellent perspective on
where those products and services should
go. Many evangelists prepare mock-ups
(wireframes), products requirement
documents (PRDs), or even write some basic
code to flesh out ideas and help your
product and engineering teams to more fully
envision where the company should go
based on the information they receive from
the field. The evangelist spends much of her
time trying to understand the competitive
landscape, so these product and service
inputs can be invaluable.
4. Partner Development
Another important role of the evangelist is deciphering what other players within
the industry do, and figuring out how, together, both companies might reach
their individual goals more quickly. At most conferences, I always make time to
walk the exhibit halls and talk to every vendor to determine whether there are
any new partnership opportunities. When I come across a new product or service
vendor that I believe may provide a unique value proposition, I then make
introductions to either my partner team or
product team, as appropriate, outlining how
I think the two companies should work
together, and then monitor the relationship
over time to see how I might help
the relationship to be successful.
Often, this involves the creation of
joint marketing activities for lead-
generation, providing thought-
leadership for both companies.
5. Customer Enablement
Finally, a critical part of the evangelism role is ensuring that customers who have
paid for your products or services have the educational, tools, and resources
necessary to be successful. You may have formal training, support, or consulting
services who own these activities, but your evangelist may become involved if the
customer relationship requires additional good will and support. Your evangelist
is your “resident expert” and can leverage that community good will and
thought-leadership to help your customers answer any questions they might have
about industry “norms” and best practices.
Where to Begin
Truth be told, there are people within your organization who provide some level of
evangelism each day – and it may not make sense for you to hire (or promote)
someone into a dedicated role. But many organizations (including Microsoft) have
realized huge benefits from having dedicated evangelism roles.
As you begin to outline your evangelist role, be clear on what you hope to achieve.
My opinion is that the most successful evangelists have a great degree of autonomy
within the organization, which allows them to evolve and change with the needs of
the business, and work across many organizations, as needed.
My advice is to begin the process by talking to several evangelists. Identify partners
who may have people within the role, and take some time to learn about their roles,
and ask for copies of their job descriptions or commitments. Take the time to fine
tune the role to fit your own cultural nuances , and you’ll find that the role will very
quickly begin to deliver benefits to many areas of your business.