Congratulations! If you’ve come this far, you’ve identified the benefits of a Champions Program and laid the foundation for a great Champions Program by planning it out in detail while building excitement and alignment among key stakeholders. What’s next? Here’s a step-by-step guide to launching your Champions Program.
This is a three-part series
To launch, most programs need an application or nomination form to identify potential champions. This form collects relevant information such as name, contact details, experience with your product or service, reasons for wanting to join the program, and upfront self-sorting data points that can help you filter the type of contributions they’re willing to bring to the table.
Take a look at some existing program examples:
Algolia's Advocate Program Form
Patreon’s Creator Hub Form
JFrog’s Nomination Form
Be sure to include open-ended questions that allow applicants to express their enthusiasm for your brand and program, as well as share evidence of why they think they would make a great champion for your product or service.
Putting together an evaluation process can seem like a daunting task at first.
For early-stage companies with a small user base, an application process may not seem necessary since you likely already know all your users personally. However, even a lightweight application form can provide structure and legitimacy to the process while also allowing you to learn more about your applicants to assess their motivation to become active participants in the program. Moreover, setting up an application process early on can future-proof for scalability and succession planning.
Ultimately, an application process keeps things tidy, uncovers a more comprehensive understanding of your candidates’ profiles, and introduces an air of authority and exclusivity.
Now that you have a growing list of potential champions, it’s time to review applications or nominations to select candidates that best align with your Ideal Member Profile.
In general, look for individuals who have a strong affinity for your brand, are passionate, knowledgeable, and show an intrinsic motivation to be a part of your program.
Then, look for proof that these particular champions will help you achieve the goals you defined during the planning stage. If you are looking for content creators, you’ll want to assess the quality of their sample articles or videos. If you’re looking for volunteers to host local meetups, you can pay extra attention to their history of organizing successful events.
Some programs even conduct interviews to better understand the candidate's motivations and capabilities.
Orbit can help you manage the pipeline of champion candidates using our Champions Program module. You can import applications via CSV or by pointing your form directly at Orbit, where you’ll see all applicant info in a single view. Check out orbit.love/champions to give it a try.
Once you've accepted your champions, it’s time to provide them with a delightful and comprehensive onboarding process.
The onboarding process should include an introduction to the program's goals, expectations, and any support, tools, and resources available to members. This often includes specific tasks that members need to complete, like joining a forum and saying hello, sharing their t-shirt size, and sometimes administrative formalities like signing contracts (like NDAs). Onboarding can also include organizing a kickoff meeting to get the partnership started and to go over mutual commitments.
Onboarding new members is a great opportunity to foster a sense of community by introducing new members to existing champions and encouraging them to engage with each other. If you have an existing forum or chat platform in place, consider creating a private section for your program members to connect and converse.
Orbit's Champions Program manager helps you automate new member onboarding with custom checklists. With Orbit, you can configure an onboarding checklist and track progress as new members tick items off the list. No more chasing people down to check in on status. Check it out at orbit.love/champions.
It is important that you set clear expectations for your champions and communicate them in no uncertain terms during onboarding.
Outline rules, communicate what happens if something goes wrong or if someone doesn’t contribute as much as they committed to, and make clear what mechanisms exist for conflict resolution. Setting boundaries and enforcing rules as a community leader is a part of building trust and ensuring your program members feel safe. You can read more about the importance of setting community rules here.
Once you’ve recruited your first program members, it’s time to nurture those relationships and support your champions to achieve their goals.
Every community builder has their secret sauce to running a Champions Program. In many ways, growth will depend on incentives, the business cycle, and the specific brand or organization. That said, here are four areas that can have a positive impact on growing any Champions Program.
Programs thrive on quality contributions from members, those tangible assets that educate, inspire, connect, and generally create great vibes for your brand.
Content creation is a common type of contribution, and creating relevant and engaging content is essential to building and sustaining a strong online community around a brand. But a contribution can be any meaningful artifact or interaction done by a program member, including participating in forum discussions, hosting webinars, writing blog posts, recording videos, participating in case studies or providing quotes, or giving product feedback.
Here’s how the Adobe Express Community discusses contribution from their members:
“Ambassadors spend 2-3 hours a month sharing and teaching Adobe Express with their community: they organize workshops, create and share templates, host meet-ups or events, or produce a tutorial or YouTube video. They’re also an active part of our Ambassador community, where they provide feedback in the forum, share experiences, and insights, and help each other learn and grow (See more details here).”
In this example, you can see how contribution for Adobe means teaching and creating, as well as actively participating with other members of the Ambassador community.
Overall, you should encourage active participation from your champions by providing them with opportunities to contribute in ways that are relevant both to your program goals and to the skills and affinities of program members.
Your program members are among your most important customers and community members, but sometimes their presence will wane. Life gets busy, things come up — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't work to reboot the relationship with them when things slow down.
Here are a couple of tactics you can try:
Send a personal email checking in, and ideally share some interesting or useful information as well. For example,
“Hey Robin, I noticed we haven’t seen you at the last few champions meetup sessions, so I thought I’d check in and let you know I’m thinking about you. By the way, we’re doing a beta feedback session on our new AI feature next week and, based on our previous chats, I think you’d be interested and your feedback would be valuable. Hope to see you there!”
Share a specific ask or need you or the program has, such as:
“Hi Morgan, we’re onboarding a new cohort of members next month and I was curious if you could drop by for 15 minutes and share your experience as a PM at Acme? I think the new folks would learn a lot!”
Don’t forget to regularly evaluate your program's offerings to ensure it remains relevant and valuable to your champions. If you’re seeing inactive members consistently, it might be time to re-evaluate your goals and your value proposition.
How do you know if your program is working?
Largely, it depends on the goals you set during your planning process. You can track the impact of your Champions Program by measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer retention, referrals, product feedback, map to your goal OKRs from your planning process, and check in with members by asking them how things are going directly.
Use these insights to make informed decisions and improve your program over time, and don't forget to share the program's successes and the value it brings to your company with key stakeholders to maintain their support.
When it comes to stakeholder management, consider blending quantitative with qualitative information to bring a potent mixture of data and story to your key stakeholders. For example, “Not only did Champions Program members write 9 blog posts that contributed 15% of our overall blog traffic in Q1, here are some quotes from program members about the impact we’re having.”
Saying “Thank you” can go a long way. But meaningful gratitude goes beyond transactional interactions, and certainly doesn’t stop with swag. Reciprocity is at the cornerstone of great Champions Programs. Being intentional about how you incentivise and reward your champions will create a flywheel effect and can help significantly grow your program.
You can recognize and reward program member efforts through recognition programs, exclusive perks, early access to new features, or invitations to special events. Ideally, you should match your perks (and yes, sometimes swag) to their Orbit Level and the kind of contribution they make, maintaining consistent levels of correspondence between effort and reward.
Orbit can help you keep track of your members’ activities and contributions, letting you quickly reach out to check in, say thanks, or see where they are in their journey.
If you want to learn more about using Orbit to build and scale your program, sign up at orbit.love/champions, and if you want to talk with others building similar programs, join us at discord.orbit.love.
Growing a Champions Program requires continuous effort and strategic nurturing of relationships with program members, but brings with it ample rewards, like amplifying your brand to a wider audience, building trust by providing authentic testimonials, helping users learn how to use your product, and generating valuable feedback by cultivating a community.
By focusing on encouraging contribution, re-engaging inactive members, measuring impact, and expressing gratitude you can cultivate and grow a thriving Champions Program.