Evangelism is about Building Advocacy
Back in 2002 — having just launched this blog on the TypePad platform — I helped create a 501c3 non-profit (eBIG) and took on the role of “evangelist” as we sought to promote and grow our community-focused special interest groups (SIGs) around the San Francisco East Bay. At the time, use of the term “technology evangelist” was sparse, and typically associated with many of the dot com era brands. During that time, I read just about everything i could get my hands on related to “guerilla marketing” and through my memberships in eBig and SDForum, was able to learn first-hand from some of the biggest names in tech through user groups and local community events.
After leaving Microsoft in 2009 and going to work for a small, Seattle-based SharePoint migration company (echoTechnology), I found myself once again in an evangelism role. While I was hired as a product manager to help create products, there was a need for community involvement and both customer and partner advocacy, and so my role was expanded and I once again wore the evangelism hat.
As most of you know, after echoTechnology was acquired, I wore the tech evangelist hat for most of the past decade. When I joined AvePoint last December, evangelism was also part of the job description, and I am excited about some of our roadmap for FY22. More on that over the next couple months…
What does a Technology Evangelist do?
Many evangelists have a focused role where they own product or services advocacy for a specific category and/or defined market segment. For example, many of the Senior Product Marketing Managers at Microsoft act as evangelists for the products and features that they support (for example, Mark Kashman is the face for Microsoft Lists). At a high-level, the role is usually evenly divided between community, product, and partner activities.
In my experience, the activities of most tech evangelists fall into five categories:
1. Community Development
The most obvious aspect of the tech 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 goodwill. Successful evangelists are not product “pitchmen,” but instead act in the best interest of the community (they are often viewed as neutral voices) and thereby become trusted experts. As visibility and trust grows for your evangelism, your company will find more and more opportunities to talk to prospective customers and partners.
2. Thought Leadership
This category overlaps the others, but it is important to call out as a separate activity within the evangelism role. For most tech evangelists, thought leadership is demonstrated through content creation and may be tied closely to 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 in commentary around industry issues. If done correctly, the focus of your content will naturally lead customers towards your company’s products and services. For example, working for a Microsoft 365 ISV, I will often write content on a broad range of governance and 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 the content you generate is focused on broader industry problems, you have an opportunity to develop goodwill and trust with prospective customers and partners, opening the door to future opportunities.
3. Product management
In many organizations, the tech evangelist is often on the road attending industry events, user groups, customers, and partners to learn about the changing trends and to talk about what is working and what is not working within your own products and services. These interactions can provide an excellent perspective on where those products and services should go. Many evangelists prepare mockups (or wireframes), products, requirements, documents (PRDs), or even right 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 received from the field, the evangelist spends much of her or his time trying to understand the competitive landscape, making these product and services inputs invaluable.
4. Partner development
Another important role of the tech 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 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 aspect of the evangelism role is to ensure that customers who have paid for your products or services have the educational tools and resources necessary to be successful. You may have teams who own the training, support or consulting provided to customers, but your evangelists may become involved when you need additional goodwill and support. Your evangelist is your resident expert and can leverage the community goodwill 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. 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, allowing them to evolve and change as the needs of the business change, working across many organizations, as needed.
My advice is to begin the process by talking to several tech evangelists within the community. Take some time to learn about their roles and ask for copies of their job descriptions or commitments. From there you can fine tune the role to fit your own organizational needs.