The Power of Advocate Marketing – Q&A with Influitive CEO and Founder, Mark Organ
Still trying to figure out your Advocate Marketing strategy? You should dive in. This category is on fire and only going to get bigger. Read what Mark Organ, CEO and Founder of Influitive has to say about the advocate role in marketing, on being a “serial entrepreneur,” and why up and coming marketers need to, “skate to where the puck is going.”
Q: Your Dreamforce session was entitled, “Secrets from a serial entrepreneur.” I love that. How did you get your start?
A: We have to go a long way back to talk about my start in entrepreneurship. My parents were both entrepreneurs, and apparently I’ve been selling things since I was barely out of diapers … pills from the medicine cabinet and video cassettes of questionable taste in grade school, custom software sold door-to-door in high school, custom murals in university. I’ve had some “real jobs” in between entrepreneurial stints but for the most part starting and running companies is the only thing I’m qualified to do. There is a big difference between running a business and “doing a startup” – a startup is designed for scale, to grow massively, it’s not just about providing supply to those that demand it, and that is what I am focused on now with Influitive and my previous startup, Eloqua.
Q: As CEO of Influitive –where does culture fit into the organization you are building?
A: Culture is extremely important. We actively manage and measure it here. I’m lucky to have worked at Bain & Company just prior to founding Eloqua, which taught me the importance of a strong culture – clarity and deliberation about the way that things are done in the company, about what is truly important. At both Eloqua and Influitive, first the Values, and then the Vision and Mission were written down with the co-founders before writing a single line of code or making a single prospecting call. Helmuth von Moltke, the great Prussian strategist famously said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” – I would extend this idea to say that “no business plan survives contact with the market”. But the Values, Vision and Mission should remain intact, and at Eloqua this was undoubtedly true, and I believe that it will remain true at Influitive as well. Having a strong culture attracts the right sort of people – the missionaries – to the company, and keeps the wrong sort of people – the mercenaries – out. This is true not just of employees, but investors, customers and partners as well.
Q: When did you first realize the power of advocates in sales/marketing?
A: I first realized it back as a teenager trying to build companies, and prospective customers would ask me who else could vouch for the quality of my work. But it was not until my experience at Eloqua when I realized how crucial advocate activity was behind the scenes to make nearly every sale happen. A VC suggested that I dig deep to understand what influenced my customers to buy and the mechanics of their purchase process, and I was floored by the insight. That was in the pre-social network era in 2005. Now, what was once a very important function – enlisting advocates to help with the customer acquisition effort – has now become mission critical for many of our customers. Buyers are tuning out marketing materials and sales pitches, they demand to hear from their peers, and they can connect to them easily. It is up to the modern marketer to surround the buyer with social proof to hasten and improve the experience of the buying process.
Q: Where does advocate marketing fit into Strategic Demand Generation?
A: Advocate marketing fits in several different ways. For one thing, advocates directly generate the best quality demand, from referrals. Most companies that we and ANNUITAS work with generate a small fraction of their full potential of referral leads. This is a shame, because referral leads can be worth more than 10x more than a garden-variety inbound web lead due to higher conversion and order size, and lower cost to serve, not to mention higher likelihood to advocate themselves. But that’s not all. Advocates also shorten the buying process on leads generated through other means and nurtured through systematic email processes. For example, a number of our customers have moved the reference process earlier, to connect prospects with advocates in a nurturing email – that significantly increases close rates and accelerates purchase. Online reviews on sites like AppExchange, iTunes, G2Crowd, ITCentral Station and Quora have also become important components of the buying decision, and our customers are in some cases increasing the number of 5-star reviews by 5x in just a few months. Case studies and testimonial videos have their effect. Social media participation can generate leads directly and also contribute to the social proof surround effect that allows prospects to buy with confidence.
Q: How did you design the product to solve the advocate challenge? How many customers are using Influitive today?
A: Our analysis of the challenge was simple – if the advocate has a great experience, they will increase their activity. The experience that a customer wants with the product they have purchased is not the same as the experience they want lending their time and reputation as an advocate. So we have focused on providing a first class experience for the advocate. We make it more efficient, fun and rewarding to do a lot more of what comes naturally for the advocate, which is to advocate. Our product management, customer and user experience work focuses predominantly on the advocate, to understand them better than anyone else and it is bearing fruit. The average advocate has increased their activity around five times more than their baseline, and many of the top advocates a lot more than that.
We have 64 customers using Influitive at last count, but this is increasing rapidly. We will likely be over 100 in the next few weeks. Some of these companies include the leaders in SaaS and business services, including Eloqua/Oracle, DocuSign, Mindjet, Forrester Research, SMART Technologies and Adobe, and also some great innovators like Brainshark, Bomgar, DoubleDutch and ActOn.
Q: What’s the coolest function of Influitive?
A: My favourite function of Influitive’s AdvocateHub is the referral social network integration, where advocates can with one click select prospects that are a good fit for a referral based on our algorithms which serve up these ideas for them; then they have some pre-written content they can quickly customize and send. We have had advocates send a dozen referrals in just a few minutes using this approach, and they feel great about it. They have helped out a company they care about, they have some points which may be valuable at some point, and also receive feedback on how those referrals perform through our integration with salesforce. It’s a much better experience than the traditional referral process. We have innovated in other aspects of the advocate experience as well – in references, in generating success stories, and social media contributions. But referrals are my favourite because they are so valuable for companies.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge for marketers today?
A: I think that technological advances are happening so quickly that it is difficult to stay on top of it all. And it is crucial to stay on top of it because the next great undiscovered channel to reach potential customers might not be missed by the competition. The marketer who does not array his or her people, processes and technologies to maximum advantage is going to lose to the marketer who has that capability. I think that the marketers who win in this post-modern era – a bit of a play on words from Eloqua’s idea of the “modern marketer” – will be the ones who can best integrate inbound, outbound and advocate marketing to deliver real synergies. You need all three components, used in precise configurations, to win. To bring up von Moltke again, the marketer today has the same challenge as the field general from that era – it’s not just about using some new piece of technology, it’s about understanding its properties and using it synergistically with the other available assets to drive to victory.
Q: What advice do you have for up and coming marketers to make an impact in their organization?
A: My advice would mirror my great countryman Wayne Gretzky – skate to where the puck is going. In marketing, the puck is moving towards mechanized delivery of social proof, to advocate marketing. Disruptive technological trends around the pervasiveness of the social web and our collective inundation of email are guaranteeing the direction of that puck. The up-and-comers who learn how to harness the power of advocates and use it synergistically with content, event, search, email and web nurturing, teleprospecting, and other forms of marketing communication will be the CMOs of tomorrow, in my view. When I had co-founded Eloqua nearly 14 years ago, the demand generation function was not where the action was in the marketing department, but that has changed a lot where now I would estimate that at least half of the CMOs that I work with have a demand gen background now. So I believe it will be with advocate marketers today, they will be in demand for CMO openings in the years ahead as the craft of advocate marketing expands in prominence.