On an exploration of what makes advocate communities tick, we recently hosted an AMA (ask me anything) session with Mark Organ, CEO and founder of Influitive, a leading, B2B marketing software that allows companies to mobilize their customers into brand advocates.
Influitive is a company that we know well. We’re not just investors, we’re also paying customers. OurCrowd has been using Influitive internally for the past few months to power employee advocacy and our investor community, Catalyst.
OurCrowd’s investors and employees had the chance to ask Mark questions about his revolutionary advocate marketing platform, and the nascent advocate marketing industry in general.
Advocacy Marketing Q&A with Mark Organ
Zack: Where did the idea for Influitive come from?
Mark: The idea for Influitive resulted from my experiences running Eloqua. We learned that advocacy was key to an efficient buying process and that referrals were 10xmore valuable than ordinary leads.
But our initiatives to increase advocacy were not effective in generating a step increase in referrals, references and customer stories. Until one day when we created an awards ceremony and then we got a ton of advocacy without even asking for it. That is when the lightbulb went off – give customers the experience they are seeking as advocates and you will get a lot more advocacy!
Since then the need as exponentially increased because of the prevalence of the social web which is now the dominant force in how we make purchases, requiring more advocates.
Dani: Can you discuss your product road map and where you’re headed with advocacy marketing?
Mark: Sure. In the near term the major items are introducing a couple of lightweight products – one for making it easier and more rewarding for employee advocates (and others) to share content on their mobile devices; and other a referral tool to make it easier to get in the door with companies large and small. On the horizon we are looking at helping sales reps leverage advocates more effectively to close deals faster, a process we call “Surround Selling”. We are always improving out API and ability to interoperate with other B2B marketing apps and social networks.
Additionally we have a Skunkworks team that is innovating in the advocate experience, borrowing concepts from mobile gaming and dating apps to create a revolutionary experience.
Scott: How is influitvie working to building out it’s certification program for community managers? what tools are coming down soon to support these professionals (as they are the ones who will drive retention)?
Mark: We have a very active certification program running today – with one full time employee in education and we will be adding another. You can learn more at http://advocatemarketing.com.
Etan: I’m curious to know how you see online reviews playing into influitive’s strategy. Are reviews are incentivized don’t they then become biased? Is advocate marketing competing with online reviews, or working in coordination with?
Mark: Online reviews are a major accelerant of our business right now. The use of reviews is exploding in the software segment where we focus. We work hand in hand with several review sites and partner closely with G2Crowd.com, GetApp.com and AppExchange with an integrated solution.
Firstly, our customers don’t incent a positive review – they incent the writing of any review regardless of sentiment. Second, the points awarded are for the reviewer’s time, not for their opinion. Just a token of appreciation. Our communities generally have high quality participants who would not prostitute themselves for enough points to buy them half of a baseball cap.
Alan: This is a cool idea, but one thing that comes to mind: aside from LinkedIn, FaceBook, Silo, ReplyAll and many others, how does one avoid getting overloaded on platforms like these? There’s only so many places I can be at once to listen and engage….
Mark: Thanks Alan. Overloading is an issue and will only get worse in the future as there are so many competing platforms for our increasingly scarce attention.
Our focus is on providing a great experience for the advocate that is efficient and rewarding. We are introducing an influence score in the months ahead so that advocates who are effective are rewarded and can use their influence to be recognized as valuable over and above their financial contributions to companies.
Peter: Who are your competitors and if ‘none’ why do you think no one else is interested in this space?
Mark: We do have several competitors but none are a “direct hit”, at least not yet.
We compete with community platforms like Lithium and Get Satisfaction. Unlike them we feature a more engaging experience infused with advocacy and good game mechanics. We tie in both external communities like LinkedIn and Quora with the internal experience which reflects the way advocates like to work. And they are focused on the support use case primarily while we are focused on marketing use cases.
We compete with pure plays in employee advocacy (Social Chorus, Dynamic Signal), referral (Extole, Amplifinity) and reference (Boulder Logic, RO Innovation). We compete here by having an advocate-centered and broadly complete solution for all the different activated that advocates do.
In the future we expect a lot more competition and we are ready for them. We believe that our focus on advocate experience and driving measurable value for companies will prove decisive.
Asher: Since rewards are such an important part of the platform, is there a plan to leverage the buying power of influitive customers to “bulk buy” rewards from major brands – itunes gift cards just as an example?
Mark: Hi Asher. Indeed we are studying this idea. We call it a rewards concierge business. One of my friends, Razor Suleman from Achievers built a terrific business on reward wholesaling and retailing. I think we could do likewise. We will likely be starting a pilot in the fall.
Brian: Are there any customers of Influitive that are open (to the public) so we may be able to see this in action first hand?
Mark: Well, you are experiencing it first hand here. The vast majority of our customers have closed communities but we hope this will change with the release of our Public Communities product last week. Mulesoft has their program open to the public, just go to mulesoft.influitive.com to check it out.
Prescott: When I explain Influitive to people, it’s hard for them to understand why advocates do what they do. Beyond money, they don’t understand the various incentives that businesses put out to encourage their community to act. Can you give us a few examples of some creative ways that businesses have managed to leverage their advocate base? How can businesses get into the mind of their best customers?
Mark: It’s a great question – how do advocates think? What motivates them?
The first thing you may want to do is think about the products and companies that you advocate for today. Why do you do it? What would it take for you to do a lot more advocacy for these products and companies?
I think you would notice that you don’t donit for incentives. You likely do it because you want to see those companies succeed in the marketplace. You believe in them. If you got some recognition, feedback, and connections you would do more of this activity.
This is precisely the research we did on advocacy that informs our product insights. It’s not about incentives. Incentives are recognition, tokens of appreciation.
For real advocates, the best reward is membership itself. They want to feel like a valued member of the community, which I believe we provide for them. In return they advocate 5x or more than they do at their baseline level.
David: Hi, what have you found to be the best kind of rewards to offer for participation?
Mark: The best rewards are things that money cannot buy.
Such as exclusive networking opportunities, front of the audience seating at events, company swag that is exclusive to advocates, secret videos from the CEO or head of product only available to advocates. Not only are these very effective, they cost nothing or nearly nothing. But this requires creativity from our customers that is not always available.
Paul: Have you been doing this long enough to determine how long advocates are likely to remain involved on the platform? Is there a point where the initial excitment wears off and the number of advocates following a particular company starts to drop off?
Mark: Yes, there is a predictable funnel or drop-off curve. Today we retain around 56% of engaged advocates after 1 year, with a characteristic logarithmic curve (fast drop off initially tapering to 50-60%). This metric continues to improve for us as we learn more. For our advocate experience squad, advocate retention is their primary metric they are working to improve.