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How Act-On Used Brand Advocates to Generate Over 200 Referral Leads and $60,000 in Sales in Six Months

 

This article is the second in a two-part series on the benefits of brand advocates. The first, “Brand Advocates: The Greatest Resource You Never Knew You Had,” introduced the benefits of brand advocacy and revealed best practices for developing your own program. This article highlights specific tactics B2B marketers can put to use, based on the success of Act-On’s program.

Satisfied customers who sing your company’s praises to their peers are undoubtedly a valuable asset to your organization. But of all customers, perhaps the most valuable are brand advocates, or those who actively promote your company.

As visible, engaged users of your product or service, brand advocates can spread positive feedback about your business to their networks of relevant prospects. Savvy companies can take this a step further. Offering strategic incentives to brand advocates can encourage them to send you valuable leads that have a high chance of converting into sales.

Act-On, a provider of marketing automation software, has been fine-tuning its brand advocate efforts with a program called ALUV (Act-On Love). This concerted effort to turn customers into brand advocates has paid off in measurable ways.

In the six months since the program began, advocates have referred 209 opportunities and generated $175,000 in the sales pipeline, $60,000 of which has closed. Additionally, referral leads closed at a rate of five percent—approximately 245 percent higher than the average conversion rate for B2B referrals.

Here, we highlight how B2B companies looking to increase referral leads can learn from Act-On’s success to recruit, engage and motivate their own brand advocates.

Encourage All Customers to Become Advocates

According to Paige Musto, the company’s director of communications, all Act-On customers are invited to participate in ALUV. New customers automatically become part of Act-On’s 90-day program, which is designed to engage them in ALUV.

Once in the program, customers are contacted via email every thirty days for three months. The first email is an invitation to join ALUV. After that, gamification strategies are used to encourage the customer to become a more engaged advocate.

In the second email, for example, Act-On sends something to pique the customer’s interest, such as an article or blog post, along with a message explaining that if the customer comments on the article or blog, they will earn points. The points are redeemable for items such as a T-shirt, Act-On mug, Starbucks gift card or a white paper. This is a small, low-effort ask that helps get customers initially invested in the program.

To make sure they don’t miss an opportunity to find new advocates, the company also follows what customers say about Act-On and its products by monitoring social networking sites. It uses TweetDeck to monitor industry-specific keywords and conversations, such as #marketingautomation, #leadgen and #ActOnSW, as well as any mentions referencing @actonsoftware.

An Act-On customer sharing the company’s success stories on Twitter

“Our advocates live in so many places in online and offline communities,” Musto explains. “We’ve had new users share their Act-On campaign successes or appreciation for their customer success managers on Twitter. We’re then able to easily identify if they’re part of ALUV, and if not, we ask them to consider joining the advocacy program.”

Increase Offer Value to Deepen Engagement

Act-On’s next step in engaging advocates is to hold challenges with more significant prize giveaways. A recent challenge that asked customers to send Act-On referrals, for example, featured MacBook Air computers as the top prize. To alert ALUV members to the opportunity, Act-On sent advocates an email similar to the following:

Dear Mary,

Thanks for being such a terrific customer. We know you’re seeing great benefits from our services, and we were wondering if you think any of your peers would benefit from Act-On. Please accept this challenge: Provide us with a friend’s name, email, title and phone number, and you can become eligible for a variety of prizes.”

Sincerely,

Act-On

Below is a screenshot of how the challenge appeared to ALUV members in their advocate marketing platform, Influitive’s AdvocateHub.

Screenshot of how the challenge appeared to ALUV members

The challenge took place over the course of three months. Any ALUV member could participate and refer as many leads as they wanted to. Here’s how it worked:

  • An advocate would receive 100 points for referring a lead (the MacBook Air was 32,000 points).
  • Referral leads moved to sales were further qualified to evaluate how likely they were to buy. Leads that were strongly considering a purchase—but hadn’t yet become a closed deal—were called sales accepted leads (or SAL), and classified as “strong.”
  • If the lead became a closed deal, the ALUV member would earn 32,000 points.
  • The advocate could choose how to redeem their points, whether for a MacBook Air or another reward of their choosing.

In the end, three MacBook Airs and two iPads were given to advocates that referred the most leads. For a relatively small investment, Act-On received 209 referral leads and closed roughly $60,000 worth of deals. The challenge was so successful that the company plans to introduce a similar one in early 2014.

Act-On also encourages deeper engagement with offers that provide unique benefits. The company’s customers are marketers, which means some of their biggest priorities are finding ways to build brand authority and position themselves as thought leaders to gain customer trust.

Recognizing this, Act-On offers advocates opportunities such as writing a guest blog for their site, or participating in a media opportunity. This opportunity might give the customer a chance to speak about Act-On’s product or be referenced for their usage in a case study or press release.

The benefit here is twofold: the customer gets to position themselves as a domain expert, while Act-On receives valuable marketing content via customer testimonials, case studies and positive customer feedback.

Create Targeted Challenges and Keep Them Fresh

Another key element of Act-On’s brand advocacy success is targeting certain challenges to specific groups. For example, the company creates Twitter-specific challenges for advocates who are active Twitter users to share across their network. Here’s an example of one such Tweet request:

Please read today’s blog post and share your thoughts on the topic of customer marketing as it relates to the article. Leave your comment on the blog, and use the social share icon below the post to evangelize it across your Twitter network.

If the customer agrees, they become a member of Act-On’s “Twitter Army.” ALUV program participants earn points for signing up and participating in the Army. Musto and her team have created special challenges just for these users.

For example, potential software buyers will sometimes take to Twitter and ask for feedback on the best marketing automation platform and why. When Act-On picks up on conversations like these, the company will create exclusive challenges open to one to two advocates only, direct them to the conversation on Twitter, and ask that they chime in.

Keeping challenges fresh is also essential. Act-On has found that if challenges remain stagnant too long, users lose interest, so they keep challenges varied. One strategy the company uses is holding different challenges on different days of the week. These include the following:

  • Marketer Monday: Act-On shares an image on their social media sites that is embedded with a relevant marketing factoid, and asks advocates to like, share or reTweet it.
  • Word of the Day Wednesday: Act-On’s social media correspondent records a 30-second video that defines a hand-picked word of the day and uses it in a sentence. Advocates are asked to go to the company’s Google+ or Facebook page to comment on the post, and use the word in a sentence related to their line of work.
  • Fill in the Blank Friday: Act-On creates a meme graphic and writes a sentence with one word missing. Advocates are asked to engage with the post on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and comment with the word they would use to finish the sentence.

Example of an Act-On customer participating in Word of the Day Wednesday

On top of all this, a customer is crowned “Customer of the Month” each month based on their level of participation in these challenges. All of these strategies are designed to keep things fresh and encourage continued participation from advocates.

Give Value Back to Your Advocates

Not everything you do as part of your brand advocate efforts should be to your direct benefit. “There are a lot of times we create challenges that don’t help us,” says Jeff Linton, Act-On’s senior manager of customer and field marketing. “It’s not always about asking customers to do things for you.”

To increase the value Act-On provides its advocates, the company shares eBooks, infographics, research, analyst reports and webinars on relevant topics such as inbound marketing and demand generation. It also invites them to New Features Release Webinars, which offer a behind-the-scenes look at what features and functionalities will be coming up in future product enhancements before they’re rolled out.

“The value this provides is a dedicated community of active and informed customers who are willing to evangelize our business and product offering,” Musto says. “Giving them first-hand access helps to enhance the exclusivity and value of participating in the ALUV program.”

Solicit Feedback to Improve Your Program

For a brand advocate program like Act-On’s that is still in its infancy, it’s especially important to listen to advocates to find out what’s working (and what isn’t). To this end, Act-On actively solicits advocate feedback and makes changes according to suggestions received.

“We design and create many challenges that give advocates the ability to share what’s on their mind,” Musto explains. After viewing a New Feature Release Webinar, for example, Act-On will send a follow up email that says something like:

“Thanks for attending the New Feature Release Webinar. Please take a minute and give us your feedback for 150 points.”

This feedback consists of two to three yes or no questions and one fill-in-the-blank response, all of which are shared with other advocates so they can see what their peers are saying. “This allows our customers to have transparency and access to other Act-On customers,” Musto explains.

This method has proven effective in returning helpful responses. For example, Act-On found that white papers were not a popular award, and will cut them from the pool of gifts during the next challenge.

Act-On also found that multi-step challenges (e.g. where a user has to read a research paper, respond to it and respond to other users), were not popular with advocates. “Make it one or two steps, not four or five,” Linton advises.

Act-On also solicits feedback about their product to include advocates in the process and strengthen their connection to the brand. Using a feature called “Advocate Anywhere,” the company can promote targeted challenges to advocates within the Act-On application. For example, Act-On might pose the following question:

How do you like the new SEO and Auditing capability?

A. I like it a lot.

B. Haven’t used it yet.

C. Tell us more (fill in the blank):

“This type of challenge helps us learn more from our customers and makes giving feedback easy,” Musto says. “Doing so benefits our customers by letting them know their voice matters, and our product team appreciates the direct feedback.”

Define Goals and Measure Results

As a final note, Linton advises companies to define and set clear goals before starting any brand advocate efforts. Assign a designated manager to the program and have clear metrics in place to measure the program’s progress.

“Success of our program is happy, active and engaged customers,” Musto says. “We measure the number of engaged advocates on a monthly basis to learn which challenges have the highest engagement levels and perform the best among advocates.” This type of measurement also helps Act-On identify which challenges might be good to repurpose in the future.

You should also make sure your program complements your other marketing efforts. To ensure program goals align across departments, Act-On holds weekly meetings with its LeadGen, PR/Social and Product Marketing Teams to design challenges that support specific activities. These challenges are then created and scheduled in ALUV to launch on a designated date or time.

Brand advocates can be an extremely valuable resource for B2B marketers looking to increase their company’s exposure and generate referral leads to increase sales. By creating a structured program that smartly targets and engages customers, rewards them for participation and solicits feedback to make improvements, B2B companies can successfully leverage their best customers and stay ahead of their competition.

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Alan S. Horowitz

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Alan S. Horowitz is a contributor to Software Advice.

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