Influitive founder Mark Organ knows the power of peer recommendations – that’s why he’s seeded the show floor at San Francisco’s Dreamforce conference with happy users of his new software as it debuts to the public.
The pitch for AdvocateHub is that businesses will be able to recruit their best customers to become brand evangelists. Organ’s startup has dual headquarters in Toronto and San Francisco. Having just made has Web-based advocate marketing software generally available earlier this week, the annual Salesforce.com conference, with 90,000 registered to attend, looked like the perfect opportunity to showcase AdvocateHub for the first time.
“Dreamforce really is the cloud software event of the year,” the CEO says, walking among the booths on the show floor. “Anyone who’s involved in business to business software in the cloud, they’re here, including many of our customers.”
AdvocateHub gives businesses a place to connect with their best customers. Different goals are created with a number value associated with them, and the customers are challenged to complete them. The points can be exchanged for rewards or just used for bragging rights as customers climb the leader board.
One of Organ’s first customers for Influitive is another company he founded, Eloqua. Though he insists being the founder of the company that is now publically traded did him no favours in winning their business during Influitive’s beta phase, he is happy to walk to their booth and point at what they’re doing as an example of AdvocateHub’s effectiveness. All the employees at the booth seem to know him – the ones showcasing their AdvocateHub portal are wearing toy crowns.
The challenge to Eloqua advocates at Dreamforce is to stop by the booth for an hour or two and talk to prospective customers about why they like the product. It’s open to the 160 advocates that Heather Foeh, director of customer culture for Eloqua, manages on the platform.
“A lot of our customers like to call themselves Elo-Queens or Elo-Kings for Eloqua and they love it so much and it helps their jobs so much they are happy to tell you about it,” she says. “The world is all about social selling right now. People want recommendations from other people.”
Foeh runs about 25 to 30 challenges at a time on the hub. They range from the simple – follow Eloqua on Twitter, or like the Facebook page – to the more involved, such as write a review about the product. The advocates collect points for completing the challenges, but there are no rewards to collect right now on Eloqua’s portal.
That’s because the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. requires anyone who writes about a firm in exchange for personal benefit to disclose that fact. “That’s painful for them to have to remember to do,” Foeh says.
But most don’t care about cashing in their points for tchotchkes – they benefit from softer rewards like premium customer access and bonus webinars that Foeh organizes.
Another reason for Influitive to debut at the annual Salesforce.com conference is that it integrates into the cloud software. A tie-in with the Chatter social platform, for example, automatically sends a message out when an employee completes an AdvocateHub challenge.
Despite some initial customer incredulity – they didn’t believe customers would do the challenges put forth – AdvocateHub has exceeded its goals in terms of leads it wanted to generate at Dreamforce, Organ says. There’s been less scepticism from investors, as Influitive swiftly raised a $3.75 million seed round that closed Aug. 8. That money went directly into growing Influtive’s staff – growing 80 per cent since then – with new engineers, a sales team, and marketers.
“A lot of it is still train on the tracks,” Organ says. “We have a business plan and raising this money is allowing us to execute on that plan.”
That plan could include acquisitions, he says. Organ hopes to raise a larger series A round of financing in 18 to 24 months. It could make sense to look at partners and what companies are available to buy, he says.
For now, Influtive will look to gain traction by offering a free trial that allows companies to manage up to 20 advocates on the platform. That could be equivalent to hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars, Organ says.
Besides, Organ knows it can only help to get more users that might tell their friends about his new product.