In 2016, Cristina Melluzzi, Head of Customer Advocacy EMEAR at Cisco, was facing something lots of B2B companies can relate to: having an internal fire drill every time Cisco needed customers for references, speaking opportunities, analyst interviews, and case studies.

Cisco had a traditional reference program with around 100 European customers that sales and marketing could call on when they needed help.

But there were a few problems with this method.

“Since our customer pool was so small, we constantly asked the same people to help,” says Cristina. “The few advocates that we had felt over-used and under-appreciated.”

Cisco employees also didn’t know how to nominate new references. This meant Cisco’s European reference list was often out-of-date.

Cristina wanted a better process so she could improve the experience for Cisco’s customers and employees.

That’s why she decided to evolve Cisco’s reference-only program into a customer advocacy program. She felt this approach would accomplish two important things:

  1. Allow customers to collaborate with Cisco in a variety of ways that would support the development of their personal brands—and, thus, turn passive customers into vocal advocates for Cisco
  2. Make finding potential advocates and tracking their activity easier internally. This way, showing customers appreciation would be more consistent.

But she faced an obstacle: convincing her team that Cisco had advocates who’d want to participate.

Gaining internal buy-in for a customer advocacy program

When Cristina set out to launch an advocacy program, she faced doubt from her team.

Some key members were afraid customers wouldn’t want to participate. They said, “We don’t know many people who love Cisco that much.”

“I had to prove a point,” says Cristina, “So, I created a collage of people who love Cisco so much that they’ve tattooed our brand on their bodies!”

Cristina’s colleagues quickly warmed up to the idea of starting a formal customer advocacy program.

While some advocates were easy to find (see tattoo photo above), Cristina knew there were tons of potential brand advocates waiting to be unleashed—if Cisco could do one thing: find a scalable system for engaging more of their customer base.

That’s why, in February 2017, Cristina’s team launched an advocacy community called The Cisco Gateway, powered by Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform.

The Cisco Gateway is an exclusive, online hub that lets Cisco customers:

  • Connect with each other and share ideas
  • Gain exclusive access to Cisco content, VIP perks and rewards
  • Build their personal brands and networks by being recognized for their contributions to the community

Alongside these perks are fun “challenges” to advocate for Cisco in a variety of ways. These challenges cover four key areas:

  1.  Engaging with Cisco through user groups, communities, customer advisory boards, and product surveys
  2.  Endorsing Cisco through media interviews, reviews, analyst briefings, and references
  3.  Educating prospects by creating and promoting content
  4.  Referring Cisco to their peers

Every time advocates complete a challenge, they receive points that they can later redeem for perks such as gift cards or tickets to events like Cisco Live. They can also gain clout in the community by climbing the points leaderboard and earning badges when they advocate for Cisco.

The overall goals for The Gateway advocacy program were:

  • Create a unified experience for customers by centralizing engagement programs and advocacy requests
  • Build deeper relationships with customers and recognize them for their advocacy
  • Grow Cisco’s pool of advocates
  • Accelerate Cisco’s revenue through referrals and references
  • Save time and resources by getting Cisco customers to create content
  • Increase reach through advocate social shares
  • Receive more high-quality product feedback from users
  • Boost NPS

Finding and delighting Cisco’s hidden brand advocates

Cisco started by reaching out to their biggest fans—customers who were already recommending them to peers or giving them five-star reviews.

Cisco emailed these customers a personalized invitation video starring Richard Ayoade, star of the British sitcom, IT Crowd.

The email was a big hit, and Cisco received positive feedback from customers:

“I absolutely loved the personalized email. I’m a huge Richard Ayoade fan, and it was so nice to get this kind of email from Cisco. It made me feel special.”

It also helped to change Cisco’s perception with customers. One advocate wrote:

“This is the first time I’ve received an invite like this, and it was surprising to receive it from Cisco! Very cool!”

Cisco and cool in the same sentence is not something we hear every day,” says Cristina.

The video campaign had a 16% overall conversion rate, and a 60% rate for those who viewed the video—rates that are unheard of at Cisco.

Cisco also signed up more than 350 customers for The Gateway at their annual conference, Cisco Live.

They’ve continued to recruit new advocates through internal referrals, onsite event recruitment (such as F5 in Barcelona) and personalized email campaigns.

Engaging Cisco advocates by getting personal

The personalization for advocates in The Gateway doesn’t end with their video invite.

Cristina knew advocates wouldn’t stick around in the long run if the program didn’t strike a personal chord with each member’s interests and motivations. Since Cisco has many different types of advocates (including executives), Cristina knew The Gateway had to offer a variety of content and opportunities.

Her team designed The Gateway to appeal to customers based on four internal motivators: Status, Access, Engagement, and Rewards.

  • Advocates who want to raise their Status can speak at an event or write a blog about their success with Cisco
  • Customers who want Access can get VIP treatment at Cisco Live (our annual conference) or have a personal chat with Cisco team members
  • Advocates who like Engagement can connect with their peers and share best practices
  • People who want Rewards can cash in points for gift cards and swag for advocating

By providing a range of activities advocates can self-select, The Gateway saw steady engagement rates of 61.5% at launch. Within a few months, it had hit 94%. Advocates have completed 8,247 challenges—which is about 11.2 acts of advocacy per member on behalf of Cisco.

The Advocate Marketing Playbook
Download now!

Inspiring advocates to provide testimonials, referrals and more—in just four months

In the four months since The Gateway’s launch, customer advocates have become an invaluable part of Cisco’s marketing and sales teams.

To date, Cisco’s 733 advocates have provided:

  • 823 social shares, which generated 10,237 clicks on Cisco content
  • 284 testimonials generated
  • 152 potential new case studies identified
  • 105 advocates who raised their hands to write blogs for Cisco
  • 6.3% conversion rate on one advocate blog (created using Influitive’s Upshot solution)
  • 114 reviews on sites such as G2 Crowd and TrustRadius (an 18% growth in online reviews in just two weeks)
  • 84 referrals
  • 105 event sign ups and three speakers sourced for Cisco Live 2018, Barcelona
  • 73 NPS among advocates (Cisco’s general customer base’s NPS is 38)

A Cisco success story written by a brand advocate.

One of Cisco’s new brand advocate success stories 

Employees can now easily tap into customer advocates for testimonials, reviews, feedback, speaking opportunities, and content. Cisco teams also invite advocates to test content ahead of campaign launches, so they can optimize it to increase engagement.

“The Gateway vastly improves how we ask for advocacy,” says Cristina. “Before, it was mostly on a case-by-case basis via emails and phone calls from Cisco employees. This method wasn’t engaging, didn’t create a consistent experience, and didn’t give advocates the option to choose how they wanted to advocate. Now, we can reach out to advocates at scale, track how they interact with us, and promptly recognize them for their efforts.”

Here’s what Cisco’s new advocates are saying about The Gateway:

“You are the best! Made my Cisco Live even better.”

–Silvija Hoeger, Fraunhofer IOSB

“Don’t close The Gateway. Keep posting challenges not only during Cisco Live.”

–Marco Campagna, Interoute

“It surprised me the gamification you organized with apps like The Gateway.”

–Jose Antonio Alvarez Cubero, Acuntia

How Cisco measures the value of their customer advocacy program

Cisco measures their customer advocacy program success using the following metrics:

  •   Revenue: Referrals, references, and renewals
  •   Costs: Cost avoidance, cost of content, and cost of product validation
  •   Effectiveness: Enrollment, engagement, and endorsements

“For us, advocacy isn’t just about quick transactional wins,” says Cristina. “It’s about getting to know our customers on a personal level, as well as building a tribe of advocates who feel a sense of ownership and belonging. Advocacy will be the currency for tomorrow’s successful marketers,” says Cristina.

Emma Roffey, Senior Director, Marketing EMEAR at Cisco agrees. “The future of [every marketer’s] success is one of customer advocacy. It’s how we managed to get our existing customers—who may be engaged, but are quite passive—into real active and deliberate advocates. We’ve got to change from what I call ‘vendor vanity’ from [companies] talking about their products…or ‘selfie-marketing’, to being real advocate marketers. People trust peers more than ever.” (Watch a short interview with Emma about the program here.)