For a modern technology company to thrive, having a community of engaged customers is essential.

Nobody knows this better than Kate Cohen, Senior Manager of Product Marketing at Carbon Black, a leading provider of endpoint security solutions.

Carbon Black’s customer community has a critical mission: to band together and combat attackers who threaten their companies’ data security. Through The Carbon Black User Exchange Community—which has more than 15,000 members—Carbon Black’s global customers are able to proactively share threat intelligence and work collectively to combat hackers.

“The community is a one-stop shop for everything a customer needs, from where they file support cases, to where they consume and share the latest threat intelligence,” said Kate.

The Carbon Black team eventually discovered there were a few hundred power users in the community who were driving the majority of forum activity. These advocates were answering other customers’ questions and sharing information to help the greater community.

Kate, who had been recently tasked with incorporating the voice of the customer into everything Carbon Black does, knew there was an opportunity to leverage this active group to:

  1. Uncover more product feedback for the Research and Development (R&D) team so Carbon Black could expand and improve their security solutions.
  2. Help raise Carbon Black’s visibility in the marketplace through online reviews and fulfilling media requests.

She knew the User Exchange community was only scratching the surface of what was possible when it came to engaging these potential advocates.

“At the end of the day, the customer voice is how we will win in the market,” said Kate. “We knew there was so much more we could to do fuel our product initiatives and embed the customer voice into our marketing efforts.”

Carbon Black sought a solution to give their top community members a seat at the table when making strategic product and marketing decisions, and then reward these members for going the extra mile.

*Spoiler alert: they ended up finding 100+ customer advocates to contribute to the R&D team ’s work, and 500+ voices to their marketing team’s efforts.

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Transforming community members into vocal advocates  

Kate wanted a platform that went beyond discussion forums. She wanted one that would help her team recruit, engage, and recognize several hundred potential customer advocates.

She launched Cb Defenders—a private advocate marketing program for their top community members—on Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform. Through the program, these VIP members were given exclusive opportunities to advocate for Carbon Black as well as perks for sharing feedback with the R&D team.

cb defenders challenges

Here’s how Kate grew the program to 500+ members who continuously deliver valuable insights.

1. Setting internal advocacy success metrics

Working with her leadership team, Kate defined clear success criteria for their Cb Defenders program, including:

  • Creating an effective way to gather more customer insights and minimize time spent coordinating the feedback process with the R&D team
  • Getting 50+ positive reviews on Gartner Peer Insights to increase brand awareness and maintain Carbon Black’s position as the leading vendor in their market

2. Sourcing advocates from the wider community

Since Carbon Black already had an active customer community, Kate sourced power-advocates from this broader group to form the Cb Defenders.

“If they’re in the community answering customer questions, and helping the broader ecosystem, we have an indication that this person’s an advocate. So, we invite them to the Cb Defenders hub,” said Kate.

Kate’s team of four handpicks ideal members for Cb Defenders based on their community activity and sends out a personal email to invite them to join.

Kate also leans on her customer-facing teams to help flag potential advocates. “We also take special consideration internally from customer success and sales reps who identify advocates,” she said.

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They also have a single sign-on between the two platforms so advocates don’t need to remember two separate logins. “We wanted to create a seamless experience where you can pivot back and forth between Cb Defenders and The User Exchange community,” Kate said.

3. Positioning the program invite as a gift to top contributors

Some marketers are reluctant to ask customers to advocate on their behalf for fear of overburdening them with “asks.”

That’s why Kate focused on presenting the benefits of the program—like having a voice, receiving accolades, and earning rewards—to members so they were excited to join and participate.

“Cb Defenders is our VIP program for our elite advocates who want to invest in our product strategy or participate in top leadership opportunities, like media activities or appearing in case studies,” Kate said.

The Cb Defenders program invitations tell members that they’re being invited to join the program as a “thank you” for all their contributions to the broader User Exchange community.

4. Empowering top advocates to fuel the user community

While some people see advocate marketing programs as an alternative to online discussion forums, Kate sees the two as complementary.

“We will post Challenges in Cb Defenders, incentivizing advocates to go into The User Exchange and contribute and participate,” she said.

This ensures top contributors are providing high-quality answers where their expertise is needed in the larger community.

Kate has found that the Cb Defenders have reduced the burden on the Carbon Black Threat Analysis Unit, as well as increase overall engagement in the threat research space of the User Exchange community.

“The amount of threat intelligence being shared has skyrocketed,” she said. “I think it’s a combination of advocates being dedicated to that space—which shows our broader customer base that The User Exchange is a valuable place you can go to receive information that will help you protect your organization.”

5. Letting advocates choose their own journey

The Cb Defenders program presents a wide variety of opportunities to advocates when they log in, allowing them to choose the activities that appeal to them most.

“The ability for our customers to opt in is priceless, because they can decide when they want to engage, and how they want to engage,” said Kate.

Kate also starts the advocate’s journey in the Cb Defenders program with a survey that lets them specify which activities interest them most.

Kate’s team then targets opportunities specifically at those who expressed interest in them. While some advocates want to featured in content, others want more to share product ideas.

“When we were doing manual outreach before, it was a time suck for us to figure out who to get in touch with, and then reach out one by one. We also experienced a lot of advocate burnout because we were going to the same people over and over again,” she said.

“Now, we don’t have to worry about approaching the same advocates. They can all see the opportunities available, and volunteer to participate.”

This program is also how Kate uncovered a smaller group of Cb Defenders who wanted to deeply engrain themselves in the product development process at Carbon Black. These advocates make up the basis of their Design Partner Program, a sub-group of product enthusiasts among their Cb Defenders.

6. Giving advocates a voice in the product design process through the Design Partner Program

Before the Cb Defenders advocacy program, the Carbon Black team relied on their customer success team to do 1:1 outreach to help them source customers for the R&D team’s design studies. This often took weeks or months to complete due to time spent sourcing customers and the back and forth between them and the UX Designers.

Now, the team can quickly source advocates for their design studies by looking at those advocates who expressed interest in influencing their product roadmap. They present these types of opportunities to advocates as part of a small Design Partner Program. Advocates that opt in can participate by:

  • Beta testing new features
  • Giving feedback on the UX/UI of a new product or feature
  • Sharing which integrations they want next
  • Validating the product roadmap
  • Having an on-site visit with Carbon Black UX team members

cb defenders

To make it easy to source the right customers for design studies, the UX team often surveys potential participants about what industry they work in, which products they use, and what their availability is for a call with the R&D team that week.

This new approach has accelerated the design study process, and given the R&D team a more direct route to the users they build products for.

“It’s allowed us to move faster than we did in the past, and it has freed up UX team resources,” said Kate. “We’re able to get a variety of responses and pick customers with different industries, backgrounds, and experience levels with our product, and involve them in the creation of our solutions. The R&D team also feels even more confident with customer feedback fueling their decisions.”

“Having help from the Cb Defenders program has greatly impacted the work we do in product and user experience,” said Matt Belge, Principal UX Designer, R&D at Carbon Black. “Just last month, we ran a number of studies with customer advocates, and through the Design Partner Challenges, we were able to give clear, concrete feedback to the development teams at Carbon Black. This feedback will make an enormous difference in the usability of the products.”

7. Letting advocates influence Carbon Black’s marketing

Kate also uses Cb Defenders to solicit ideas for Carbon Black’s go-to-market strategy. For instance, she has asked customers to help them name new product features.

“There was a study early on where we were actually naming the different policies in our product and customers came up with the names for those. We ended up choosing the names based on customer feedback,” she said.

Kate has also quickly sourced advocates from Cb Defenders to speak about their experience using Carbon Black’s platforms with analysts at Forrester and Gartner.

“We’re receiving great success connecting advocates with thought leadership opportunities. Speaking with analysts is a massive opportunity to put our customers in the spotlight and elevate their thoughts and their experiences,” Kate said.

Kate also enticed Cb Defenders to write more than 50 new reviews on Gartner Peer Insights.

carbon black reviews

Putting the customer voice and insights into Carbon Black’s marketing strategy helps it stay authentic and relevant, Kate noted.

8. Making advocates feel appreciated

Kate’s team closes the advocacy loop by thanking and rewarding Cb Defenders when they participate in an opportunity.

“Our UX team will thank them, and we send them points for their participation,” she said.

The bigger the request, the more points they receive. This makes advocates feel appreciated and eager to participate more Challenges in the future.

Cb Defenders can keep their points and climb the program leaderboard, or cash them in for special rewards, like conference passes or access to the Carbon Black team.

cb defenders golf ceo

A fun example of a high-value reward Cb Defenders can cash in their points for.

Kate says she feels the rewards are the cherry on top for the Cb Defenders. The real reason advocates participate in the program is because of the VIP experience they receive as a Carbon Black advocate.

“It’s great for our customers because they’re able to influence the development of our solutions. They enjoy participating and giving their feedback. Our advocates feel like they have a real connection to our team,” Kate said. “And we love to have the customer voice fueling the development of the products we’re building. It’s a great partnership.”

Results: Going from weeks to days to source customer feedback

The program is only about a year old, and Kate’s team has achieved some amazing results including:

  • 50 new reviews on Gartner Peer Insights
  • Running six design studies in three months and quickly integrating customer feedback into their product’s UI
  • Going from a week to a few days to recruit 25+ advocates customers for a design study
  • Generating a subset of 40+ customers who have agreed to participate in analysts and reference calls

In the future, Kate said she hopes to grow the Cb Defenders program to 1,000 advocates.

“When you think about all the different teams in the organization—from marketing to sales to product management and beyond—they all have something they can learn from our advocates that can help them achieve their goals,” she said.

“My biggest motivation is being able to support our company mission with the customer voice and to help cross-functional teams and leaders make informed decisions.”

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