Victoria LaPlante

Hi! I’m Victoria LaPlante, Influitive’s new Senior Customer Advocacy Marketing Manager.

Victoria LaPlante

If you’re an Influitive VIP member, you’ve already met me in our AdvocateHub. I look forward to getting to know you and helping you reach your advocacy program goals.

Today, I’d like to share how I discovered the power of advocacy. I’ll also share some best practices I learned that I plan to implement here at Influitive.


My story: how I discovered advocate marketing

Back in 2012, I landed a role as an inbound marketing sales rep at HubSpot, a rapidly growing, pre-IPO, marketing automation company based Boston, where I worked on the nonprofit and higher education sales team.

It was challenging to sell to this particular segment at the time. Nonprofits usually don’t have a ton of funding, and academia tends to have a lot of red tape to get past in order to implement new software and technologies.

One month, I was one deal away from making or breaking my quota for the quarter. A potential client came to me the very last day of the month ready to buy—if I could provide them with a customer reference.

Normally, we would send clients case studies and product reviews to show them what makes our customers successful. We rarely set up reference calls. It just wasn’t a part of our established process.

But the client was insistent on talking to a real customer.

After practically begging my manager to help me find a customer who would do a call, we found one willing to help out. Her name was Elise Meyer, the Director of Marketing at Thunderbird Online University.

The very next morning after the call—which also happened to be the last day of the quarter—I woke up to an email saying the new contract was signed.

Elise also sent me a glowing email, saying how thrilled she was to be able to help out and share her experience with our new client. She also told me never to hesitate about asking for her help in the future.

It was in that moment a lightbulb turned on above my head.

I bet there were many more fans like Elise in our customer base who we could use to convince prospects to purchase our platform. I knew then that if we just had a system for finding and engaging these hidden brand advocates, it could be a game changer.

Moving from burned-out references to active brand advocates

A couple years later, I joined the marketing team under a new division focused on Sales Enablement. I was tasked with launching a customer reference program, and I was excited because I knew it would mean working with our brand advocates.

For a while, we had about a dozen or so VIP references that I used over and over again. Although our customers were happy to help, they eventually got tired of having the same conversations with new prospects.

Many of them had also purchased our product years earlier, which meant they weren’t familiar with our new onboarding processes. This was a problem because it was something prospects often wanted to discuss.

Given our aggressive growth goals and plans to grow our sales team globally, I know we needed a way to scale our reference program, so we could uncover new references and make the ones we had feel more appreciated.

I also knew we could offer our references more opportunities to interact with us than just doing calls. They could connect by giving referrals, testimonials and product feedback, too.

Instead of launching separate programs for each of these initiatives, we brought in Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform to launch a unified brand advocacy initiative. It could help us engage more customers at scale and offer them a variety of advocacy activities—including our two main goals: references and referrals.

How advocacy programs lead to success

In the two years that followed the launch of the program, I had engaged with thousands of brand advocates from across the globe.

Our advocate marketing program helped my team:

  • Scale customer reference fulfillment from 2-3 calls per month to 25-40 per month.
  • Influence millions of dollars in revenue and sales pipeline from referrals and references.
  • Increase our product reviews on sites such as G2 Crowd and TrustRadius. (Thanks to our advocates, we had more reviews on G2 Crowd than our top two competitors combined and were ranked #1 in multiple key categories.)
  • Boost our NPS score.

How can you pull this off at your company?

Here are my top six tips for creating an engaging advocacy program that drives results.

My top 6 lessons for building a successful advocacy program

1. Get your biggest advocates to do a beta test

When starting a new advocate community, begin with a beta test. Send invites to your top 20-50 known advocates. (This group already loves you and won’t mind if you make a mistake!)

Here’s a few places to find your happiest customers:

  • Identify your NPS promoters
  • Contact people who have recently acted as a reference
  • Ask account managers to forward emails from happy customers to your team 
  • Enlist customers who have given you a positive online review

Next, ask this group for feedback on your program. Implement their suggestions before your invite your larger group of customers so you really get your program’s value proposition right. 

2. Continue to ask for advocates’ feedback regularly

A successful advocacy program calls for an open dialogue between your company and your customers.

Many of your best ideas will come directly from them. When they recommended a change to your program, make it happen!

I also recommend starting a monthly Ask Me Anything, where advocates can speak directly with your leadership team.

3. Get internal buy-in with quick wins first

Meet with other teams to get them on board with the program. Research what their top goals are, and then think about how your advocates could help them move the needle.

For example, your product development team probably wants customer feedback on their product roadmap. So, ask advocates for feedback to show your team how quickly you can collect feedback. Not only will they see the value you’re bringing to the whole company with your program, but it will also turn them into an internal champion for the program—which brings me to point #4…

4. Engage internal champions and get them to contribute to your program

You can’t be the sole cheerleader for advocacy within your company. Having other departments contribute ideas to your program will make it more robust and enjoyable for your advocates.

Here are some ways to engage internal champions on other teams to improve and grow your program:

  • Send a monthly newsletter to employees. Share success metrics and ask for advocacy challenge ideas.
  • Set up quarterly meetings with executives to talk about how your program is supporting multiple departments.
  • Ask account managers to promote your program to customers and consistently nominate new advocates.

5. Find ways to track advocacy program ROI

If you want your colleagues and C-suite to consistently commit to and support your advocacy program vision, you must continually show how it drives business value.

Every month, keep a record of your referrals, references—anything advocates do that impacts revenue. Then, compare it against the costs of running the program (e.g. rewards, admin time, software costs) to determine program ROI. (You can see the template I used below with some dummy numbers. You can download an Excel spreadsheet with the formulas here.)

Preview of our ROI calculator

Advocacy Program ROI Calculator [Downloadable Template]
Download now

For a deeper level of analysis, take program costs and compare to your regular marketing funnel campaign ROI. Seeing the juxtaposition of the two figures side by side, will help your execs realize that investing in advocacy programs is a no-brainer!

6. Customize your advocates’ experience

The content in your program should be presented to advocates in a way that optimizes their experience.

Group relevant content or types of advocacy requests and activities together. This way, advocates can choose types of challenges that interest them the most instead of seeing everything you have to offer.

Consider the following structure:

  1. Main Highlights – the best place to showcase big perks that are exclusive to your advocate community, like interacting with your team.
  2. Product Feedback – a spot for giving—you guessed it—all kinds of product feedback.
  3. Advice – an area for advocates to connect and share best practices with one another.
  4. References – where advocates can take on reference requests from your sales team.
  5. Education – a spot for advocates to focus on learning new skills and checking out all of your educational resources.
  6. Coffee break – a spot for fun stuff to break up business-related content and keep things entertaining.

If you have a global community, customize your user’s experience based on each user’s location. Make sure your copy is translated to the right language and offer rewards specific to their location.

The long-term impact of advocacy

When I made the big decision to start a new chapter in my career progression and further pursue my passion for customer advocacy by joining Influitive, I reached out to a few customer advocates that I had developed close relationships with over the years. Their response to my big news was the ultimate reward. I received an outpouring of love from our advocates, who had become my personal advocates.

One wrote, “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me… The doors you opened for me, the experiences you gave me, the introductions you made for me—I hope you realize the full magnitude of the impact you’ve had on my professional life, and I’m sure many others’ as well.”

Making these kinds of meaningful connections with customers is what drives me to be an advocate marketer every day.

I look forward to helping Influitive’s amazing customers learn and grow! Together, we can make VIP the world’s best community of advocate marketers. Won’t you join me?

Join Influitive's advocate communityDiscover the power of advocacy and develop your advocate marketing skills through an interactive experience in our AdvocateHub platform.Try Influitive