May 19, 2023
While referrals can be one of the most effective drivers of growth, it’s an area where many marketers struggle. In just a year, Built went from having an informal referrals process to an automated program that saw a 363% ROI. And I was there from the start.
I’ve been at Built since 2020, starting as a client success manager and then moving to the marketing team. I discovered that we in marketing spent a lot of time on demand and lead gen, but there wasn’t much in place to nurture and upsell existing clients—and no initiative for customer marketing at all.
Working with the head of the marketing team, we created the first customer marketing position at Built. Out of that, in early 2021 we grew into our first three-person customer marketing team.
We Could Leverage Our 60K Users if Only We Could Automate
At Built, we organize our customer marketing initiatives around three pillars: advocacy, growth, and retention. Advocacy is all about creating brand advocates and having them market for us. We see that much of our pipeline comes from existing customers, so our growth pillar is all about upselling customers on new products and services. Our final pillar is retention, where we want to reduce churn risk and ensure our clients are as sticky as possible.
Built is the leading provider of construction finance technology, connecting construction lenders, real estate owners, contractors, home builders, title companies, and other industry vendors to improve the flow of capital through the construction ecosystem. By connecting all key stakeholders, the platform helps mitigate risk, power faster draws and payments, ensure compliance, and inspire customer loyalty. Built is used by more than 270 of the nation’s leading construction lenders and thousands of owners and contractors to manage over $135 billion of construction spend to date.
Due to the type of software Built offers, we had a great opportunity to leverage the network effect. We have three lines of business for contractors, lenders, and inspectors, but the lender purchases our software and invites their partners onto our platform. As such, a lot of our business pipeline comes through referrals.
In 2021, I realized, we had over 60,000 builders on our platform. Why weren’t we talking to them as users? Do they like our platform? Are we helping their business? We ran an NPS survey to find out and received a score of 67, which is super high for this industry.
From there, we ran an email marketing campaign asking users for testimonial reviews, but we were also working on another set of questions: Do they work with other lenders? Should those other lenders work with Built? Would that make the contractor’s life easier? We did this for about six months, and data started to trickle in. It was great—I passed on leads to our sales team, and it was so successful that it sparked the thought that this could become a formal referral program.
But doing everything manually—sending emails, saving lender contacts, sharing leads—was not sustainable. For Built to leverage the 60,000 builders in our ecosystem and be sustainable at scale, we would need to find a way to automate. And for that, we needed an advocacy platform.
A Simplified, Gamified Solution
My boss and I put together a business case and vetted a few different advocacy platforms, primarily Influitive and NextBee. We selected NextBee because of its customization potential. But within months, we realized that choice had been a mistake.
While customizations sounded fantastic, we thought we needed more than we did. All of the customizable features made implementing any changes a lengthy process.
Changing the details of a referral campaign took two weeks because it had to go through NextBee’s development team, and our Salesforce integration took three months to configure. Influitive, on the other hand, offers an out-of-the-box Salesforce integration. Even creating a new audience segment required the help of NextBee developers, whereas it’s easy enough in Influitive to do within seconds. The customization we wanted ended up costing us time that Built didn’t have.
We made the switch to Influitive and launched our program in March 2021.
Implementation was smooth sailing. The Influitive team made us think through some things that weren’t even on our radar, such as the best practices for an invitation strategy. Referrals, on the other hand, required little thought, as the Influitive platform did everything we needed right out of the box.
During implementation, we learned of some capabilities we hadn’t considered, such as running specific referral campaigns. This feature is great because we’re a sales-driven B2B SaaS company. It allows us to run a campaign where every sales rep has their own referral landing page and we can track those referrals. Gamification is also built into that feature, which makes everyone excited.
We’ve tested out a couple of different recruitment strategies for referrals. One approach asks a contractor or inspector whether there’s a partner they want to refer. We offer a financial reward for referrals, granted when a person registers for our advocate community. Another strategy came from our NPS survey ratings. We craft messaging based on where a contractor ranked in our satisfaction survey, so there’s a different strategy for the 10s versus the nines versus the eights. Once a person becomes a member of our community, we send them the appropriate referral message.
Using our advocates to advocate for the referral program itself happened organically. One of our advocates sent me a message: “This referral program is so awesome. I can’t believe I didn’t know this existed.” When I read that, I knew I wanted to use that feedback to incentivize other advocates and leverage other positive experiences at scale.
Sometimes referrals can seem sketchy, or at least opaque. Humanizing the process as much as possible helps combat that perception and instills trust.
As with any promotional marketing tactics, sometimes referrals can seem sketchy, or at least opaque. Humanizing the process as much as possible helps combat that perception and instills trust: “Someone you know found success with our program and can tell you it’s not a scam.”
Giving Advocates Control and Providing Personalized Experiences
Very early on, we decided to allow advocates to maintain control during the referral process. A builder or inspector will have spent years building trust with a lender, and we know how crucial those relationships can be. Recognizing the significance of their relationships has helped us boost our referrals because it feels like a personalized experience. We reassure contractors that we never cold call their lender contacts—we don’t even pick up the phone before talking to the contractor first. If the contractor wants to remain anonymous or, on the other side of the spectrum, attend our meetings with the lender, these options are open to them.
Embedding Scribe training modules into Influitive challenges is a beautiful workaround to reward advocates for educational content. And they love it.
Referrals are our top use case for Influitive, but we also have a group of building inspectors who didn’t have a place to access training materials before Influitive. We have an LMS for our lender clients, but that software has seat and license limitations. Given that we have a ton of inspectors, we didn’t want to pay for those licenses, but we did want to provide inspectors with a more personalized experience. I learned we could create and embed Scribe training modules into Influitive challenges, developing a beautiful workaround to reward inspectors for completing educational content. And they love it. We also use Influitive for generating product feedback.
We’re still in the test-and-learn phase. Up until January 2023, we had only approached our builders for referrals. At that point, I met with the product team to create a strategy to leverage our inspector audience, and when we did, the floodgates opened, and we got a new referral stream. From there, we’ve started experimenting with in-app campaigns, trigger campaigns, and direct mail/gifts. So when an inspector completes an inspection in our app, we ask if they know anyone who could also benefit from using Built. We’ve sent Built-branded cookies to our inspectors. And we’re always looking for more ways to connect.
Demonstrating the Power of Happy Customers
Buy-in from customers was easy, but internal buy-in was more challenging. The larger organization was indifferent to customer marketing until we started seeing results. When new leadership came in, they vetted all of Built’s solutions, and once again, I had to make a case for Influitive.
This time, it was even easier to explain the platform’s value. I shared that our ROI for closed-won opportunities was 363%, and ROI for pipeline generation was 1,400%. This data was proof that our advocate activity got banks to sign on the dotted line.
Influitive is worth paying for. Built’s ROI for closed-won opportunities was 363%, and ROI for pipeline generation was 1,400%.
But to me, the biggest impact of Influitive is spreading awareness of what brand advocates can achieve. Customer marketing is still relatively new—yes, it’s been around for a decade, but people still don’t broadly understand its importance. Everyone knows what product marketing is, but our industry is still figuring out how to leverage happy customers. Using Influitive has helped bring that awareness to Built: This is what a happy customer can do for us, and that’s why we need to put so much care and attention into customer marketing.
For Built, Influitive has meant another pipeline stream. Customer marketing is a long game, so it takes time to prove value. Still, it’s cool to see monthly business reports indicating how our small customer marketing department positively impacts Built’s OKRs.
Influitive is so easy to use, I don’t have to worry about management or whether the backend will function as intended. Instead, I can focus on strategy and tapping into as many happy customers as possible.
Every referral program will work differently depending on what motivates a particular audience. Influitive is a great referral platform, but a program’s success depends on how well you can motivate your advocates and tap into what they want. Because Influitive is so easy to use, I don’t have to worry about management or whether the backend will function as intended. Instead, I can focus on strategy and tapping into as many happy customers as possible.
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