Influitive Customer Story - VMware

March 7, 2023

Cisco, a respected international brand whose technology powers the Internet, helps customers build bridges between goals and realities. The Global Advocacy team I’m part of at Cisco also builds bridges—not only with our marketing and sales colleagues across the company, but with our customers as we recognize their contributions, celebrate their achievements, and connect them with each other and the Cisco brand. 

Communicating Advocacy’s Impact

My career in technology marketing started when it was still standard practice to share files by walking floppy disks down the hall to another teammate’s cube (we called it “Sneakernet” back then, circa 1995). Maybe I shouldn’t admit that and give away my age! [wink

I lived through the dot-com bust of the early 2000s when I managed public relations for a pre-IPO start-up, and another time I moved from the vendor side to the agency side as an advertising copywriter before returning to marketing roles inside technology companies. I’ve been supporting Cisco for eight years now in various roles that have included, at one time or another, interviewing customers and drafting success stories, documenting internal sales wins, writing web and social copy, and formatting and writing newsletters. 

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the tech industry through the years, but through it all I’ve noticed one constant that directly translates to the success that marketing organizations—and entire companies—realize when they follow this principle: put customers first in everything they do. When teams and companies do this, they are rewarded with loyal brand ambassadors. It’s this simple but powerful principle that guides Cisco’s Global Advocacy practice.

Our Global Advocacy organization, currently with 18 professionals, works with an extended team of Cisco advocacy and marketing colleagues around the world. Collectively, we develop and roll out award-winning advocacy marketing programs that nurture connections with customers, inspiring them to become storytellers and visionaries for the Cisco brand. Drilling down, I’m part of a three-person Advocacy Communications and Amplification team who elevates Cisco’s “Advocacy-as-a-Service” strategy and achievements through communications campaigns and initiatives.

The Global Advocacy organization’s commitment to Cisco’s customers is matched by our commitment to Cisco’s sellers, as we build and launch programs, processes, and content to help them close deals faster. We do this by connecting sellers with engaged references and a continually growing library of customer evidence content. We also work with Cisco’s marketing colleagues across regions to help secure customer panelists for events and source new written and video customer success stories from the relationships we nurture in our vibrant customer advocacy community called Cisco Insider Advocates.  

Collectively, our Global Advocacy organization develops and rolls out award-winning advocacy marketing programs that nurture inclusive connections with customers, inspiring them to become storytellers and visionaries for the Cisco brand.



Uniting Programs for a More Intuitive Experience

Cisco Insider Advocates is the rebranded name for The Global Gateway, Cisco’s customer advocacy community that was built from the ground up about seven years ago now. Back then, there were two colleagues focused on what would turn into Cisco’s global customer advocacy practice. Cristina Melluzzi is our Director of Global Customer Marketing and Advocacy, and an early champion for advocacy in our company. I’ve heard Cristina mention how Cisco’s reference program in the EMEA region had roughly 100 customer reference accounts at that time. Of those 100, she remembered—as often happens with small, tactical programs—they were going back to the same handful of customers with multiple reference requests. This left those customers feeling over-subscribed and under-appreciated. Cristina started building a team to nurture and grow a bigger and engaged community of customers who could provide timely, meaningful references on Cisco’s behalf. 

Meanwhile, Cisco had been hearing from our customers that navigating different membership programs across the company was confusing due to the siloed nature of each. Our team therefore partnered with other teams across Cisco who are responsible for managing everything from influencer to loyalty to research programs. The teams, collectively, decided to unite nine disparate customer programs under a unifying umbrella called Cisco Insider. The Global Gateway became Cisco Insider Advocates. Though the name changed, at its core the community still provides the same inclusive, educational, and rewarding advocacy experience our 29,000 members have come to expect from us. 

From Cisco’s perspective, the Cisco Insider umbrella creates one view into advocacy, loyalty, and research engagement. It helps Cisco teams tailor experiences and shape future solutions through user group feedback. From the customers’ perspectives, they are now better able to engage with the programs they love through one intuitive user experience. And, with the Cisco Insider Advocates community now an integral part of the overarching Cisco Insider program, our advocates have an opportunity to explore other engagement opportunities—such as accessing product roadmaps or participating in beta testing and research studies. The breadth and depth of Cisco Insider programs presents opportunities and support to customers that delivers a more robust overall Cisco experience.

Prioritizing Reconnection

Looking back on 2022, our Global Advocacy team prioritized reconnection. In a world shaped by a pandemic that is now in its third year, we had been nurturing relationships and keeping connections alive with our customers on a 100-percent digital scale from 2020 into the first half of 2022. 

Cisco was able to welcome customers and partners to an onsite experience once again at Cisco Live US held in Las Vegas last June, where we reconnected and shared genuine moments that can only come from being with each other in person. We were once again able to provide a VIP “Rockstar” experience for our top advocates. We also promoted our customer stories and references program, sourcing new story leads onsite. Our team recruited nearly 2,700 new customers into the Cisco Insider Advocates community at Cisco Live Las Vegas.


A Return to Onsite Awards Ceremonies

The pandemic had forced our team to get creative in 2021. Prior to that, we’d been able to celebrate our customers’ advocacy on Cisco’s behalf at an onsite awards ceremony in Barcelona, Spain, just six weeks before the pandemic closed down the world in 2020. My colleague, Jessica Highsmith, shares how we spearheaded a fully digital advocacy awards event in 2021, working with cross-functional teams to deliver a memorable virtual ceremony that celebrated our top advocates’ impact

Now that onsite conferences have returned, our team is excited to bring back the Cisco Global Advocate Awards for 2023, as we celebrate those who go above and beyond in supporting Cisco through success stories, speaking engagements, product reviews, and so much more. We will host three exclusive award celebrations this year that will coincide with Cisco Live conferences in Amsterdam, Las Vegas, and Melbourne. Each regional event—EMEA, Americas, and APJC—will recognize top Cisco customers in these respective regions. This enables us to offer exclusive experiences to customers, grouped by region, and allows us to award even more deserving advocates.   

We worked closely with an extended team of Cisco advocacy colleagues to roll out our EMEA-focused event in February of this year that awarded 10 customers in 10 categories. New this year, our team aligned several award categories to Cisco’s global campaigns of Hybrid Work, Transform Infrastructure, Reimagine Applications, and Secure the Enterprise. 


Adding it All Up

The numbers tell the story. Looking at the whole of 2022, our campaigns resulted in our Cisco Insider Advocates community of customers completing 24,000 acts of advocacy. This included 600 advocates who participated in our Cisco Insider Advocates campaign channels, 740 customers who attended campaign webinars, and 466 completed campaign surveys.

At Cisco Live US in Las Vegas, we recruited 120 new advocates, engaged 478 advocates, and challenged visitors to 3,941 “acts of advocacy” through onsite challenges (such as sharing social media posts). We saw 1,600 Twitter impressions and over 6,300 Instagram impressions during the conference. Our team recently returned from Cisco Live EMEA in Amsterdam in February of 2023, where we recruited another 196 new advocates, engaged 775 advocates, and challenged visitors to 1,658 acts of advocacy through onsite challenges. At both events, we filmed dozens of customer testimonials, delivered Cisco Insider content and experiences, and hosted our top advocates at meet-and-greet breakfasts and cocktail hours with Cisco executives. 

Also in 2022, we published 16 blogs that spotlighted top advocates, helping to elevate their personal and professional brands. Our team continues to work closely with marketing and sales teams across Cisco to recruit enthusiastic references into the Cisco Insider Advocates community and coordinate storytelling across global regions and technology solutions. We also overhauled our Global Advocacy SharePoint site, turning it into a resources-led hub where colleagues can quickly find the materials they need to mobilize their customers as advocates.

Maintaining a Customer-First Mindset

It’s inspiring to see how far customer advocacy keeps advancing at Cisco, year over year. Our team is increasingly aligned with Cisco’s marketing and sales colleagues, and our advocacy efforts have become integral to Cisco’s online and in-person events. Seven years after Cristina reprioritized what customer advocacy could and should mean at Cisco and started building her team, we are now a global, award-winning organization focused on putting customers first in everything we do. It comes full circle to what I mentioned earlier, which is the simple but powerful principle that guides our work. 

It’s inspiring to see how far customer advocacy keeps advancing at Cisco, year over year. Our team is increasingly aligned with Cisco’s marketing and sales colleagues, and our advocacy efforts have become integral to Cisco’s online and in-person events.


I’m proud to help put a spotlight on our advocates and support Cisco’s business priorities. And I speak for everyone on our team when I say that we are all so proud that we won an Influitive “BAMMIE” award for Biggest Impact on Marketing in 2022. It’s the fourth BAMMIE our team has won in as many years, including two back-to-back BAMMIE gold awards for Advocate Marketing Program of the Year. In total, we’ve earned eight industry awards—seven gold and one silver—for excellence in customer marketing and advocacy programming. We’re excited to see what comes next in 2023 and beyond.

Want authentic customer stories like this for your company? Learn more about Influitive’s Upshot service.