Businesses should give priority to advocacy marketing in their marketing budgets, Gartner analyst Hank Barnes wrote last January. "… Customers trust peers more than they trust you," he pointed out, noting that buyers surveyed by Gartner named industry peers as their number one source for understanding the differentiation of a technology provider. Peers and professional communities both were trusted far more than sales reps or company websites, the survey found.
Barnes is not the only one who is bullish about advocacy marketing, which is why so many companies are entering the advocacy market. The next wave of marketing "will be about marketing advocates, not about sending out lots of email and tracking what people are doing on websites," said Mark Organ, founder and CEO of Influitive, an advocacy marketing startup that just snagged $30.5 million in a Series B round of funding.
With Influitive, he hopes to acquire other advocacy marketing specialists in the almost inevitable consolidation that will occur rather than being acquired by a software giant like Oracle. To attain this goal, Organ is positioning Influitive as a platform for advocacy marketing.
Advocacy Marketing's Platform Potential
While multiple point solutions deal with various marketing tasks such as referral automation, reference automation and voice-of-the-customer activities, Organ said Influitive puts all of the functions together in an easily accessible way in its AdvocateHub. "By putting it all in one place and making it self service, we can generate huge amounts of increased activity," he said.
Another key to Influitive remaining an independent company, Organ said, is making it easy for business functions outside marketing to use the platform.
"Advocacy has real platform potential because practically every department in a company can leverage advocacy more effectively," he said, offering an example from his own company. "Our VP of sales had six competing offers, but we mobilized advocates to email her and let her know this was the best place for her to work. And it worked!"
"There is very little that you can do with an email-based marketing platform that you can't do with an advocate-based platform," he said, noting that Influitive's customers use the company's software for wide-ranging tasks such as event marketing. "They use it to identify who should speak at an event and what they should speak about, how they should get advocates to participate, and how to treat them while they are at the event."
The company's latest funding round was led by Georgian Partners, a VC firm that, like Influitive, is based in Canada. Simon Chong, a managing partner and co-founder of Georgian Partners, is joining Influitive's Board of Directors. "They don't do spreadsheets," said Organ of the Georgian Partners team. "They get their hands in the business and help you run it."
Georgian Partners was a good fit for Influitive because it invests in companies that are focused on leveraging their own data to generate customer value, Organ said, adding, "Most SaaS companies run reports and do some data analysis, but they don't fully leverage their data because they don't have the architecture to do it, the people to do it or the legal structure to do it."
That includes Eloqua, he said, noting that he made sure Influitive hired data scientists and based its architecture on a graph model rather than a hierarchical database model to make it easier to do more innovative things with its data.
Influitive focuses primarily on business-to-business marketing, not business-to-consumer marketing. Its 250 customers include tech giants like Acquia, Atlassian, DocuSign, HireVue, Hootsuite, HP Software, Marketo and Oracle. Outside the technology space, customers include professional services companies, an accounting firm and a hotel chain.
Its website features some notable customer successes. According to the site, DocuSign’s advocates have influenced more than $3 million in sales pipeline through referrals and other advocacy activities, and HP Software has engaged more than 1,000 IT service management customers in events, content creation and product feedback initiatives. In its first three months of using AdvocateHub, Blackbaud got a year's worth of referrals from its advocates.
Influitive is using its capital to roll out new products. It recently introduced two extensions to its flagship AdvocateHub, an event management/marketing module and a communities module, and "others are on the way," Organ said, including software designed to help channel marketers engage more effectively with VARs, software designed to help companies engage with influencers such as bloggers and analysts and software that will help sales reps "leverage the power of advocacy."
Influitive also will expand into new geographies, said Organ, who has been racking up frequent flier miles traveling to Asia and Europe. "We'll be a fully global company within a year," he promised.
Fast Facts About Influitive
Founder: Mark Organ
Product: AdvocateHub, which helps businesses build advocate communities where they can engage with their customers, partners and employees
HQ: Toronto, with offices in Palo Alto and Boston
Employees: About 100
Customers: 250 companies, including Hootsuite, LinkedIn, Dell KACE, Gainsight, HP and BMC Software
Funding: $42 million, with investors including Georgian Partners, OurCrowd, Atlas Ventures, Docomo Capital, BDC Capital IT Venture Fund, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, Illuminate Ventures, Resolute Ventures, Relay Ventures and First Round Capital.
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.