This post is adapted from a talk I gave at Advocamp, the advocate marketing conference, in March 2016.
Before the early 1980s, fajitas could only be found at a handful of small restaurants in Texas. As southwestern foods gained in popularity, several regional and national chains added fajitas to their standard menu, and a star was born. The Hyatt hotel chain was among the first to feature fajitas, but another chain dominated the “summer of fajita madness” in 1984 and hasn't slowed down since. That was Chili's.
Why? Because while other restaurants experimented with various ingredients and spices, Chili's recognized early on that what sold fajitas wasn't the taste — it was the sound.
Chili's engineered its fajitas to draw as much attention as possible as they were paraded through its brass-and-fern dining rooms. The unmistakable sizzle from a fresh order was guaranteed to turn heads and inspire a wave of new orders. In fact, the kitchen staff at Chili's is trained to start prepping new fajita skillets once the first order of the evening is sent out.
They call this “the fajita effect.”
How Social Proof Drives Decisions
So what do fajitas have to do with B2B marketing? The answer is social proof, which describes a behavioral phenomenon in which people who are unsure of a decision will assume the actions of others. The fajita effect happens because diners look up from their menus when they hear the sizzle of a fajita skillet and are influenced into a buying decision based on the actions of other diners.
When it comes to B2B marketing, your customers are the sizzle.
Advocate marketing is based on the principle that your customer advocates are your best asset for improving almost every area of your marketing, sales, product development, and customer service processes. By nurturing customers throughout the entire customer lifecycle, you can convert happy customers into powerful advocates (and unhappy customers into valuable contributors).
Once you've nurtured your army of advocates, you have all the ingredients you need to turn the right heads toward your brand, and influence the right buying decisions with social proof.
Social Proof in Practice
At QuickBase, we recently embarked on a journey to define our ideal buyer. After identifying several of our most successful customers (those who grew with our low-code app development platform to provide the most value to their organizations), we realized that our customers in IT or a central operations function had much higher NPS scores and were more invested in the future of the platform.
From there, we started developing a new go-to-market strategy to match the buyer's journey for our ideal buyer. We knew these buyers tended to work in teams and evaluate multiple solutions before selecting a platform. That meant we weren't dealing with a straightforward marketing funnel — we needed to address the complexity of the modern buyer journey and offer prospects the right information at the right time. Social proof is an important part of this strategy, and to generate it we would need help from our customer advocates.
When used correctly, online review sites are effective engines of social proof. Google's research shows that 93% of B2B buyers start their journey with an online search, and 60% of those searches are for peer reviews. To optimize our presence on review sites, we needed to:
- Identify the right review sites for our product
- Optimize our listings to correctly position QuickBase
- Drive reviews that work for our ideal buyer
- Amplify our success
Identifying the right sites
With dozens (maybe hundreds?) of review sites to choose from, how does an efficient B2B marketer get started? Our approach was to start with some basic research. We took our 10 highest performing paid search terms and appended words like “reviews” and “comparison” and built a matrix of review sites by Google rank. We also searched terms like “QuickBase alternatives” and “QuickBase v. [insert competitor name here].”
From there we created a list of around 10 sites that popped up most frequently and started digging deeper. After conversations with other advocate marketers and site representatives, we determined that the sites most likely to deliver the social proof we needed were IT Central Station, G2 Crowd, and TrustRadius. Each of these sites has its own flavor, but they all are designed to serve the technology buyer type we wanted to reach.
Optimizing our listings
Once we selected our sites, it was time to optimize our listings. All reputable sites will work with you to ensure that your listing is up to date, including logos and descriptions, and that your product is placed in the most appropriate category. This was important for QuickBase, as we are part of an emerging category of rapid application development platforms.
For example, on G2 Crowd QuickBase was listed in the project management and ranked #18. We petitioned G2 Crowd to create a new category called “Rapid Application Development” and supported our petition with analyst reports, our own customer case studies, and even information about our competitors in the space. Within a few weeks G2 Crowd had created the new category and placed us alongside 30 competitors that were more appropriate for QuickBase.
Driving reviews that work
We use Influitive to manage our customer advocacy program. The platform enables us to drive reviews at scale by issuing “challenges” to a small group of passionate QuickBase fans — including writing online reviews.
However, we had work to do before asking customers for reviews. Because we were seated in an emerging category, we needed to educate our customers with the language of that category first. For months, we surrounded our advocates with blog posts, webinars, analyst reports, videos, and other content that helped position QuickBase in this emerging space. At our EMPOWER 2015 conference we introduced concepts like “citizen developers,” “rapid application development,” and “low-code platforms” — terms many of our customers had never heard before but had already put into practice at their own organizations.
Soon after the EMPOWER conference, we asked our advocates for reviews on G2 Crowd. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Not only were we able to generate more than 30 reviews in one week, but our customer advocates used the terms we had recently introduced to describe themselves and QuickBase. In that way, they became our spokespeople to the market — delivering the message that QuickBase was the popular choice for rapid application development.
Six months later, QuickBase is ranked #1 in the Rapid Application Development category on G2 Crowd and IT Central Station. We have generated just over 220 reviews in the past year, which has given us opportunities to grow our business in several ways. Review sites are a great way to generate:
- Leads. Most review sites offer some flavor of lead generation, as prospects can request demos, launch free trials, or simply ask a question online. The volume of leads we have generated isn't huge, but the quality is high.
- Content. We promoted our #1 ranking on G2 Crowd via a blog post and social media campaign, and we selectively tweet and share text from reviews we generate to drive social proof as an ongoing practice.
- Sales enablement. Sales teams can use review sites at almost any stage of the buyer's journey, from establishing the category (early stage) to validating a decision (late stage).
- Customer engagement. Believe it or not, your best customers enjoy advocating for you. Giving them an opportunity to vouch for your product amplifies their connection with something the use all the time. As long as you recognize and thank them for their efforts, they will feel good about it.
- Product feedback. Reviews are not static. They are part of a conversation your brand has with its customers. Even negative reviews help by giving you a glimpse into product shortcomings, and offering you a chance to hug your haters.
An Ongoing Process
The beauty of advocate marketing is that it's focused on the entire lifecycle of a customer, from prospect to buyer to customer to advocate. Social proof is just one initiative in our ongoing journey of B2B growth, and we're just at the beginning. In the past year, we've generated more than 12,000 individual acts of advocacy from our best customers — including nearly 1,000 pieces of product feedback, hundreds of referrals, 1,600 social shares that generated over 30,000 clicks, and more. Our advocate hub is where we drive content for our conferences, nominations for our customer awards program, reference volunteers, and where we recruited just over a dozen of our best customers to join our product council.
In the next year, we plan on expanding our relationship with review sites to focus more deeply on driving the most highly-relevant, in-depth reviews and content to support our emerging strategy. We think these customer advocacy efforts are the sizzle that's going to trigger an awful lot of fajita orders.
QuickBase is a low-code platform for building, customizing, and integrating custom business applications. With more than 6,000 customers — including more than 50% of the Fortune 100 — QuickBase is the technology of choice for companies that want to empower business users to solve their own challenges while maintaining the governance and security of an enterprise-ready app development system.