I almost didn't get to interview Davin Wilfrid of QuickBase. At the Influitive Advocamp show, we were set to talk about Wilfrid's experience building a customer advocate program. But there was a wee glitch: on March 8, Intuit formally announced the sale of QuickBase to a private equity firm. For interview purposes, that spells: awkward!
Since QuickBase will be proceeding with business-as-usual, we agreed to do the interview, with the understanding that Wilfrid wouldn't address the sale itself. So if you're looking for an insider dish on the sale of QuickBase, you've come to the wrong blog post. But if you want to know how QuickBase built a customer advocate program from scratch - including an effective peer review initiative - read on.
Wilfrid, the customer marketing manager for QuickBase, has worked at the company for two and a half years. He's made big strides on QuickBase's customer advocacy program - enough to have been a finalist for a "Bammie" award at Advocamp for Advocate Marketer of the Year. Our interview was the day after the awards ceremony, with Wilfrid smarting from the award being given to Michael Beahm of Blackbaud, who built a customer referral program I've already posted on. (Alas, no drama here - Beahm and Wilfrid are friends and all is well). Here's what Wilfrid had to say.
The story of QuickBase - elevator pitch style
Jon Reed: So, Davin, you almost won.
Davin Wilfrid: I know. I demand to see the vote count (laughs).
Reed: Give us the elevator pitch on the virtues of QuickBase.
Wilfrid: QuickBase is a low code platform for rapid application development. There's a category of platforms right now that all deliver hyper-fast app development, because there's no code and no infrastructure. The sweet spot for these types of technologies is what we think of as tier two and tier three apps. So, it's not ERP. It's not core systems. It's some customer-facing applications, but a lot of what we call tier three is the "get work done" apps. It's replacing manual processes, spreadsheets, email chains, where you can very quickly build a workflow that automates work across teams to increase your productivity - and also reduce the backlog on IT because they don't have to spend six months developing something.
Reed: Is project management a popular category?
Wilfrid: It's our most popular use case, some flavor of project management.
Reed: Other popular use cases?
Wilfrid: A lot of customer database tracking, branching into CRMs. The larger the company, the more likely they are to have a packaged CRM solution already. But we do have a lot of customers who have really quirky sales processes; they find that the investment required to customize something like Salesforce is just cost-prohibitive, so they find QuickBase and can build a solution that matches their process exactly. Also: ITSM (IT service management). There's a ton of different use cases.
Reed: So custom development lives...
Wilfrid: We think that QuickBase is at the intersection of IT and business. IT likes it because they can manage roles and permissions granularly... IT builds the QuickBase app within a couple of days or a week and then, essentially, hands off ownership of that app to the line of business person. The line of business person can make any adjustments, such as adding new team members, or customizing a notification that didn't exist before. Then, what we call "citizen developers" can do those activities themselves.
The road to the Bammies - launching advocate marketing
Reed: Shifting gears a little bit - you were an awards finalist at Advocamp. What do you think got you there?
Wilfrid: QuickBase hired me to do content development - case studies, customer testimonials, videos, that kind of thing. In the process of doing that, we discovered we had a sizable, passionate fan base who had no platform to shout from. They had no way of telling the world how much they loved our products, and that it might be right for other businesses as well.
In the fall of 2014, we decided to create a whole program around advocate marketing, to operationalize our best customers not just as assets in sales and marketing, which is the way a lot of people think about it, but also to reward them for helping us. We wanted to encourage them to participate and be part of our overall community - a way to say thanks the things they do for us.
Reed: Did you know about Influitive when you decided to do this, or did you decide to do this and then start looking for solutions?
Wilfrid: It's a really good question. The first I heard of Influitive was at a conference I went to two years ago, called the Summit on Customer Engagement. I met some customers of Influitive at that event. It seemed to me that the companies most like mine were very happy with Influitive, so that's when we started talking with them. It was another eight months or so before we bought it and rolled it out, but it was sort of concurrent with our idea building.
Reed: So when did you go live?
Wilfrid: We bought Influitive in October of 2014, and then it was a three month period to implement it. We launched January of 2015.
How do you build a community from scratch?
Reed: And did you have anyone to populate that Influitive community with originally, or were you starting from scratch?
Wilfrid: We had some, but, honestly, not that much. We had some really passionate people who participate in our online community and our forums and things like that. In terms of volume, it wasn't that great. We also do a lot of net promoter research. We do two net promoter surveys a year, and we were able to identify happy customers there. Happy customers are not necessarily advocates, but they can potentially become advocates.
Reed: So how did you build up?
Wilfrid: We had a list of about 1,000 customers that we invited. Within 24 hours, we got 220 responses to join the program.
Reed: That's a good response rate.
Wilfrid: Yeah - we got a 40 percent open rate with 22 percent conversion.
Creating an effective peer review program
Reed: Your team has used your advocate community for a number of projects, but you're here presenting on peer reviews. Tell us about that.
Wilfrid: Product reviews are a big one. As one of the speakers here said, the difference between a customer who advocates and a customer who's just happy is very often just asking.
Reed: But I'll add one more distinction to that: it's about asking in a systematic way, because if you don't have an organized solution, it isn't sustainable.
Wilfrid: That's an interesting point because that's what we tried before in 2011 with a "QuickBase Hero"project. The Social Media Manager at the time did a cool blog post about how our QuickBase people were heroes, and if people left us a testimonial as a blog comment, we would send them a cape that had our QuickBase logo on it. It was successful, but it was not sustainable, and not scalable.
Reed: So what did you do differently next time?
Wilfrid: We did a bunch of research around our buyer personas, and determined that peer review sites were influential for our buyers. We made a short list of about ten review sites, and optimized our company listings on those sites. Then for the more focused efforts, we chose G2 Crowd, Trust Radius and IT Central Station because those are the ones that are much more focused on IT buyers.
Reed: If you want credible reviews, they have to be balanced and honest. How did you achieve that? Did you give your reviewers any guidance when you asked them if they would write a review?
Wilfrid: Nope. No, we just say something very simple, like "Let G2 Crowd know what you think about QuickBase," and it's just a link to the site.
The wrap - QuickBase customer advocate results
Reed: And did you track that the number of reviews since you launched that campaign?
Wilfrid: In the past year, we've generated just over 220 reviews across all the sites we're tracking.
Reed: It's early on, but are you working to tie those reviews into confirmed sales?
Wilfrid: We're working on that now. Our numbers for the first year are volumetric, because we are changing our go-to-market strategy. We plan on getting a lot more sophisticated with things like referrals, which we haven't really focused on, and driving deal impact and all of that kind of stuff.
But as for our volumetrics success, for our big metrics, we are looking at the number of advocates. We were hoping for 100; we had 220 in the first 24 hours. We had metrics around total advocacy activities which is, essentially, total volume of stuff that people do. We were looking for 10,000 in the first year and we got just over 12,000. We had metrics around reviews. We were looking for 150, and we got 220. We also saw an uptick in case studies and video testimonials. Using our advocate hub, we managed to recruit 17 video testimonials at one event. Regarding content development and inbound marketing content, that was really successful.
Reed: And it sounds like the best is yet to come.
Wilfrid: We think so. Take reviews as an example: the actual reviews your customers leave you on the site are just the tip of the iceberg. We're working on a strategy where our sales team is enabled to use peer reviews as part of the sales process. Prospects are going to find them anyway, so it can be part of the guided experience if a sales person does a demo and says, "Hey, here's a link to our profile on IT Central Station or G2 Crowd. Why don't you check out how people rank us versus our competitors."
End note: for more on the impact of peer review sites, check out Barb Mosher Zinck's The value of peer reviews in the software decision process.