How Clinicient Turned $1k Into $1m in Pipeline and Built a Customer Community Like No Other
Let me start by saying this: It doesn’t take a huge marketing budget to make an impact. By harnessing the power of our customer advocates, my team at Clinicient turned a $1k investment into a $1m return, and rallied the internal resources needed to build the very first ancillary healthcare customer community.
Imagine you knew you could invest $1,000 and get a $1 million return. Would you take that bet? Of course you would. But what if you only had $100? You’d obviously need to gather the extra funds from somewhere, and chances are you’d go to those closest around you to get that extra cash.
That’s the problem I faced when I set out to build a one-of-a-kind online customer community. As The Swiss Army Knife of Product Marketing at Clinicient, I had seen firsthand the power of mobilizing advocates, but to achieve continuous success, I needed the tools to harness the power of my happy customers and turn their experience into real, quantifiable ROI for my marketing team. But I also needed a budget, badly.
Keep reading to see how I rallied every department in my company to pitch in to build one of the most successful online customer communities today. It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but the outcome has been well worth the effort.
Why Build a Customer Community?
For quite some time now, businesses have understood the power of word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM). Any marketer worth their salt can rattle off the statistics:
- 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products—making these recommendations the information source ranked highest for trustworthiness. [Nielson]
- 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. [Ogilvy/Google/TNS]
- 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts. [BrightLocal]
- 91% of B2B buyers are influenced by word-of-mouth when making their buying decision. [USM]
But very few know how to turn these statistics into real-world results. That’s because it’s hard—really hard.
At Clinicient, our regional shows gave a forum to allow customers to come together to interact, share ideas and discuss how they use Clinicient products, while also giving me and my team the opportunity to engage in one-to-one conversations. What these shows also allowed for was an opportunity to produce word-of-mouth marketing. We all loved these shows, but it was truthfully one of the only times our customers got to get together to meet us and each other. So what we wanted to do was virtualize that experience so it could happen at any given time.
Sounds like an admirable goal, right? All you need to do is to find the money in the budget, build it and then sit back and watch the magic happen.
But these things don’t build themselves. And they cost bucks. So, where do those dollars come from? Which department is going to fork over their precious budget to build this?
That was my job to figure out. I needed to demonstrate multiple ROI perspectives for each department if I hoped to entice them to hand over hard-won budget resources to the digital community project.
Is It Worth the Effort?
Remember the $1 million return we spoke about earlier? Well that’s not just an over-the-top example of turning a small investment into a big profit; it’s exactly what I did.
Like a lot of companies, we used our Net Promoter Score program to gauge our customers’ satisfaction. This information was great—looked really good on the wall when we posted it—but we needed to figure out what to actually do with it.
So my team came up with a plan: We’d try and harness our 9s and 10s to create online reviews for Clinicent on a popular software review site. We wanted to see if in the age of the customer, could we empower our customers to tell people about Clincient?
I ran a short, two-week campaign in which I sent personalized emails to promoters and offered them each a $25 gift card to Starbucks or Amazon in exchange for a review. The entire cost of the campaign was about $1,000.
We were just asking people who loved us, can you go tell the world about us?
The results? No one could have predicted the outcome.
Our experiment produced $1 million in pipeline and another $172,000 in attribution to closure and won deals—with just over 25 reviews. I was blown away.
Rallying the Funds
Needless to say, I was hooked on advocacy. But I still had to sell it's viability to rest of the company for funding to build the online community.
In most companies, budgets are built around KPIs: How much money will it take for each department to achieve X? This means every penny in a department’s budget is accounted for, and each department is held responsible for turning those dollars and cents into quantifiable results.
Prying away those hard-fought-for budgets to build something completely new, to innovate, can be challenging to say the least. I knew that to get the money I needed to create Clinicient’s online customer community, I’d have to show real value for each department.
I looked at each department and asked myself, ‘What are their KPIs; what do they care about the most?’
Taking a page from Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why,” my pitch focused on why a customer community is necessary—not just what I wanted to build—illustrating the benefits to each department:
- Operations (where Support lives): They needed a working support portal that their customers would love, something much more advanced than they already had that would integrate into Salesforce seamlessly.
- Sales: Word-of-mouth marketing exists (as illustrated by our early experiment), and strong references close deals. What sales team doesn’t want more leads?
- Implementation: Training takes time and resources, so a new self-serve knowledge base would give the Implementation Team a centralized hub for training and free up their time to focus on other KPIs.
- IT: Maintaining third-party software is a huge burden for IT departments, not to mention the headache of licensing, so I offered a way to minimize this workload and give them their time back. No to mention spending less on the proposed technological solution.
- Marketing: By giving customers a way to speak to other customers and share their experience—basically upselling and cross-selling on their own—the Marketing Team could widen our focus to address the total available market (TAM), increasing exposure and scalability.
I framed my pitch as a cross-departmental win that would produce ROI for every single stakeholder, and by showing the win-win nature of the proposal, I was able to rally the money needed. To this day, there’s not one department that ponied up that’s saying they're not getting what they wanted out of the community.
After I rallied the resources, I had to switch gears and plan how to build and implement the community. I approached several third-party developers and received bids ranging from $60k to $180k. I sourced these developers just as our customers source our products—by talking to references and asking questions:
• Who did you use?
• Would you work with them again?
• Why or why not?
After receiving a really strong bid, I found room in the budget to include something in my proposal that I had been considering months prior: an Influitive AdvocateHub. Influitive would allow me to harness the power of advocacy to generate word-of-mouth at scale.
Frankly, when you look at customer communities, it's really only one strong play towards doing something different in the marketplace. It’s another to say I can do that but I can also mobilize my advocates.
The marketing and sales budgets took the brunt of the hit to cover Influitive, but when I looked at the ROI potential, it was truly only a drop in the bucket.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I took a lot of flak during those five months of project management and development, borrowing eight internal resources in terms of devs and subject matter experts. This was widely regarded as somewhat of a skunkworks project internally. It wasn’t on our product roadmap and it was pissing a lot of people off, frankly. But I stuck to my guns and built something that would change how my entire organization interacted with our customers and potential customers. In the end, we delivered the very first ancillary healthcare customer community: The Empower Community.
What we built is a place where anyone within outpatient rehabilitation—from physical therapists to occupational therapists to speech pathologists—can ask questions to one another and gather feedback from multiple sources. It’s basically a Reddit for our customer base.
The Empower Community consists of:
- Discussions: Engage with experts and share insights.
- Knowledge Base: Browse materials by role or topic and find quick answers to common customer questions.
- Exchange: Chat in a real-time messaging space similar to Slack or Chatter.
- Resources: Review free weekly educational webinars and news on product upgrades and releases.
- The Clinicient LAB: Experience our Influitive AdvocateHub.
Build It and They Will Come?
After building the Empower Community, my primary concern was mobilizing Clinicient’s advocates and getting our customers aquainted with the great new tool. I knew the “build it and they will come” mantra works in the movies, but no so much in marketing. So to grow the community, I turned to personalization.
I began by asking a question: Why should anyone join?
When you invite people, you invite them for a purpose, and you personalize that purpose. But you also give them a platform to socialize with others about their experience and show them what they’re able to gain from it. This is the embodiment of advocate marketing as well as a sticky go-to-market strategy.
By addressing this purpose, I was able to personalize invites, making each one meaningful for the invitee. I wanted to show every customer what they could gain from the community, whether that be a space to get their most common questions answered, give product feedback or share their experiences with the world.
But we didn’t just give them a soapbox—we gave them a megaphone too. The Clinicient LAB makes it easy for advocates to spread the word by sharing links on their Facebook or LinkedIn to interesting articles hidden within the Empower Community. What's also neat is that we give members the tools they need to elevate their own personal brand and become thought leaders in their industry by talking about the most cutting-edge information within outpatient rehab.
My early goals for the community were lofty—I thought. I wanted 45 active advocates, 25 references and 24 software reviews.
For our Clinicient LAB, we did a pretty passive launch because we were pushing out some pretty radical new stuff all at once. But even with this soft-sell technique, what we accomplished far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
To date our Empower Community has experienced 134% growth from August 2016 to December 2016, with no signs of stopping. What is more astonishing is that on average each user spends 4 1/2 minutes on the community per session and continues to return to the site 73% of the time.
But remember what drove us to innovating in the first place? The Net Promoter Score. The changes I saw that were some of the most astounding of all: We were able to bolster our Net Promoter Score by double digits in the first quarter after release.
And even more satisfying is the real, quantifiable ROI. In the Clinicient LAB alone, more than 300 advocates have completed over 2,000 challenges, producing 19 referrals that have resulted in more won deals and influenced over $200,000+ in pipeline. In addition, advocates have produced well over my goal of 24 reviews and approximately 50 references, influencing more than $1m in pipeline. As an amazing bonus, our Advocates absolutely love using the LAB and it's proving to be a great way to get to know our customers and vice versa.
Just for reference, all of that hard-won ROI, increased customer satisfaction and engagement, and leap in Net Promoter Score has been achieved with only one full-time employee at the helm. In less than six months.
But we’re not stopping there. I’m looking forward to growing a team to handle the day-to-day tactical operations so there is time to focus on more strategic opportunities to evolve our business partnerships and customer advocacy strategy.
Building an entire ecosystem around the customer is not a one-step process. But the rewards your company can reap, together with the community you build and personalized service you offer, is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come. I think I speak for all Clinicient customers and internal employees when I say that we are very proud of what we have created and cannot wait to see what the future holds.