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I’ve been briefed by about 80 social software companies in the last 5 years, so it’s rare that I come across a vendor and say, “Wow, this is a new category.”

I first ran into Extole CRO Greg Brown at InfusionCon in Phoenix, earlier this year. The whole customer-to-customer (C2C) category had been on my radar for some time, but I always saw software companies taking a generalist approach to the category, and trying to lump C2C solutions in with their bigger suites (i.e. Buddy Media, CrowdFactory).

This isn’t a dig on those two companies, simply a different choice of approach – the classic point-solution vs. suite-solution software conundrum.

First, let’s define what “C2C” looks like, because any new social media acronym can be really confusing. This screenshot from Skymall, one of Extole’s customers, sums it up. Essentially, if you refer a friend to Skymall, you get $10, and they get $10. Sure, this is not a “new” formula – the idea of referral marketing goes back at least two generations.

But, C2C referral marketing has always been a really annoying, friction-filled transaction. Imagine trying to refer someone to your Toyota dealer in 1992. You would have had to call them, they would have had to walk into the car dealership and give your name… just thinking about it gives me a headache.

Extole’s software has removed the friction from this process for a cool and diverse set of customers. There’s one thing that I’m seeing in common from a lot of their case study customers – many of them are doing something new and cool, too. For example, Redbox changed the in-person video-rental industry and SolarCity changed the consumer-utility market. Sure, Extole has some more “mainstream” customers, but I dig their tendency to work with companies that are trying to change the rules.

Their product has three other legs: social promotion, social expression and social analytics. Now, it may not be a suite solution, like the Marketo/CrowdFactory suite, but if I were an $1B+ customer-facing brand, I would want to be using a point (best-of-breed) solution like Extole’s.

They’re seriously the first vendor I’ve seen that really takes a “fully integrated approach” (their phrase, not mine) to C2C social marketing. This video really nails it, around the 2-min mark.

Here’s a few of the things that I think they’re really doing right, from a customer acquisition perspective:

1. Across-the-board usage of all key social platforms (including Pinterest) – very few software companies with under 100 employees master this kind of blocking and tackling really well.

2. They have nearly by name brands that focus on real-world business objectives (sales, etc.) rather than silly social media vanity metrics.

3. Their library of whitepapers is cleanly set up, and materials focus on timely topics aimed at mid-level customer-facing decision-makers (Facebook Open Graph, Basics of Social Referral Programs)

4. Clean and easy forms: So few social media software companies understand the importance of using form-fills of less than 10 fields, to make for quick and consistent lead-gen.

5. Drinking Their Own Champagne: Extole uses referral marketing themselves, and offers $1k for customer referrals. It’s a small touch, but meaningful.

Here’s what I’d perhaps change, if I were them, and I wanted to add on a few more marquee customers.

1. The Inverse Bell Curve: Extole gates all (top-of-funnel) TOFU and end-of-funnel content in their content library. Statistically, this actually hurts lead quantity for MQLs (market-qualified leads). The place to “tighten up” is the middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU), where prospective customer pain is greatest. Hat tip to Jon Miller for this concept.

2. Auto-form-fills: When you’ve got super-cool technology, you want leads to be able to get their hands on it as quickly as possible. Using something like Reachforce’s Smartforms makes it easier for busy enterprise marketers to get their hands on your goodies.

3. CTA-driven blog posts: This is a mere tactical fix, but Extole’s blog posts don’t run full-text in RSS, and they don’t bear calls-to-action. Fixing this would better allow them to share their best practices, and develop leads. I agree with Techdirt’s article on this one. Even if you’re not a publisher, running a truncated blog feed is not usually good for creating new customers.

4. Quantification Around C2C Org Maturity: This is my big one. The one thing that I think Extole’s customers are going to look to them for, in the TOFU and MOFU buy cycle stages, is some kind of benchmark for where their organization is, around C2C, and what it’s costing them to not be further along in maturity. Some type of calculator or organizational “C2C revenue score” that quantifies this type of maturity would be really helpful in helping mid-level marketing decision-makers define and quantify their need.

5. Weekly Webinars: Since the C2C Referral Category is not nearly as well known to enterprise brands as the other 5 social marketing use cases, they could gain a lot more brand awareness by simply evangelizing not only their software’s use case, but all of the actionable metrics from it. This is something that marketing automation brands like Marketo and Hubspot did very well, in their early days. To beef up attendance, they can partner with big data vendors who hunger to be seen with cool social firms, or with analyst/consultant types with email invite lists of 10k-100k each.