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Some of your customers know your products as well -- or possibly even better -- than you do. So why not use them as advocates and sales agents? One company, Needle, is doing just that.

The Draper, Utah-based Needle offers what it calls a “fan-sourcing” sales platform to drive conversion. The platform leverages a fan base in order to conduct virtual person-to-person customer service, and, in the company’s words, to “evangelize your brand.” On Monday, the company announced it had obtained an additional US$ 10.5 million in financing, following US$ 2 million raised earlier this year.

‘Like-Minded People’

The platform is designed primarily for online shopping, but can also provide live interaction to a customer in a brick-and-mortar store who scans a QR or bar code on their connected mobile device. To emphasize that its fans/agents can work from anywhere, Needle uses a remodeled Airstream motor home as its current office.

Through Needle’s tools, fans are enlisted, trained to sell a product or service, and then enabled and motivated to perform that activity from wherever they can get online. By connecting with a peer, the company says, the sales suggestions are more like recommendations from a friend than advice from a sales professional.

In an animated demo on their site, Needle identifies what it sees as a key problem in online sales conversion -- the point at which a potential customer is referred to a call center operator, who is often unable to help a customer figure out which product meets his or her need. “Needle provides the platform to bring like-minded people together,” the demo said.

Recruitment, Interaction

The recruitment of a company’s biggest fans is conducted by Needle through Facebook, Twitter and other avenues, and then Needle screens, trains, manages and rewards those fans within a few weeks. Online customers are invited to chat with a fan/expert, or Needler, via a banner or a pop-up invitation.

Interaction between a fan-turned-advocate and a potential customer takes place through live chat and a Demo & Draw tool that allows fans/experts to visually point out product details. A Cartbuilder helps to drive sales, and reports are generated to highlight trends, site issues and buying habits.

The company said that the fan/expert becomes the equivalent of a personal shopper, helping to guide the potential customer with such questions as “How will you be using this product?” and “What kind of other accessories do you already wear?”

Founded in 2010, Needle said that many of its clients have seen their ROI double and customer loyalty dramatically increase because of its platform. Its clients currently include Skullcandy, Woolrich and Under Armour.