A few years ago, HubSpot didn't have a customer marketing team. We did customer marketing, but the activities were decentralized across multiple teams with no clear owners. So when I joined the company, one of my first initiatives was to advocate for creating and staffing a customer marketing team.
I got some pushback initially. I was told that we'd previously set up a team dedicated to cross-selling and upselling customers that hadn't gotten great traction, and that this was taken as proof that customer marketing wasn't the right play for HubSpot at the moment.
That objection missed the larger point -- by putting resources into customer expansion before customer marketing, we'd put the cart before the horse. If you haven't first made your customers successful, how can you expect them to buy more from you?
In the end, we decided to invest in our first dedicated customer marketing team, which has already racked up some impressive wins.
The lesson here? If you're setting out to build a customer-first team, every customer-facing department will need to reexamine how their behaviors align with a successful customer experience.
In many companies, that experience begins with marketing work. But marketing and customer success teams are often too disconnected from each other to ensure that there's consistency between the experience that's promised and the one actually delivered.
The core tension between marketing and customer success is that there actually isn't tension. Marketing is responsible for generating new leads before the point of sale, and customer success is responsible for everything that happens after. As a result, customer marketing will always be the lowest priority for marketers.
So when customer success needs to do marketing -- whether it's creating an onboarding campaign, or sending a product update announcement, they'll do it themselves. And the result is often a 500-word email or poor calls-to-action.
This is not an insult to customer success people. They are incredibly thorough and thoughtful, and talented at one-to-one communication. But building a consistent, meaningful customer communications program at scale is a task that marketing is best suited for.
If you want your customer success team to effectively communicate with all of your customers, you'll need to align them with your marketing department. Together, they can create powerful campaigns that increase retention rates and improve customer experience. To better understand this relationship, let's explore some of the benefits that customer success marketing will provide.
Customer Success Marketing
When marketing teams align with customer success, businesses are more effective at nurturing and engaging with customers. Marketing teams understand the fundamentals of mass communication while customer success is in tune with current customer needs. By working together, their campaigns will help customers get the most from your product or service. And, when customers achieve their goals with your company, you can expect a drop in your customer churn rate.
But, customer retention isn't the only benefit. Customer success marketing can also help with lead acquisition. For example, some SaaS businesses have free users who download the product without making a purchase. Over time, these companies use customer success marketing to nurture leads until they're ready for an upsell or cross-sell. We can see a version of this model in the examples below.
Companies Who Use Customer Success Marketing
Chartio is a cloud-based exploration tool that helps companies derive more insights from their customer data. While Chartio's tool is intuitive, every product in this industry is complex and takes some time to learn. This is where Chartio uses customer success marketing to differentiate itself from competitors.
Chartio offers users a 14-day free trial. During that period, the company assigns an onboarding specialist to help the customer upload their data. Rather than spending time to learn the product, Chartio's customers can ramp up to speed quickly and obtain the information they're looking for. Unlike its competitors, Chartio uses its effective onboarding process as a marketing tool for customer acquisition.
After the free trial, customers are presented with a pricing plan, and a sales rep is never included in the process. For customers who purchase the product, they are assigned a "Data Advisor" who helps them evaluate their data stack. This is also a customer success marketing tool because Chartio advertises these advisors as a key benefit of its service offer.
This initiative, as well as its onboarding campaign, has significantly improved Chartio's ability to attract and retain customers. In fact, when we asked how this impacted their business, they reported it had cut their churn rate in half.
Gainsight is a customer service platform that provides useful tools for customer service teams. It positions itself as "the customer success company," dedicated to helping customers achieve their goals. Gainsight has built its audience by using customer success as a marketing tool for differentiating its business. The company wants users to feel like the organization is as invested in their success as they are.
To do this, Gainsight has an "elements" tool that creates campaigns for users based on their current business needs. These campaigns are personalized and outline different actions to take using Gainsight's tools. With this feature, customers aren't just given access to new software, they're provided with a strategy that optimizes their performance. And, Gainsight makes sure to reference this customer success feature when attracting new prospects.
Additionally, Gainsight has a "Partner Ecosystem" that connects Gainsight's products to other business software. Many of Gainsight's customers already have tools like CRM, email automation, and a ticketing system, so they need customer service tools that can be integrated with their existing products. Gainsight uses the Partner Ecosystem to not only solve that problem, but also to advertise its product's flexibility. These partner companies can highlight the partner integration and help Gainsight's lead acquisition.
Now that you're familiar with customer success marketing and how it can be implemented in a business, let's discuss how your team can align its marketing and customer success teams.
How to Align Your Marketing and Customer Success Teams
1. Measure marketing on customer outcomes.
Marketing goals tend to be quantity-based. The theory is that if you generate enough demand, sales can pick and choose the conversations they want, then close the best fits.
The reality is that working toward a purely quantitative goal means there's a lower quality bar. If 100 people sign up for your free product, but only 10 make it through onboarding and only two become paying customers, you're better off targeting better fits instead of focusing purely on volume.
There will always be a portion of the marketing team focusing purely on demand, and that's okay. A certain amount of volume is required to keep the lights on -- there's no point investing in a full customer marketing team if you're only generating five leads a month, for example. You can balance these two goals by splitting your marketing team into a lead-generation focused team, and a customer outcomes-focused team (also known as customer marketing -- more on that later).
But beyond that, marketing needs to be focused on customer outcomes as a metric. This can come in the form of usage, product adoption, customer expansion -- as long as there's a tie between the goal and a customer actually seeing success with the product.
For marketing to make progress on this goal, you'll first have to set up feedback loops between your customer success and marketing teams. The following mechanisms are all good ways for the two teams to get more closely aligned on what counts as a "good fit customer:"
- Churn and renewal analysis: Take a deep dive into the buckets of customers who cancel and renew with your business. What do they have in common, and what does that tell you about their needs? Not everyone who cancels is necessarily a bad fit -- it could be that your product isn't reliable enough, for example.
- Sentiment-based segmentation: If you aren't proactively collecting feedback from your customers, start doing so. We run a formal Net Promoter Score® survey quarterly, but even social media sentiment analysis is a good start. Identify your promoters and detractors, and identify commonalities.
- Demographic guardrails: As you're learning about your customer base through the two-axis listed above, make sure you're paying attention to demographic trends as well. Are there certain industries, age groups, verticals, etc. that pop up over and over again in either your group of promoters or detractors?
Now let's talk about the customer outcomes that marketing should care about:
- Usage metrics: Are you rolling out a new feature? Do you know that usage of a particular part of your product, or a certain set of products, is correlated with retention? Have marketing focus on how to improve usage.
- Overall product adoption and activation: Onboarding is the most critical point in the customer lifecycle -- you have to nail this. Marketing should develop campaigns that move people through the activation period, or even work directly with product to iterate on the onboarding experience.
- Outcomes-based onboarding: Assess which actions successful customers took during the onboarding process that unsuccessful customers didn't. Rebuild your onboarding process around those commonalities, and don't consider customers onboarded until they've passed certain milestones.
- Customer expansion: Identifying customers who are ready to be cross- or upsold. Marketing should develop a series of trigger events and "tells" that indicate when a customer is ready for a new product, as well as workflows to surface those opportunities as they arise.
This buy-in needs to happen at the C-level. Your CMO's primary goal is to create sustainable sources of new business for your company, and she's probably also feeling pressure from the sales team to pass them a steady supply of leads.
In the short term, focusing on customer outcomes won't impact her lead flow.
But in the long term, if her team focuses on customer outcomes, they'll create happier, more successful customers. Those customers will be more likely to renew, are better candidates for cross-sells and upsells, and will be more willing to promote your brand and refer you new business.
Of course, to unlock that potential you'll need a customer marketing team. Which brings us to my next point.
2. Introduce a customer marketing team.
The best way to structure this is to essentially set up a hunter/farmer team structure on marketing. In other words, you'll have a part of your marketing team dedicated to new leads and a subset dedicated to customer outcomes. It's always better to split a team's vs. a person's focus -- it's hard to ask one person to care equally about five different things.
Here's what your customer marketing team should work on:
- Generating customer leads: Identify the trigger events most closely correlated with cross-sell, upsell, and contract expansion opportunities, then build a pipeline of these opportunities for your sales team.
- Success of existing customer base: Nurture customers from closed-won to a successful customer state. This includes creating educational resources, onboarding campaigns, and customer journey mapping.
- Own all customer communications: Act as a "gatekeeper" to create a communications strategy that encompasses product updates, service outages, customer-focused campaigns, etc.
- Activate customer base: Turn your customers into promoters of your brand by building out a referral program, an online review strategy, compiling testimonials and case studies, and encouraging brand amplification.
3. Invest in customer enablement.
The tide of progress has always favored convenience. Think about how you used to get from one place to another. 50 years ago, your only options were to walk, bike, drive, or take public transportation. Then, we invented cabs that could be hailed on the street. Today, of course, you can order a ride on-demand anytime.
Your customers have undergone the same shift -- and they're bringing the same attitudes into how they interact with their vendors. Modern buyers don't want to wait on you to help them -- they want to help themselves.
This is a win for your customer success team, too. If you can enable your customers to self-service common, repeatable issues like setting up one part of your product, or changing their billing information, you're freeing up significant time for your team to focus on edge cases and more complex issues that actually require human intervention.
Here are some common areas where companies could do a better job helping their customers help themselves:
- Onboarding: Have your customer marketing team create nurturing campaigns that instruct customers how to step through the repeatable parts of your onboarding process. Save your customer team's time for more complicated issues like overall strategy or custom implementations.
- Knowledge base: Survey your customer success teams to identify the most commonly asked questions with standard answers, like pricing questions or changing your password. Start by creating a lightweight page that answers these questions in the form of an FAQ. Over time, you can build this out to a more robust knowledge base site that's searchable and covers more areas of your product/service.
- Customer network: Once you reach a critical mass of customers, consider they can help each other. Creating forums or groups where customers can share issues and best practices is a great way to open up an entirely new line of support.
There's an upfront investment required to create these assets, but it's well worth it in the time and energy you'll save your team over the long run.
Just because marketing and customer success have always been thought of as existing at opposite ends of the customer lifecycle doesn't mean they should function this way.
Tying marketing to customer outcomes is like feeding two birds with one scone. You'll make better customers, who will retain better, and those customers will eventually become a valuable source of leads and referrals for your marketing team. That's the great thing about putting your customer first: everyone wins.
To learn more on this topic, read our reasons to align your marketing and customer service teams next.
Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
A version of this blog post was originally published on ThinkGrowth.
Originally published Jun 13, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated June 15 2021