Apr 26, 2021

4 Stages to a Better Partnership With Marketing

Jeff Breunsbach, Bob London,

By Jeff Breunsbach, Bob London

 

You can’t attend a conference for go to market leaders without hearing about the relationship between Marketing and Sales, or Sales and Customer Success. But what about the relationship between Marketing and Customer Success? 

 

The truth is, Marketing and CS often don’t have overlapping incentives so the relationship gets ignored. Think about it. When was the last time a Marketing team had a renewal rate goal? If they were required to think about customers post-sale, they’d give their relationship with CS a lot more attention. 


But there’s no question that a strong partnership between CS and Marketing can serve as a force multiplier for members on both teams. Marketing creates more informed content; Customer Success leverages content to improve adoption. 


So the challenge for a Customer Success leader is getting a “new business” executive to partner with them on retention. This chapter outlines a path to get there, by “layering” on each area of focus over time. 

Layer #1: Talk to each other

The first step in building this partnership is exactly what it sounds like: get in the habit of regularly meeting with your peer in Marketing. CS leaders that are fully embedded in Marketing’s strategy meet with the Marketing leader monthly. 

Most of the initial work in creating this partnership is focused on “alignment”—sharing and setting strategy together. 

1. Ensure there’s a company-level customer retention goal. You can’t do anything else in the article if the executive team has not made customer retention a priority.

2. Suggest a few marketing goals to support the company retention goal. Ensure Marketing owns a retention number, and share customer trends that help them prioritize their work.  

3. Define who owns each key decision. Common areas of dispute include: 

  • Who defines the cadence of communication to the customer?
  • Who owns NPS?

  • Who owns defining the customer journey?

  • Who owns the final decision on the tech stack to use for communicating with customers? 


 

Establish the decision owner for each of these areas. Then outline a process for what happens when there’s a disagreement. 

4. Verify both teams have delivered value and met commitments. Both teams should sign up for initiatives that move the needle on their retention and growth goals, then be held accountable for execution. For example: 

 

Problem: Customers are having difficulty embedding the product into existing company processes.

  • Marketing talks with successful customers to understand what healthy workflows look like. Then they create content to share those practices (via research studies, blogs, webinars).
  • Marketing arms Customer Success with internal content to help executive champions enforce a new workflow within their companies.
  • Customer Success partners with Sales to set expectations upfront about the work required from new customers to be successful with the product.
  • The Customer Success leader defines the titles of contacts that are ideal for implementing the product with new customers, so Sales and Customer Success can work to build those relationships quickly. 

 

Problem: Legacy customers aren’t using newer key features in the product, so they aren’t getting the full value out of the product.

  • Marketing runs a multi-channel campaign focused on the use cases (“jobs to be done”) of the unused features. They partner with the Education/Training team to deploy content through email, in-app messages, and video.
  • Customer Success does a 30 or 60-day sprint to work 1:1 with a list of higher impact customers that aren’t using those features and help them see the value of using those areas of the product. 

Layer #2: Actively share customer insights

Marketing has a pulse on what the market is saying: they’re listening to competitors, analysts, social media… But they’re often disconnected from the customer and are unaware of the customer’s actual experience. There's an incredible opportunity for the CS leader to understand the broader market, and the CMO to understand the actual customer.

 

This stage of building the partnership is about moving from just meeting regularly to proactively sharing the right customer data with Marketing. Here are three ideas we’ve tried that helped build a better connection between teams: 


1. Host live customer interviews during the company all-hands meetings. We’ve called this initiative the Customer Insights Series; our CCO brings on the customer for 30 minutes and interviews them, looking for the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s internal only, the questions are preset, and we leave about 5-7 minutes at the end for team questions.

 

One unexpected outcome has been how engaged non-customer facing roles (like Marketing) have been with these calls. And we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from those teams after every internal customer interview. 

 

2. Hold monthly “What Our Customers Are Saying” (WOCAS) meetings with CS, Marketing, Sales, and Product. The point of this meeting is to share insights about customers across the customer journey, and create plans to take action on what teams are hearing. 

 

Customer Success comes to this meeting bringing insights from NPS, CSAT, or other survey data. 

 

Sales brings a summary of what they’re hearing from opportunities in the pipeline. They might share how they’re changing their messaging in outreach or decks based on what they’re hearing. 

 

Marketing talks about what they’re hearing in public forums and review sites. They might share the feedback they’re hearing from customers on content and campaigns—whether certain topics are resonating with people more. 

 

And Product brings qualitative feedback from in-app surveys and user interviews. 

 

Everyone involved is carrying their own weight because they all have a different perspective on the customer. The outcome of the meeting is for every team to drive action and report back.

 

2. Give customers a seat at the decision making table. One of the best habits Customer Success teams can get into is to share call recording clips of customer interviews to help explain the “why” behind new initiatives. 

 

There are options for call recording software—Gong, Chorus—or this could be using Zoom. Set up an easy way for the team to create clips that communicate wins, challenges, opportunities, or ideas from customer discussions. Then share those with the teams thinking about those problems. 

Layer #3: Collaboratively define the Ideal Customer Profile, value prop, and messaging

This is where Marketing and CS actively leverage customer insights to inform the company’s positioning strategy. 

 

Creating an ideal customer profile or messaging a product’s value proposition aren’t initiatives you run in the background. Customer Success and Marketing need to set up a “sprint” exercise to define goals, talk with customers, then bring everything together. 

 

At Higher Logic we called this initiative “50 Customers in 50 days.” Here’s how it worked: 

  • It was initially led by our CCO but involved executives across departments. 
  • We picked 50 customers from different segments, with different NPS and CSAT scores, and set up a 30-minute call with each. 
  • During or after each call, our executives would fill out a five question survey: 
    • 1. The organization is healthy and thriving? 1-5
    • 2. [X] plays a key supporting role in this organization’s strategy? 1-5
    • 3. This organization is realizing the full potential of [X]’s products and services? 1-5
    • 4. The organization has a positive view of [X]
    • 5. Do any churn risks apply to this account (multi-select)
    • 6. Any additional notes 

Then our executives would meet every Friday for those 10 weeks to review the responses, determine next steps, and look for gaps where we needed to talk to additional customers. 

 

This exercise brought together executives from all departments, but it was especially useful in helping Customer Success and Marketing refine the company’s ICP and positioning. There’s a strong chance you’ll find that your company is thinking or talking about your product in a different way than customers.

Layer #4: Optimize content and engagement

The final stage to building a strong connection with Marketing is about being a key player in their ongoing initiatives. 

 

One of the core areas where Marketing and CS can come together is through content marketing. Good content teams try to get in the heads of their audience and solve problems for them—but if they’re disconnected from the customers, their content will be too.

 

1. Elevate the content quality. Content teams want the Customer Success to ask customers the question, “If you could talk to an expert on any topic, what would that topic be? What would you ask them?” Responses to this question often aren’t about the product, they’re about a skill gap the customer has. That’s powerful information the Marketing team can leverage—helping them create higher quality work, and helping you get your customers the content they need.

 

2. Control communication fatigue. Beyond raising the quality of content, the Customer Success leader must work with Marketing to coordinate what content is going to customers. If you think about the amount of content generated in a business—you have CSMs creating decks, training and education, community—it’s constant and it’s everywhere. The CS leader needs to protect the customer’s time and attention. 

 

One process we’re testing is to have a weekly meeting, we call it our “Customer Communications Clearinghouse” (aka “3-C”) meeting. We bring all these content teams together across Marketing, CS, and Product to look at a shared calendar about what is going out to customers and how it’s being delivered.

 

3. Test how content influences product adoption. As part of those 3-C meetings, we set up a hypothesis and design a multi-touch campaign to test it. If Product thinks a feature is important to retention, we can come up with paths to get customers using that feature: a webinar, an email cadence, an in-app message. We think about all the mediums for delivering that trigger and then test how it changes adoption. 


4. Create internal storytellers. CSMs are constantly testing out new slides with customers, but they’re not usually thinking about how those could be used by others. The CS leader should get CSMs to recognize when they’re generating valuable content that should be shared—either with other customers, or with other teams in the company.

Summary

I expect we’ll see more pressure from within companies for Marketing and Customer Success to work closely together—it’s only a matter of time, considering the rise in product-led companies and digitally-led engagement models. 

 

Some takeaways on how Customer Success and Marketing can build a better partnership:  

  1. Get in the habit of meeting regularly to sign up for initiatives and ensure those commitments have been met.  
  2. Actively share customer insights through different meetings and formats: live customer interviews, “WOCAS” meetings, and call recordings are all work experimenting with. 
  3. Work with Marketing to refine the ICP, pricing, value prop, and messaging. Consider investing time in a customer interview sprint, or doing a collaborative deep-dive on the qualitative customer data available to you. 
  4. Work with the Head of Content to improve the quality of content, and to ensure it’s being delivered to the right customers. 

 

When Customer Success leaders take action to build a better relationship with Marketing, everyone benefits.