Apr 26, 2021
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
When Customer Success leaders take action to build a better relationship with Marketing, everyone benefits.