There is definitely a growing trend for Customer Success to own the customer marketing function.
That said, as long as Customer Success (CS) is a key player, it shouldn’t matter who the driver is, as long as the strategy, execution and operationalizing of the initiatives has cross-functional collaboration.
Who drives customer marketing? This should depend on the business and customer needs, your goals, how holistically you want to view customer marketing, the skills and experience of your team, and how your company is structured.
If your business has a Chief Customer Officer or VP Customer Experience then I’d advocate hard for customer marketing to live under them. If not, customer marketing may be driven by Marketing, Product Marketing, Customer Success, or in some cases Operations or Enablement. Then within the overall function, specific teams can own the various initiatives.
Why should CS be a key player? When you’re in CS you’re used to the barrage of requests from the rest of the business. The conversation usually starts with “I just need a customer to…” fill in the blank. “Speak at a conference”, “participate in this beta program”, “do a reference call”. Argh! Having a customer marketing program in place can operationalize the process to meet these needs. Without a program (or at least a process) these requests often happen at the last minute and become a big time suck for your CSMs. It’s often an after thought, or the other teams don’t realize the amount of effort and time it takes to find a customer to do the thing they’re looking for. Plus, you actually need to have successful customers FIRST so that you have customers to ask to participate in these extras. Enter your exceptional CS team to make that happen.
Customer marketing at its best helps to drive top line metrics for the entire business. It should NOT be looked at as a mechanism for just impacting a single team’s goals. For example, if your customer marketing approach is in place to solely drive leads for the marketing and sales team then the initiatives will focus solely on social proof (reviews, customer stories and to some extent references for 1:1 calls with prospects).
Customer marketing is really only successful if there’s a give and take relationship that’s looked at more holistically across the customer journey.
Customer marketing is more than having customers ready to take reference calls. It’s more than customer stories. And it’s bigger than a best practices drip campaign.
Borrowing words from Jeanne Bliss: A business needs to earn the right to grow. You need to ensure that customers are successful in their journey FIRST. Then renewals, upsells and advocacy become easier and you can PARTNER with your customers to help your business grow.
Before I dive in further, let me share my bias… I’ve been in Customer Success (or variants of it in the pre-CS world) for most of my career. I’ve owned or participated in customer marketing and advocacy as a function for 10 years in different teams within the business (marketing, enablement, product marketing and customer success). This likely gives me a broader definition of customer marketing than others. I’ve seen how the motivations and metrics of teams change the nuances and inclusions of what goes into customer marketing.
For me, there are two main categories of customer marketing:
Within these two categories there can be a LOT of initiatives. Here’s a starter list:
Initiatives within “Marketing to the customer”:
Initiatives within “Marketing by the customer”.
With this broad and holistic definition of the activities that can fall within customer marketing, it’s pretty easy to see that phewf… there’s no way one person or one team could do all this work.
From a bandwidth and skillset perspective this work needs to be parsed our cross functionally. With the right people and skills involved to drive and do the work. And it needs to be planned out with an executive sponsor who can ensure the work has oversight from the SLT.
As with any work you take on in the business, it should match up to a business goal or customer pain, and be prioritized accordingly. For example, there’s no need to set up a formal 1:1 reference program if your sales team never needs a reference call to close a deal.
Let’s talk about skillsets for a sec. Why does customer marketing need to be a cross-team sport? If you’re not already aligned with my idea of collaboration, let me cement it. At minimum, these three teams need to collaborate to develop a successful customer marketing function.
Not sure where to start? Here’s my story of where we focused as a seed and then early series SaaS business.
When you’re bigger, having a community of advocates for easy identification and access, and very clear tracking mechanisms for asks and activities becomes a much bigger requirement for success and delivery of an exceptional journey.
I’d love to say that Customer Success should be the driver of customer marketing. But when it comes down to it, as long as the strategy and work are defined cross-functionally, it shouldn’t matter who drives.
When these teams work together, it will become clear very quickly whether siloes are blocking work or not. If there are siloes, customer marketing can be one of those engines that facilitates and operationalizes how the business will function so much more smoothly with more collaboration.
Have an open mind and bring representatives from (at least) Customer Success, Marketing and Product Marketing together to share their perspectives and talk through the foundations of your customer marketing efforts. Divide up the jobs to be done, roll up your leaves and get to work!
Is your Customer Success or Support team looking to scale customer relationships with video?