Why Customer Success Is the Missing Link in Customer Marketing

As long as the strategy and work are defined cross-functionally between Customer Success and marketing, it shouldn’t matter who drives.

Ellie Hutton | May 18, 2022 | 7 min read time

Article Last Updated: June 28, 2023

Why Customer Success Is the Missing Link in Customer Marketing

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:

  1. Marketing TO the customer: ensure successful outcomes for the customer across the journey so that renewals and upsells happen easily.
  2. Marketing BY the customer: turn successful customers into advocates and leverage their stories to grow the business. 

Within these two categories there can be a LOT of initiatives. Here’s a starter list:

Initiatives within “Marketing to the customer”:

  • Mapping the customer journey, user journey, buyer journey
  • Digital journey and customer communications
    • Welcome sequences
    • Best practices drip
    • Upsell/cross sell communication (pricing and packaging too)
    • Automated risk and churn mitigation 
    • Product launch communications
  • Happiness program including celebrations for milestones, and swag
  • Customer, user or advocate community
  • Education and training
  • User groups
  • Voice of customer 
  • UX and PM feedback
  • Customer advisory board
  • Early adopter program and beta testing
  • NPS 
  • Exit interviews (post cancellation/churn) for competitive and product feedback

Initiatives within “Marketing by the customer”. 

  • Reviews
  • Referrals
  • Customer ROI stories and videos
  • Market facing webinars
  • Public speaking, public relations, media opportunities
  • Reference calls
  • Internal enablement and process

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.

  • Customer success. Owns the delivery of the customer journey, has intimate knowledge of each customer and their status, deep understanding of use cases and what it takes for a customer to be successful, rich empathy for a customer’s pain and how your business solves it. Absolutely has to be involved for identifying best fit customers for asks, usually makes the ask, and can recommend a personalized thank you. Plus when it comes to writing content to aid the journey, CS is a product expert and speaks the customer’s language. So CS can make the content even more relevant and useful for a customer.
  • Product marketing. PMM is involved in execution of the go to market strategy including messaging, value drivers, use cases and stories, product launches and more. They may also own content marketing and Sales/CS enablement.
  • Marketing. Marketing needs social proof and stories to drive awareness, leads and deal urgency. They may also be involved in lifecycle marketing that spans into post-sale work. They’re experts in content, events, landing pages, campaigns, process and project management. 

Not sure where to start? Here’s my story of where we focused as a seed and then early series SaaS business. 

  • Map your user/customer journey. Focus on eliminating the pain points and ensuring a streamlined and delightful journey. Make sure this is documented from your customer’s perspective and that you have clear aha moments.
  • Write customer stories aligned to clear ROI for your product’s specific use. Work with your most successful customers to align their verified outcomes to your use case and package a compelling story for your website and other sales enablement content. CS, PMM and marketing need to be involved.
  • Get Reviews on G2, TrustRadius or other review site of your choosing. Run an NPS survey and then ask your promoters to write a review. Pay them. When you’re small I prefer to do these asks rather than farming them out.
  • Launch welcome drip and onboarding tips. Build a simple digital journey as personalized as possible to deliver value that aligns with your brand and journey.
  • Develop internal enablement content so your Sales and CS team understand the journey and customer proof points to speak to prospects and customers.

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!

Don’t be shy. 

Connect with Ellie on LinkedIn here.

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