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Lola.com CMO Jeanne Hopkins: ‘Customer Marketing Should Be The Meta’

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Ongoing discussions around customer-centricity in the B2B world have led to an ever-important question: who should own the customer experience? Thought leaders throughout the industry say marketing is best positioned to own the customer experience, which can lead to unified messaging across all the major departments within a business.

Demand Gen Report had the pleasure of sitting down with Lola.com CMO Jeanne Hopkins to discuss the ongoing discussions in the B2B marketplace around customer marketing in comparison to traditional demand generation initiatives. She also shared her thoughts on the marketing team’s role in customer success and how that impacts messaging throughout the entire organization.

Demand Gen Report: Why do you believe there has been this resurgence in customer marketing after years of focus on new acquisition?

Jeanne Hopkins: I think that many marketers have been tasked with lead generation, getting that MQL in the door and doing whatever needs to be done — no matter how many times different research studies show that retaining a customer is 5X (or more) effective than trying to gain a new one.

The whole concept of onboarding a new customer is a challenge for marketers. If you look at many marketing organizations, and particularly with SaaS companies or B2B companies, it's all about getting new logos. So, if you look at what a sales organization is responsible for, it’s typically pipeline. It's all about acquisition; but if you really look at many sales organizations, do they have the clawbacks? Did the customer churn in 90 or 120 days?

I learned this from my time at HubSpot. We learned that not everybody was a good HubSpot customer. But as they became more sophisticated in terms of who's coming on board — understanding what they are doing with the product and their time to value — it became apparent that you don't just sell HubSpot to somebody that fogs a mirror. You want to make sure that they're going to stick it out, that they have the capability to create content and the capability to be successful.

So, what I'm seeing is that organizations are not just focused on form completions and MQLs, but it's more a matter of trying to get people to bring customers on board that will have that lifetime value. Think about all the SaaS B2B companies that are out there — what is the average selling price of many of those companies? Let's just say it's $1,000 or $2,000. The most important thing is to ensure they are going to stay and be a customer three-or-more years from now. You don't want to have a customer that's churning; thinking about all the upfront costs, a business is not sustainable like that — you’re constantly losing revenue.

You can't just cast a huge wide net to figure out who your customers are. You want to make sure that you have the right customers. If you have the right customers, then you end up with the ability to upsell and cross-sell, gain happy customers that give you testimonials and are willing to be a reference that provides case studies. These are the things that you need to be able to convince other people that they're the right fit for your brand. Customer marketing boils down to your brand, and you want the right customers that tie into your brand’s identity. That, to me, is the meta of what you're trying to achieve as a marketer.

DGR: What trends do you believe are fueling this push towards customer marketing?

Hopkins: I would say that the concept of “customer experience” is something that impacts the entire organization. It usually starts with the product team to make sure that your UI and everything offers a great customer experience. Then you go to marketing and sales, and then you go to service. It should be a continuous loop in some capacity, and I think that the concept of customer success has gone beyond that of customer service.

But if you look at where customer success sits in any particular organization, a lot of times I've observed it become its own silo. Companies bring in a customer success superhero, and that person reports to the CEO, who typically doesn’t have the time to devote to customer success. Also, the customer success leader typically is not at the executive table. But they're still reporting to the CEO because the executives don't want them reporting to product, they don't want them reporting to sales and they don't want them reporting to engineering because it looks like a conflict of interest.

DGR: Based on your experience and expertise in the space, why should marketing own customer success?

Hopkins: I believe that customer success, at least as it's starting, needs to have some sort of an affinity with the marketing organization. This is because marketing is typically responsible for the website, for the community, for the email, for communications, for the messaging. If [customer success] is part of the marketing organization, you get consistency there and you're able to support the customer success team.

Now, those organizations that are separated from the marketing team, they end up coming up with plans that are not necessarily part of the normal cadence. I can use an example of a previous company that I worked with. There was a product launch plan, as well as a price increase plan and a contract update plan. This was across three different organizations, none of which worked with the marketing organization in any effort in the initial planning. They came to the marketing team at the very last minute — literally within three days of each other. I tried pointing out that you can't launch a new product; it's not exactly a good idea to launch a new product, then a day later announce a price increase. Contract obligations with your partners and your customers means we need to at least give them 30-to-45-to-60-day notice.

Typically, these things happen on the engineering side. And engineering is typically inward focused because they're trying to get the product out the door, but they don't think about the impact on the customer and how the messaging could be perceived. I also worked with product in a different environment that was much nimbler and more agile. But in that environment, I've had product launches where, three days before the product launch when you've got all the firepower and the flywheel turning, product decides they're not ready for release. That causes problems, as well.

So, I think that the challenges of owning the communication calendar within your particular organization, making sure that you have a map of what is being communicated to the customer, is important to ensuring the customer is not going to get confused. Another thing I see in the marketplace is that we don't send enough consistent messages to our customers. When it comes time for renewal, for example, and the customer says, “Well, I'm not going to renew because you don't have this particular feature in your product.” Then you say, “Oh, but we do have that feature! We've had this for six months!” Whose fault is that? To me, that's a marketing problem. It's because we haven't communicated that effectively.

This is where I believe customer success belongs in marketing until they're totally able to cross-pollinate or work within all the organizations to get a consistent message and calendaring for communications.