Customer Success + Marketing: Collaborating for Customer Outcomes

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

It’s difficult to define the ideal relationship between Success and Marketing. This is because Success and Marketing don’t have one relationship...they have many.

Success and Marketing don't have one relationship... they have many.

Reconciling this observation leads to more fruitful and enjoyable collaborations and helps both success and marketing adapt to their shared expectations.

Unlike Sales and Product where the interaction with Success is understood (if not always well defined!) the success + marketing collaboration is still changing. Much of this is due to evolution on the marketing side. For example, we used to only see acquisition marketing as a specialty. Now, I see job postings and titles zeroing in on retention, product, and even customer success marketing, as unique roles. This is encouraging, but at heart marketing and success are still separate functions and skillsets--even as the overlaps become more pronounced.

We also still talk two language and live two cultures. Success is an inherently continuous customer-facing activity. The cadence is doing many small things every day to move the needle for our customers. If you track CSM monthly tasks you know what I’m talking about. Marketing, on the other hand, is a more event-driven customer-facing activity. While front line marketing team members also complete 100s of tasks/month the part that touches the customer tends to be larger, and singular. This is why marketing measures the impact of each event--it’s the outcome of their efforts.

When Success and Marketing fully align to achieve customer outcomes we unlock the gold standard of delivering personalized success at scale and achieving brand consistency across every customer touch. Let’s talk about achieving this consistently effective collaboration.

Know the multiple Success + Marketing relationships

This is the central theme for companies managing this collaboration well. Success + Marketing is not a macro relationship but rather a series of unique projects--each with their own expectations and roles. Therefore, each relationship is managed differently.

I’m sure there are more than three relationships. But my recent conversations with marketing leaders most frequently cite these three with the highest direct customer impact.

  1. Marketing as a Method of Success Delivery - 1:M Success using marketing tools, techniques, and practices to achieve customer success outcomes like onboarding, adoption, support/corrections, etc.

  2. Success as the Message from Marketing - 1:M Expectation Setting whereby Marketing promotes the existence and value of "success" to achieve the outcomes of sales (new or retention).

  3. Success as the Call-to-Action (CTA) - 1:M Customer Actions where marketing uses a touch to Customer Success as the CTA. The reasons vary--upsell/add-on, pre-emptive support for a known issue, target campaigns for at-risk customers, etc. but the common theme is Marketing encouraging inbound volume to Success.

Each of these relationships could be their own article. For now, it’s enough to understand that each (1) achieves a different outcome, (2) asks something different of the customer, and (3) assigns unique roles to both success and marketing.

Work from Shared Truths

I love the concept of shared truths. Too often we move through our day assuming we’re on the same page as our collaborators. But when was the last time you actually validated you were working toward the exact same goal, with the same assumptions about our mission, vision, and client definition? It’s rare. When relationships are constantly changing--as with success and marketing--confirming shared truths is essential. Shared Truth is a Pre-Requisite for Collaboration.

As a starting point I offer four shared truths at the heart of the success and marketing collaboration. If you align on all four then you’ll achieve better outcomes for your company, your customers, and your teams. Period.

4 Shared Truths for Marketing + Success

  1. Your company's target customer experience - Not Success. Not marketing. But overall Experience. This is where success, marketing, product, and sales converge. We are ALL part of the experience customers have with the company and the brand.

  2. Customer segmentation - Providing excellent experience requires agreement on customer segmentation. Agreement also helps us talk the same talk on our shared projects. If we don’t share segmentation we don’t have the same definition of the customer.

  3. Customer journey for each segment - After defining the customer we must align on how/when/why they intersect with our company/products/people. While we’re on the topic--can we also stop doing “journeys” that only include product use and the role of the CSM and possibly sales? A journey is holistic and includes marketing as a key player.

  4. Value of the CS function to customers - CS tends to think our function is damn important! But that’s not the only POV that matters. Find the value statement where both success and marketing agree. This is the shared truth on CS value--not the CS-only statement. Remember, value is not what you do--onboarding and proactive outreach to increase TTV and reduce churn--but what it means to the customer--tangibly validate their purchase decision, increase their own revenue or efficiency, etc. Agreeing on value forces us to talk about outcomes over actions or intentions.

Make it Happen: Best Practices for Success + Marketing Collaboration

Thus far we’ve agreed that marketing and success operate from a project model and benefit from managing collaboration at the project level instead of the division level. And we’ve aligned on shared truths as a foundation for smooth and effective projects. At the tactical level, what’s the best way for success and marketing to come together? Five best practices are generalized below from success and marketing leaders who’ve led successful collaborations.

Do these things today and your next (and next, and next…) success and marketing projects will run more smoothly and achieve better outcomes.

  • Define your project. Right up front, spend the time to acknowledge which project model you are working from. This establishes the proper roles and expectations across both teams.

  • Formalize agreement on the shared truths. Don’t assume you all agree and don’t assume prior agreement carries over to each new project. This colors your entire project so it’s 10 minutes well-spent at the kick-off meeting.

  • Work from shared metrics. No handoffs. Sharing the measurement of outcomes builds higher performing teams, and marketing and success are no exception. Where possible measure the impacts of the work and not just the activity. For example, if you’re doing a campaign to onboard more customers at a reduced cost...measure THAT, not the email clicks, CSM calls, or top-of-funnel conversion metrics.

  • Dedicate a marketing resource and a success resource to this collaboration. Most can't afford a dedicated person but you can see the same benefit by creating a "role" that is part of someone's broader responsibilities. The consistency pays off because the role owners will continue to improve the collaboration and the processes you work from.

  • Leverage success for events--both virtual and in-person. Pound for pound CSMs are almost always the best resources for clients to connect with on a personal level. Don’t omit sales or marketing at real-time functions, but be sure to fully engage success. Live functions are unpredictable and CSMs are best prepared to cover a wide range of customer needs--and pivot when the unexpected arises.

None of this is revolutionary. Companies that handle this collaboration well create a consistent environment for their customers. An environment that doesn’t draw lines between success and marketing but rather creates a holistic and positive experience of your brand and your company. At the end of the day, that’s one goal shared by every department and division.

What are you doing to promote the type of Success + Marketing collaboration that drives outcomes for your customers?

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