Who Should Own Customer Marketing?

Who Should Own Customer Marketing?

April 13, 2016
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In a poll of enterprise contact centers by Deloitte, 82% view the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. But who in the organization is responsible for this customer experience? This topic has been one of much internal debate here at Skilljar, and we often have customers ask us what we recommend as they think through their organizational structure. Training and education is a function that spans all stages of the customer lifecycle, so determining who owns communication to customers is crucial to ensure a seamless customer experience if the responsibility transfers hands internally.

While we consider ourselves pretty knowledgeable on the topic, we decided to ask our friends at several leading SaaS companies who have made the strategic decision one way or the other. In this post, we’ll share insight from the experts, as well as our own thoughts on where this function should live.

What Is Customer Marketing, Exactly?

Before we can answer the question of where customer marketing should live, we first need to define the term. We realized that different organizations may be using “Customer Marketing” to refer to two very different functions. At Skilljar, we define “Customer Marketing” as the activity of marketing your product / service / content / offers to your customer base. The effort of using your customers as a marketing function to attract new customers or generate brand awareness is what we refer to as “Advocate Marketing.” For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll discuss our definition of “Customer Marketing” and where that role should live.

Nathan St. Martin, Customer Marketing Manager at Gainsight, acknowledges that there are two separate yet equally important roles that “Customer Marketing” plays. “At Gainsight, the Customer Marketing role that belongs to the Marketing team works on telling our customers' stories and rallying our advocates to be involved in marketing activities such as third-party reviews, sales references, and content,” Nathan says. “Our Customer Success Operations team (communicates) such things as product releases and webinars.”

Laura O’Neill, Customer Marketing Associate at Gainsight, reaffirms the necessity of the former function living in Marketing. “We found (Marketing) to be a good home because Marketing can better identify when an advocate is needed and where,” she says. “Living in Marketing and being closer to the content brainstorming makes for a more active and therefore better use of our advocates.”

It’s clear that Gainsight has it figured out for their organization – VP of Marketing Anthony Kennada agrees with his team members: “Programs that drive adoption, renewals, up-sells, etc. belong within the Customer Success organization. That's the team with the proper context on customer health and the one that's measured by the outcome of those efforts. In terms of advocate marketing like case studies, referrals, references, etc., those are clear marketing roles and should live within the Marketing team.”

Why Customer Marketing Belongs in Marketing

Greg Meyer, Customer Success Leader at RivalIQ, and Truman Tang, Senior Marketing Manager, Customer and Advocacy at Influitive, both argue that this function belongs in Marketing. Truman says, “According to a recent 2015 study conducted by The CMO Club, only 13% of CMOs feel they are delivering a personalized and engaging customer experience. What this means is that customer marketers are an essential asset to a marketing team. They are deeply involved in improving customer experience and creating value.”

Marketing and Customer Success Need to Work Together

Sarah Bolt, Customer Marketing Manager at InsightSquared, has a unique perspective because she was originally hired as a member of the Customer Success team, but has since migrated over to the Marketing team. “Moving to the marketing team gave me the resources (and budget, frankly) to better support the Customer Success team,” Sarah says. “When I first joined the marketing team, I realized there were a ton of activities marketing was doing for prospects that would be just as beneficial for customers with a little tweaking. Now, there's a customer angle to almost every program that marketing runs.”

We have to agree that regardless of where the Customer Marketing role formally lives in your org structure, it’s crucial that this person/team have a close relationship with both Marketing and Customer Success. Sarah also noted that she still has regular 1:1 meetings with both her direct manager on the Marketing team, as well as with the VP of Customer Success, to make sure they’re all on the same page.

Customer Marketing Is About the Customer, Not About You

Jamey Jeff, Chief Customer Officer at TrackMaven, summarizes this point perfectly (especially as it relates to the customer experience): “Customer-centric companies don't impose their organizational structure upon their customers. Customers view their vendors / service providers as one single entity and shouldn't need to take time to consider, “Oh, this message came from marketing vs. customer success.” So companies need to ensure that regardless of how they structure their customer marketing, that it is relevant, contextual and valuable.”

In the end, Customer Marketing is about the customer, not about you. As long as you’re providing value, a happy customer experience, and your team is on the same page, it really doesn’t matter to whom your Customer Marketing team reports. Find what works for you, and as long as your goals are clear and communicated internally to stakeholders, there really is no right or wrong.


A very special thanks to the experts who contributed to this post!



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