What 10 Celebrated CXOs Want From Customer Marketing

At the height of the pandemic, SlapFive’s JeffErnst and I launched a series of Roundtables with some of the most forward thinking senior executives in the world,when it comes to customer relationships.
Roundtable participants included Nick Mehta, CEO,

Gainsight; Carol Meyers, investor, board advisor and former CMO, Rapid7; Jake Sorofman, CMO,a Visier, former CMO, Pendo; and several others—a core group of 10 highly accomplished senior executives when it comes to customer relationships.

So hungry are these executives to reinvent the modern customer value proposition that we called ourselves the Roundtable for a Customer Revolution. A combined 9 hours of discussion created a treasure trove of information on the post-pandemic customer relationship, which we’ll be sharing in subsequent articles, videos webinars, etc.

For now:

Two major insights that came from the Roundtable that have huge implications for customer marketing in particular: First: whatever your C-suite’s most challenging strategic objective is—the one that’s keeping them up at night, or even in danger of failing–chances are that your customers can help devise a better solution than employees by themselves, and for less cost as well— often for free.

Second: most firms aren’t coming close to realizing this immense, often hidden potential of customer relationships, because most CXOs aren’t aware of the powerful things they can do. Customer marketing needs to guide them. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the traditional charter of customer marketing, references, advocacy, advisory boards, brand communities and the like.

We’re talking about daunting C-suite objectives, the ones that occupy their attention and wrack their nerves- -like improving underperforming acquisition, retention, expansion, or services and product innovation, or GTM campaigns, or reducing escalating SG&A or other major costs, and so forth. The Problem: The usual solutions that CXOs depend on to meet critical business objectives – like marketing campaigns, sales initiatives, product innovation, etc.– are often falling short or costing too much, or both.

Customers are filling these gaps.

We have at this point dozens of case studies collected over more than a decades that demonstrate this untapped potential. It’s time to get tapping in the post pandemic world. Examples of Big Customer Impacts On C-suite Objectives Following is a list of typical high-stakes CXO objectives (in bold on the left), along with examples of how exceptional customers have addressed them: Go to Market: The iconic example of customer impact is Apple fanatics lining up outside Apple stores to buy the newest iPhone. They’re camping out overnight. They’re crashing networks around the world communicating with each other. Exciting, hugely successful, executed almost entirely by Apple customers.

Less iconic firms than Apple can tap their customers for similarly remarkable impacts on the business. Market Share: Zoom was late to the video conferencing industry and faced far better-known competitors with far more resources (CEO Eric Yuan could find no investors). But Zoom could and did build strong emotional bonds with customers—prioritizing “happy customers” over glittering financial objectives—which drove creation of a superior product and the natural customer evangelism, word-of-mouth, glowing reviews, etc.—that vaulted Zoom to its 42.8% market share in 2020 vs. 18.7% for second place Cisco WebEx. Retention: SAS’s Canada division had a sudden, serious drop in customer retention— from the mid-90%s into the mid-80%s. Its “Customer Champions” organized 20 forums in 13 cities that drew 2000 people. Retention fully restored.

Acquisition: When he was building Salesforce, CEO Marc Benioff discovered the driver that would later power Dreamforce— perhaps the most potent sales generator in the SaaS industry that he created. Eighty percent of prospects who attended early Salesforce events—where they could talk directly to customers—became customers themselves. 80%! No salespeople required.

Expansion: Forrester tried for years to expand its business with a Fortune 50 software client, with no luck. Its approach: send its analysts to give brown bag lunches at the client’s headquarters. A new VP of marketing realized that the target firm already had a research firm—Gartner—so prospects at the target firm wondered things like why they needed a second analyst, what’s the business case for doing so, how they could sell it internally, and so forth. So the new VP engaged existing Forrester clients that we’re double dipping with Gartner, and posed those exact same questions to them, capturing their answers on video—and disseminated them skillfully to the target firm’s prospects, which tripled business with the target firm in just 18 months

Innovation: Fun fact: where do most successful innovations come from? A knee-jerk reaction would be “from companies,” and in particular, their product teams. Not true. Certain customers (sometimes called “lead users”) are the source of three times as many successful innovations as those from internal product teams working alone, according to extensive research by MIT (see here and here). For example, 3M’s Medical Products division did a side-by- side comparison: co-created innovations with lead user customers achieved 2X the market penetration and 8X the average revenue than the internal product teams.

Cost Reduction: When Microsoft’s business model was threatened by spiraling customer support costs, its customer community director stepped up and engaged MVP customers to lead the effort to divert support calls to the community—in the face of significant skepticism from Microsoft leaders. This has become common place, but most communities don’t come close to realizing the potential that Microsoft achieved: saving $100s of millions in support costs. This is far from an exhaustive list—we have dozens more and expect still more to be developed. We’ve seen customers successfully address C-suite objectives that no one—not even us—dreamed that customers could pull off.

What to do with this information

If you’re a CXO, I suggest you forward this to your customer marketing team and start a conversation with them. If you’re a customer marketing professional, I’d suggest that you look again at the above list of transformative initiatives and imagine that these appear on your résumé or LinkedIn profile. Think about the impact on your relationship with the leaders in your firm. And on your career. If that sounds compelling, your biggest challenge is this: your C-suite almost certainly doesn’t know about these sorts of hidden potential in the customers you’re responsible for.

In my next email and follow up communications, we’ll show you how to communicate this to them. We’ll provide strategies for joining forces with your key customer programs, scripts for communicating to your C suite, and a webinar specifically on this topic and other important guidance from our Roundtable members. The post-pandemic world is opening huge, exciting opportunities. Is there anyone greater than the opportunity to supercharge our relationships with our customers?