Interview With Chris Sheen: Closing The Gap Between Marketing And Customer Success

by James Ker-Reid - January 16, 2020

We interviewed Chris Sheen, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Sideways 6. Sideways 6 is an integrated idea & innovation management software that helps you capture, manage and implement ideas from your employees.

We asked Chris to shed light on the central question of “why do tech startups fail to grow existing accounts?”

With so much at stake at winning often landmark and enterprise deals at tech companies, we often falter as Founders to systematically and consistently grow the adoption, usage and account spend of these hard-fought new customers.

So over to the interview with Chris and the key questions and answers:

  • What is the link between Marketing and Customer Success?

(Chris) Where I think Marketing can help is keeping the customer experience consistent. In B2C we expect that as consumers, in B2B we often don’t get that, as there can be a big disconnect between the experience you get in Sales and in Customer Success. 

When Marketing runs across the whole business it can ensure the experience is a good one, whatever stage your customer is in their journey, from their first look at your website to becoming an advocate years later. 

(James) Why do you think companies do not link these teams together?

(Chris) Traditionally, we think ‘Sales & Marketing’ and then ‘Customer Success’. Normally the metrics that the success of Marketing teams are measured by are lead-based, e.g. number of leads, pipeline value, number of qualified leads, leads to close. You’ll see Marketing teams focused on PPC, leads and content. Then when they are a customer, the Marketing team can see their job as done, and step aside.

However, when you think of it as a continuous journey you can use some of that marketing activity to drive customer engagement and adoption. For example, if you are doing webinars, why wouldn’t you invite customers to those? If you doing events, why wouldn’t you create them to appeal to customers too?

(James) why don’t tech companies link these goals of lead acquisition and customer enablement?

Some do, but the simple fact is that it’s often difficult to put a measure on the success of those metrics in customer enablement.

Whereas in Marketing for sales it’s more black-and-white. For example, if you are spending a £1,000 on Google Ads to drive traffic to a landing page you can quickly measure how many leads were created or how many opportunities were closed.

On the other hand, we spent £1,000 on putting on an event for our customers and prospects; and they had a great time, they did a few testimonials for us and we got some great content. We feel these activities are worthwhile but it’s less concrete and harder to calculate a direct ROI.

In B2B, we perhaps have less spend available than B2C, we have less budget available so we are more focused on return. It’s often harder to make a case in B2B, on the contrary to B2C, where they will invest large budgets in branding and awareness campaigns without necessarily always tracking a direct return. 

  • How do you bring unity between Customer Success and Sales?

(Chris) One of the simplest changes you can make is to create content that is aimed at your customers, rather than your prospects. For example, if you create articles, videos and content for your customers and they are seen as the primary audience, then by association, your ‘good fit’ prospects should find it useful too. 

For example, when hosting an event we’ll look to get somewhere near to a 50/50 split between customers and prospects. That way we’re not putting all our eggs into one basket whilst also giving prospects a chance to meet and talk to (hopefully, very happy!) customers. 

(James) To go with a customer-first approach for your marketing, is that a conscious and strategic decision?

Yes, it’s certainly a strategic decision. I think you can create content that benefits both sides. There are of course times when you have something that is only for prospects. If you are able to create 80% that serves both parties then you are onto a winner. 

You only have a certain amount of hours in the day and limited resources in a small tech company. 

  • How do you organise your team to cater to these two skillsets of Marketing and Customer Success?

(Chris) We challenge our Customer Success team to think about what they’re doing that is not just useful to one customer but multiple customers? 

For example instead of sending a long email to respond to a question; think about how you could turn that response into content or a blog article that can be used multiple times. Hence creating a FAQ or adding it to the help centre. 

It’s hard to do, as often we just want to get back to the customer as soon as possible of course, but thinking outside of that one request helps you to scale your efforts.

  • How are skill sets changing in Customer Success?

(Chris) I think it’s important to have a good number of T-shaped people, particularly in startups. 

For example, you might have a plan for the next 6 months, but then have to reflect and adapt due to market demand or company growth. If you only are hiring people for one role, they can quickly become redundant. 

We put less emphasis on their industry experience for the last 3-4 years and more about the softer skills and passions they might have. 

(James) what about the field of Marketing, how are the skillsets changing?

(Chris) it can be similar in that you want T-shaped players. You want people who can pick up different parts of marketing. You want them to be excited by doing these different things. 

The best marketers today are just as comfortable coming up with creative ideas and writing copy as they are crunching the data and doing AB testing. 

  • Who owns renewals at Sideways 6?

(Chris) Renewals and account growth is owned by Customer Success. We think it’s important that the people who own the customer relationship every day are also empowered to own the contract renewal.

  • Why do startups focus more on winning new accounts than growing existing accounts?

(Chris) For me, it’s about understanding in your own business where the growth levers are. For example, would you be able to drive greater growth through new acquisition or growing existing accounts? 

If you have 1,000 customers using only 50% of your products – then growing existing accounts is probably a good place to focus. For most startups though, we’re still growing that initial customer base – and so winning new accounts is the first play.  

  • What methods have you used to recruit great people at Sideways 6?

(Chris) I’m a big fan of task-based recruiting. If you understand those softer skills. For example, we do a video-based task as the first stage, a 90-second intro video, introduce yourself, why you would be a great fit for the company and be a great Customer Success Manager? 

We’re looking for creativity, individuality and inspiration from these videos. It tells you much more about a person when you set them projects and tasks. 

Any final thoughts, Chris?

(Chris) Really enjoyed today. Especially given me food for thought about what the emphasis that startups put on Marketing, Sales, Customer Success. Thanks for today, James. 

Thank you to Chris Sheen at Sideways 6.

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other successful CS leaders, Tech Founders and even recruitment leaders to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing existing accounts at tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.

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