Moving Beyond Metrics: How Slack Fueled Its Hyper Growth With An Exceptional Customer Experience

Advocamp_Logo (1)Learn some of the go-to-market strategies that helped Slack become the fastest growing business application in history. In his 2016 Advocamp AMP Talk, Bill Macaitis, CMO of Slack, explains which metrics commonly drive B2B companies to make bad decisions, and how Slack has changed their measures of success to improve the customer experience.

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I’m currently the CMO of Slack. Today I’m talking about “Fueling Hyper-Growth Through Experience-Driven GTM.” That’s a very long title. Essentially, it’s about experience. When I think about experience it all comes back to the brand.

What is a brand? A lot of people say that it’s what the marketers say, or it’s what the slogan says, or it’s what you tell your customers that you are. I’ve always personally thought that the brand is the sum of every single customer interaction that they have with you. If you think about those micro-transactions, those micro-experiences, they’re happening throughout the entire lifecycle. They’re happening when customers first have an interaction. It can be when someone talks about your brand, or the first time you see an ad, or the first time they come to the website, or the first time they go through the trial. Those are all the interactions.

My role is a little bit different. At Slack I’m the CMO, but I manage the sales, marketing and support teams. If you think about it, that’s traditionally what you’re thinking of when you say “go-to-market”, right? A lot of times, the first experiences you’re having with your customers are through to go-to-market teams, and you can either have a really good experienceor a really crappy one.

Bad B2B Experiences Abound

Now, I like to think of myself as a reformed marketer. I’ve done some bad things to customers. I’ve run support teams, and I’ve done some bad things to customers there. I’ve run sales teams, and we’ve done some bad things. When you go to buy software today, it’s a pretty crappy experience. The first time someone mentions a company to you, and you’re like “I’m going to figure out what they are!” and you go to Google, and you look up their name, and you click on it, you’re sent to the prison-style landing page you cannot get out of. You cannot figure out what they are. The only thing you can do is fill out 17 fields and your cell phone number. You know what happens when you fill in your cell phone number. You go to a website, you’re thinking about maybe buying this product, and you don’t want to, but you’re hounded for the next 90 days, every day, even if you just said, “I don’t like this company.” It angers you, it pisses you off, and it sucks.

I remember countless times I’ve been to B2B websites and said, “I just want to see what you do.” You know, “There’s a nice video, I’m going to click on it!” and nope, it’s gated. “Here’s a little white paper that explains it to you!” No, it’s gated. It pisses me off. I want to find out if I want to buy something, right? It’s like, “How much do you cost?” and it’s like “We’re the enterprisers, we’re not going to tell you.”

All right, fine. You move over, and you finally put in that cell phone number in some form, because you have to at some point… and you’re called right away, maybe before you’re even ready. They hound you. Who hasn’t been oversold something? Who hasn’t been harassed? In my Gmail, I have a thread of someone who has cold-emailed me 29 times. I kind of enjoy it now. I’m like, “30 and 31.” The emails aren’t even nice emails. They’re like “Hey, I DM’ed you on Twitter and you haven’t responded back to me yet.” They’re like, “What’s up? I just need an hour of your time and some coffee!” and I’m like “Wow.” We get oversold on plans and on seats.

I worked in sales first, then I worked at ZenDesk, and now I work at Slack. I know there are incentives that cause these teams to act this way. Who hasn’t had some event where you get nice steak dinners where you’re being sold to, and everybody’s coming to you, and they love you, but the minute you close that deal it’s like the lights get turned on and everyone runs away?

You have one person, maybe a CSM, whose goal in life is to upsell you more stuff. It’s like, “I want a little help, I’m rolling this out to my company”, and it’s either like “No, you get no help” or “You need to spend five million dollars more to get the professional services to help you actually use it.”

That sucks.

It also happens when I’m in the product and I just need a little help. Where is it? I don’t see any help, so I’m going to have to go to the corporate website. Then I have to find the ‘Contact Us’, which is in one-point font. I finally hunt down and call the PR person, but then I’m in a phone tree. It’s horrible. I’m literally amazed that anyone buys any software. The stuff we do to the average person is just terrible.

I used to do it. I think the reason why is because a lot of people in these different teams, whether they’re in marketing, sales or support, get their metrics that way. A lot of times people just think “What are the core metrics?” because they want to advance in their career and they want to get a promotion. Metrics drive companies. Metrics drive individuals. Metrics drive departments. What are your metrics? If you’re in marketing, you’re probably looking at how many leads you create. If you’re in sales, it’s how many deals you’re closing. If you’re in support, in many cases, it’s how much money you’ve saved  your company and lowering your support costs.

Those are crappy metrics.

Long-term metrics that fuel B2B brand growth

I think in a lot of ways, if a company is going to survive in the long run, you have short-term metrics and you have long-term metrics. I understand why a lot of companies use these metrics, I totally do. You’ve got to hit those quarterly targets, you have the board on you, you’ve got incredible short-term pressures… but those metrics give really crappy experiences to your customers.

One of the reasons I joined Slack was that I wanted to find a company that had a very long-term horizon and that believed in customer-centricitythe idea that every single interaction was going to be optimized around a positive experience. We’ve tried to do things a little bit differently. The metrics that we look at are very customer-centric metrics. We look at:

  • First response time
  • Customer satisfaction
  • NPS
  • Daily active users

We look at long-term metrics that are going to align to give us good experiences for our customers.

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My role in that sense is uniting all the customer-facing teams. Usually sales, marketing and support are operating in complete silos, and by having them under one banner we can think about things like “What do those interactions look like?”, “How do we make those hand-offs?”, and “How do we relentlessly eliminate those bad experiences and put in good experiences?”

We’ve tried to do things differently. If you go to Slack, nothing’s gated. You can see a demo and watch what we are.

We tried something out called a fair billing policy. Normally in the SaaS world, if you buy ten thousand seats you’re on the hook for them for their first year. We tried something out where, if you’re not using us, we’ll give you refunds and credits back. We thought it was fair and we wanted someone to actually get value out of it.

We do things like looking at the average NPS of our sales team or accounts team. We run customer satisfaction surveys after they buy. We ask people, “Did you have a good experience with this account rep? Were they helpful? Were they consultative? Were they professional?”

We have about three times as many support people than we do accounts for sales. In most SaaS companies, this ratio is completely inverse. It’s not unusual to get a five- or ten-minute response from support. We’re rolling out live chat this year, and we’re rolling out voice support. The base idea is that we want to give someone a great experience.

The gold bar for SaaS, I always tell my team, is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the sale, and it doesn’t matter if you got the renewal. Instead, it should be whether you got the recommendation. If you start from a place of “Did I get the recommendation?”, you’re really going to rethink your go-to-market strategy. You’re going to think about whether you’re infusing good experiences or bad experiences into it.

That’s been my philosophy: customer-centricity. Focus on the customer and they’re going to recommend. If they recommend, you’re going to get healthy, organic growth. We do advertising and lead nurturing, we do a lot of conversion rate marketing and optimization, but we want to have that strong, organic growth. There’s a good chance that if you’ve heard about Slack, you’ve heard about it from someone else, someone who had a good experience, right? That’s always been our focus.

The gold bar is not if someone bought you, not if they renewed you, but if they recommend you.

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