If you haven’t heard of team communication platform Slack—which has been called the fastest-growing enterprise software product in history—you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few months. Slack’s recent $2.8B valuation has brought attention not only to the product, but also the brand’s customer-centric CMO, Bill Macaitis.
As the former CMO of Zendesk, and SVP of Online Marketing and Operations at Salesforce, Bill has a history of leading category-defining, high-growth companies into successful IPOs and acquisitions.
We asked Bill to share his insights on marketing in a live video ‘Ask Me Anything’. Watch a recording of our chat to hear Bill’s answers to your questions.
Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.
Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
It doesn’t matter if you’re employed or not. It matters if you’re employable. Always be crafting your skill set. Always be learning.
Q: In terms of the customer experience, do you feel that marketing should be better integrated with other departments? Or should there be one owner of all the customer touchpoints?
I’ve always thought a brand is the sum of every single experience someone has with your company. I don’t know if there needs to be one leader. I’m a big believer in team goals, and uniting people under one banner. I think the important thing is really analyzing all of those interactions. I think a lot of people—especially in Silicon Valley—get caught up in the product. But when you think about it, marketing, sales and customer support are the primary interactions people are having with your brand.
I’ve been in the industry awhile, and we’ve unfortunately pollinated it with a lot of bad experiences: cold calling, harassing people before they’re ready, making them fill out forms, and [making them buy] more than they need. But then we expect that they’re going to recommend us, because our product is great. I think we have to focus on the entire life-cycle and think about how we’re impacting their experience for the better.
Q: How does a marketer at a growth-oriented company balance providing the best customer experience and against collecting data and having aggressive sales goals?
I think it starts at the top. The metrics that every company uses to gauge performance puts incentives on the individuals beneath them them.
If you’re focused on short term metrics, like leads, the pipeline and the opportunities—the very traditional sales-type metrics—it creates a lot of incentives to do bad things to people—like putting them on prison cell-style landing pages, or calling them before they’re ready.
I think we’re seeing a revolution in marketing, where we starting to think about advocacy marketing, life-cycle marketing, nurturing, and content marketing. A lot of these are really meant to reach people earlier in the funnel, provide great content, provide a great experience, …and find the people who really love you to leverage that evangelism to spread the word.
Q: How are you measuring referrals and stimulating word of mouth?
I think a lot of the tools out there have created siloed or biased views. They’ve pitted teams against each other, like sales vs. marketing. Holistically, they understate the importance of the entire company. If you believe the brand is a sum of every single experience, then every single person in the company is going to influence that experience. Our head legal guy writes all of our terms of service that every one of our mid-market enterprise companies have to agree to. If he’s really wrangles them over the rocks, they’re gonna have a bad experience. When they switch to credit card from invoicing, they’re going to have an experience with financing. When they reach out to support, they’re going to have an experience. The first ads they see. The website. The sales team. The product…we recognize that everyone impacts growth, not just marketing. If we continue to harness word of mouth, we have to find the right metrics to track that.
I’m a huge believer in NPS…It provides a north star for everyone in the company to understand how well we’re doing and how many people are actively recommending us. It’s a great gold bar. We’re not satisfied if someone signs up and starts using Slack. We’re not satisfied if they become a customer. We’re not even satisfied if they renew. Our bar is “Are they going to recommend us?”
We also use transactional CSAT. After someone finishes with our sales team…we’ll email the person and ask “Hey, did you have a good experience with Matt? Thumbs up or thumbs down?” After someone has a support experience with us, we’ll reach out and ask if they had a good experience. We’re in the process of rolling that out and having it occur at more stages in the life-cycle, but I think holistically NPS and CSAT are long-term metrics. They’re very good leading indicators of your long-term growth. I think leads, visitors, pipeline and opps are short-term metrics.
Q: Let’s talk about Slack. You’re doing some innovative things to deliver the product. Tell us about it, and how it’s driving your growth.
I love disrupting. The disruption doesn’t just have have to come from the product side. You can disrupt on the go-to-market side. In traditional SaaS models, you’ll have a trial, and it will only last for x amount of days, and maybe it’s on the lowest plan, and then it goes away. Or, even if you sign up for a free plan, you’re capped on features, or the number of users.
At Slack we made the conscious decision to have a very full-featured free plan and it’s going to be for an unlimited amount of users, and there’s no end to it. And that was kind of amazing because it really reduced the friction. It really allowed people to come in and get a good sense of how to use it.
The second things we did was we came up with a fair billing policy. I was used to traditional SaaS, where because salespeople are comped on sales and pipeline and MRR and closing deals, they’re going to try to sell you as many seats as they can, they’re going to oversell you on features…and they’re going to put you on the most expensive plan. A lot of times in SaaS, sometimes people use it, and sometimes they don’t. Maybe there’s integrations that need to happen. A lot of them just fail, and the company is stuck paying for it.
Slack’s fair billing policy is you only have to pay if people use the product. We measure daily active users. We have a ten day billing window where if people haven’t been active in the past ten days we give refunds…Slack is great because it surprises and delights people. You’re not expecting a refund. Our salespeople aren’t commissioned so you’re not expecting someone who doesn’t push you hard. We recommend starting slow and not rolling it out to the entire company. We’ve always believed in that really good experience and innovative pricing models.
Q: Why did you start a podcast as a major marketing initiative?
We have a podcast channel within Slack where everyone talks about their favorite podcasts and what they’re listening to. I commute every day…so I’m listening to 50 different podcasts.
When we started thinking about our target audience for Slack, our use case is traditionally an early adopter will bring it into their organization…and they usually start with a smaller team…and the team starts using it and loving it. Then it will spread to other teams in the organization. It’s a very bottoms up model. The early adopter has always been a really important audience for us, and podcasts are one of the few mediums where you really get that early adopter audience.
We had sponsored a lot of podcasts, and we’ve had a lot of great success with that. And then we said “What can we do that’s different? How can we give back to our customers? Could we create some really great content around life and work, and lot of the values we stand for?”
It’s a great example of something we can give back to the users. Hopefully they find it entertaining…and provided a good experience. If people have good experiences, they’re going to recommend you.
Q: You have millions of users. How do you listen to your customers?
We’ve always invested on the customer support side. We’ve got about five times as many support people as sales people. For most SaaS companies, that’s going to be a complete opposite ratio…Support has always been one of the primary conduits for really listening to customers and having that dialogue.
NPS is a great conduit as well to find out from people what are the top features that they want, because that open feedback is incredibly powerful. And it really helps you identify the top five most requested features.
Q: When a salesperson goes out and gets asked “What’s the ROI of Slack?”—how do you manage that? Is Slack a nice to have, or a need to have?
At the end of the day, it’s the value you provide. Value is everything, it’s not just the software. It’s the experience, the support, and dealing with a single point of contact throughout the entire life-cycle.
There’s good stats out there. McKinsey Institute has a stat that says 47% of people’s days are spent going through their email…When you add meetings on top of that, I don’t know how anyone gets anything done.
Slack’s been a little bit easier from the standpoint. When people use it, they really love it. It saves so much of their time. We’re going through the studies right now, and putting together ROI cases…and those are great to have. But, I think that when people love the tool and they’re like “No, we’re not losing this one!”—that’s when you know you’ve really differentiated yourself. At the end of the day the ROI studies are nice, but you can make anything appear to have a 400% increase—you just get the right analyst, or the right customer you’ve paid off. At the end of the day, you have to provide true value.
Q: Do you feel like the products themselves have a way to deliver marketing messages? Should marketers have some development expertise?
As much you can say we [need to stop thinking that] marketing only does the front end of the website, or leads, or PR, and look at it as overall experience, then marketing needs to be in a lot of different places. You are the primary customer advocates.
If you look at Slack, the loading messages are fun and witty. There’s our humor and our brand…We really infuse that personality into the product. I think that’s an opportunity. Don’t let someone tell you if you’re in marketing “You’re only in charge of leads.” Focus on what you think are the right metrics, and be an evangelist for why you think they need to change, and work with the product teams. Embed yourself in different areas and find out where you can provide the most value.
Q: I want to talk about the over-metricizing of marketing. People don’t seem to take the style or emotion into account anymore. Do you think everything needs to come down to A/B test?
It can be crippling, I think. In marketing it’s great that we can track everything—and it sucks.
At Slack, I’ve had some really good conversations with Stewart [Butterfield, CEO of Slack] about what our brand is. And, in a lot of ways, that’s something we have to decide. You don’t go off and do A/B test and say “What values do we stand for?”
There’s always been the qualitative and quantitative analysis, but you have to feel good about it, be trying new things, and be pushing the envelope.
Visit our VIP Community to find out what other marketers are saying about Bill Macaitis’ strategies for growing your brand, and add your comments to the discussion around his live video Ask Me Anything.