Stumbling toward Customer-Led Growth
When I was in-house at a growing SaaS company, I often described my work style as “running around like a chicken with my head cut off.” Even though I’m strategic by nature, I struggled daily to keep my head above water.
Leading Marketing for a young, mostly marketing-led SaaS, I was desperate to demonstrate results to my stakeholders, my team, and myself. I thought that as the person responsible for generating new growth, I’d be letting everyone down if I didn’t hit — or even surpass — my targets. Classic underpromise, overdeliver-type.
So I tried everything. And I mean everything. I looked at every growth opportunity (and my list was long) as something we had to do, now.
At the top of my list was product integrations with other tools in our space. I was excited at the potential of product-led growth, though this was years before it had that name. The few product integrations we’d already launched had generated more signups, and better-fit customers, than anything else had up to that point. Integrations were clear growth wins — so I drafted my wishlist, and came up with content, co-marketing partnerships, and distribution plans for all of them.
Then one day, my CEO sat me down and told me to forget about product altogether.
The engineering team was strapped. The product roadmap for the foreseeable future was decided, and there was nothing I could do or say to change anyone’s mind. “Operate as if you have no dev resources,” he told me (and he wasn’t asking me to imagine it, either).
I won’t lie: it stung. With product-led opportunities off the table, I was going to have to rely on “traditional” demand gen marketing to hit my growth goals. This is when running Marketing like a chicken with my head cut off really took its toll: I was working nights and weekends, delivering inconsistent results, and narrowly hitting or missing my goals month over month.
It was right around that time that I was in San Francisco for a conference. Lenny Rachitsky, a friend and a product manager at Airbnb at the time, invited me to visit their HQ. He gave us a tour, which included the area of the office where his team worked. There, I noticed some sheets of paper scotch-taped to the wall — each representing a customer journey stage — 10 or so in a row. Up to that point, I had only seen and used the more traditional, transactional concepts of buyers’ journey stages (leads, MQLs, SQLs) and funnel metrics (AAARRR).
This was entirely different.
The team had taken the relationship with their customers, and broken that relationship down into stages not based on business metrics, but instead on their customer’s success milestones.
A lightbulb went on.
Within a few weeks of being back at work, our Co-founder and Director of Product, Director of Customer Success and I built our own customer experience map. Rather than relying on long project briefs and meetings, this customer experience map became the basis for nearly every marketing, growth, and customer success decision we made from that point on.
I no longer needed to explain things to the Product or Engineering teams, like why our existing customers were a powerful source of referrals. They just needed to look at our customer experience map (which was a circle) to understand. Marketing and Customer Success (and eventually the Sales team, when one was added) all had clearer hand-off points and, moreover, KPIs that tied directly to our customers getting value.
The following year, we grew revenue nearly 900%.
Gaining clarity on — and operationalizing how — our best customers received value, and achieved their goals, led us to reach ours.
It provided my team, and others’, with the ability to make customer-led decisions about what programs to run and when: whether marketing-led, sales-led, product-led, design-led or engineering-led.
Fast forward four years…
Claire’s process of using JTBD to gather customer insights was different than simply taking a stab at what the company thinks customers need while locked away in a meeting room. It was also different than the traditional collection of flat demographic data, or faceless market research.
Instead, her process helped subscription-based businesses understand 1) why their customers were switching from one product to another, and 2) what language customers naturally use to describe their needs. This level of understanding helped companies not only reach new customers, but also activate them, keep them engaged, retain them, and help them grow.
In other words, it complemented customer experience mapping almost perfectly.
Claire and I have been honing our practices together over the past 3 years, working with dozens of SaaS companies and hundreds of students (not to mention producing 80+ workshops together). Through all of that, we’ve developed a step-by-step process for achieving reliable, revenue-generating, customer-led growth.
We can’t wait to share more about our process in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned.