A Customer-Centric Approach Worth $27.7 Billion

How user-centric marketing builds companies like Slack

Lani Assaf
Jan 11 · 9 min read
Customer-centric marketing

“Welcome back, without Slack!” proclaimed the LinkedIn news article at the top of my feed, with 56,259 readers and counting.

I had to laugh — I couldn’t believe it.

It was the first day back to work in January after the holiday break. I was in the middle of drafting this very post, reading article after article about Slack’s incredible success (Salesforce buying them for $27.7 billion — hello!) and the customer-centric marketing strategy that led to such amazing growth.

And in the very same moment, people were in chaos online. Slack was completely down. According to The New York Times, Slack has over 10 million users worldwide, and over 750,000 companies use the service. What were we all to do without Slack?!

Luckily, only a few hours later, Slack was back up and running. But it does make you wonder, does an outage like this have any real negative impact on Slack’s number of users?

I doubt it.

While it’s not great publicity to have hundreds of headlines lamenting how your company ruined peoples’ mornings, Slack is so widely-used and loved (have you seen their Twitter Wall of Love?!) that I think they’ll be forgiven quickly.

Plus, Slack has been building a truly customer-focused strategy, prioritizing the user above all else, since the very early days.

In this post, I’ll explore how to listen and learn from our customers, why a customer journey map is much more valuable than user personas, and how a user-centric marketing strategy helps build companies like Slack.

Let’s start with a little explanation. 📝

What is user-centric marketing?

User-centric marketing (or customer-centric marketing, I’ll use the terms interchangeably in this article) is, as it sounds — a marketing approach designed around customer needs and interests. It also:

  • draws on user research and user experience design
  • seeks to use digital tools to understand users and their journey better so that we design our marketing strategy around them
  • looks at ways to validate our approach to a campaign at every step of the way
  • aims to adapt our campaigns once they’re launched to maximize their effectiveness

By adopting a customer-centric approach, we prioritize our users’ questions, objections, goals, and feelings throughout their customer journey.

A simplified customer journey map

Customer-centric marketing can give your company a lasting competitive advantage. How so? Here are three key benefits:

  1. Agility: Engage with prospects on the platform that’s most relevant to them, with the message that’s most likely to resonate at that specific moment in time. (see below: why traditional personas fail)
  2. Efficiency: Invest only in the acquisition channels and campaigns that will help you acquire high-value customers.
  3. Loyalty: Establish deeper, more meaningful connections with your customers when you tailor your messaging and experiences to them — encouraging them to come back again and again.

To visualize your customers’ journey, you can build a chart with the steps in the journey across the top and the information about the user that you want to gather at each step down the side. This chart is provided by the CXL Growth Marketing Minidegree:

How to build the customer journey map

While the customer journey steps can vary depending on your business, the information you’ll want to gather for each step tends to be pretty consistent. For example — what questions do your users have, what tasks do they want to complete, and what touchpoints are they encountering?

Why do traditional personas fail?

The problem with traditional customer personas is that they’re static. A simple snapshot in time, they don’t fully reflect the journey that the customer goes on throughout the growth funnel, to the point of conversion, as they become a customer and beyond.

Understanding where our prospects are within their journey is important, so we can craft a marketing message that will resonate, on the most suitable channel, for that specific moment in time.

A customer journey map can be used in many cases, including:

  • When deciding where to invest your budget

Look to your customer journey map & ask yourself: Where are the “points of weakness?” Where are we most letting the customer down? That’s where you need to be investing.

  • When building a particular project

Let’s say you’re considering kicking off a new email campaign. Before you do, you can look at your customer journey map and ask, “Well, where does this email campaign fit in the customer journey?” This way, you can see what questions and objections and tasks and feelings somebody has at that particular point, putting that campaign in the context of what’s happening before and what will happen afterward.

  • When in team meetings

Sticking your customer journey map up on the wall, or at least having it nearby, can remind you to let the customer guide your conversations. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos takes this a step further and often leaves one seat empty at the company’s most important meetings. He says it’s there for the most important person in the room — the customer.

So, you understand user-centric marketing, you’ve drawn up your customer journey map, and you’re ready to let it guide your marketing, but now, how can you be sure the messaging you’re developing will resonate with customers?

The power of top task analysis

Top Task Analysis is a simple technique to source user insight and understand customer priorities.

When someone lands on our website, we’ve only got about 8 seconds to prove to them that our website is worth exploring. We have to address any questions or concerns that people have quickly, and we want to address those that are most important. But what is it that people want to know, and which of those questions is most important?

The human attention span

The top task methodology, by Gerry McGovern, was developed as a solution to this challenge. Running a top task analysis will help you discover the top questions and objections that matter to your prospects.

The results can inform your paid advertising, email campaigns, all sorts of marketing materials. It can help you decide on what calls to action to prioritize on your website.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by brainstorming every question, every objection that a user might have about your product and service. Study your audience online, talk to your sales team and customer support representatives, and look at your analytics (specifically, the search terms that brought people to your website in the first place) to assist with this research. You’ll likely end up with hundreds of questions about your product and service.
  2. Simplify those questions down into just a straightforward statement. For example, anything to do with pricing, you group together and rename pricing. Anything to do with the product’s features, you call features. You’re combining any that are very similar to one another and removing anything that’s just really ridiculously specific. You’ll end up with a list of different categories, maybe anywhere from 60–100 options.
  3. Finally, run a survey on your website or via email, and ask people to rank your list of items from 1–5. Five points to the most important thing on that list, four to the next, three to the next, two the next, and then one to the final one of your top five. They should leave all the other options blank.
A top tasks survey question

The Top Tasks Survey is effective because when you run a questionnaire with dozens of options but force people to pick only five and leave all the rest blank, you get to know what they really want.

Using this insight from your users, you can focus your marketing messages and product on the top tasks you know will resonate.

To reiterate: customer journey mapping helps us know when and how we should be reaching people, and top task analysis and surveys tell us what we need to say to them.

Let’s look at how Slack built a customer-centric strategy.

Slack’s different kind of growth philosophy

Within just the first year of launching, Slack was adding $1 million in annual recurring revenue every four weeks. With a growth rate of over 33X, Slack landed at the top of the Silicon Valley Hall of Fame as the fastest growing business app ever.

Slack growth after one year

When Bill Macaitis, formerly at Zendesk and Salesforce, was brought on as the first marketing hire in November 2014, he focused on only one thing: creating a customer experience that people love.

The secret to scaling, according to Bill:

“I’m a huge believer that the customer-centric path is the strongest way to achieve hyper growth and to achieve long term differentiation in the space.” — Bill Macaitis, former Slack CMO

There are three lessons to be learned from how Bill built a customer-focused marketing strategy to drive explosive growth at Slack.

Three ways to improve customer-centric marketing efforts

  1. Produce engaging content marketing

The secret to exceptional content marketing is to create content that is relevant, helpful, and engaging to prospects.

According to the B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report from the Content Marketing Institute, 83% of marketers who reported high content marketing success levels said their success was due to the value their content provides.

When Bill was at Slack, he launched a company podcast, which focused on real human stories exploring how work transformed people’s lives. According to Bill, the cost to produce was about six cents per listen, and the podcast had between 6 to 7 million listeners.

Slack’s podcast highlighted engaging stories in society & culture, with the brand in the background. This valuable content brought in millions of people to experience the brand for 20 or 30 minutes, over and over.

Slack’s work in progress podcast

2. Constantly collect user feedback

From the very beginning of building its product, the Slack team made customer feedback the epicenter of its efforts.

In an interview a year after Slack’s public launch, founder Stewart Butterfield explained how important user feedback was to the company:

“We will take user feedback any way we can get it. In the app, we include a command that people can use to send us feedback. We have a help button that people can use to submit support tickets. We probably get 8,000 Zendesk help tickets and 10,000 tweets per month, and we respond to all of them.”— Stewart Butterfield, Slack founder

From the get-go, Slack approached every question and request as an opportunity to solidify loyalty and improve the business.

3. Use NPS as a guiding metric

Without the right data, it’s difficult to understand your customers at all. Bill Macaitis believes that when building a user-centric strategy, long-term metrics should be the priority rather than short-term (such as a narrow focus on leads).

One of these long-term metrics is NPS, or net promoter score, which measures how likely a customer is to recommend your brand to someone else.

“I’m a huge fan of Net Promoter Score. It’s a good CEO metric. If you truly believe that brand is the sum of all these little interactions that a prospect and customer have with your company then marketing, sales, support, legal, product, they’re all influencing that overall experience and that overall net promoter score. So I like that one as a guiding North Star.” — Bill Macaitis, former Slack CMO

Net promoter score

By constantly iterating on users' feedback, Slack was able to turn new customers into promoters, people who gleefully recommended the service to their friends.

As founder Stewart Butterfield said in Slack’s first year, “Every customer interaction is a marketing opportunity. If you go above and beyond on the customer service side, people are much more likely to recommend you.”

That’s how you drive explosive growth.

Key takeaways

  • Customer-centric marketing prioritizes user questions, objections, goals, and feelings throughout their customer journey.
  • When we understand our customer’s journey, we can craft a marketing message that will resonate at the right place and time.
  • Top task analysis is a technique to understand what matters most to our customers and inform our messaging.
  • Slack’s massive growth was due to a truly customer-focused approach across marketing and product.
  • Engaging content marketing, constantly collecting user feedback, and using long-term metrics such as NPS are ways to improve customer-centric marketing.

Want more? Check out my first article in Better Marketing on growth hacking.

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Lani Assaf

Written by

Digital & content marketing strategist, photographer, travel enthusiast, writer. Learning every day. → laniassaf.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

Lani Assaf

Written by

Digital & content marketing strategist, photographer, travel enthusiast, writer. Learning every day. → laniassaf.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

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