What Bill Macaitis Learned About Customer Voice at Slack, Zendesk & Salesforce
Bill Macaitis has led marketing at some of B2B technology’s most iconic and fastest growing companies, including Slack, Zendesk and Salesforce. He also recently became an advisor at TrustRadius. We sat down with Bill to discuss the new customer voice imperative and why he joined the TrustRadius team.
How have you seen the role of customers and the customer voice evolve in the tech space?
If you look back through history, the successful companies are always ones that have embraced a customer-centric approach. That being said, within the last 10 years we’ve seen this seminal moment where the voice of the customer has never been stronger and more amplified. Before, the average customer might have a poor experience and complain, but no one would hear about it. And now, they might have a million Twitter followers. That has helped reframe priorities towards a focus on the customer, building relationships and having authentic discussions.
At the end of the day, B2B always follows B2C. When you look at B2C buying behavior, people are clearly going to their friends and other buyers they trust for recommendations. The same trend is now playing out in the B2B tech space, where people want to get insights and recommendations from real users, from the people who have bought the software before. But historically that has been hard to do. Leveraging different technologies and finding new ways to make that easier is helping marketers create better experiences for prospective buyers.
B2B is a tough beast. You’re not selling in one day, you’re selling over months. People have never done so much research, often times before they even reach out to you, and during that process they want to hear from real customers. To the extent you can provide that to them, you are going to build trust. And trust is key, especially for a SaaS company where more than half your revenue could be coming upgrades and expansion. Building trust early is so critical to long-term success.
Slack’s brand identity and viral growth is as close to B2C as you can get in B2B. As the company’s first CMO, how did you leverage the customer voice and word-of-mouth at Slack?
One thing I instilled in our teams very early on was that our goal at Slack was not to get people to buy from us. It was to get people to be successful and to recommend us. That was a higher bar and a harder bar, but I think ultimately it drove tremendous adoption through word-of-mouth.
We used a lot of different tactics to accomplish that. We did a lot of content marketing and paid advertising, but even through those channels we would always leverage that authentic customer voice. In our office we had a Twitter Wall of Love, which displayed all the things people posted about Slack in real time. It was a little risky, because you never know what they’re going to say, but in our case it was often people that just loved Slack talking about how they no longer had to deal with email, how they’re more productive, how they’re just having fun with it — it’s a business application people actually enjoy using.
We built a brand that is based off having a relationship with the customer and having a product that people love to use. Leveraging that authentic customer voice and sharing their experiences with Slack was incredibly important to us.
You were also the CMO at Zendesk and SVP at Salesforce. What role did the customer’s voice play at those companies?
While I was at Zendesk, we faced an interesting challenge that was ultimately solved by listening to our customers. We were out building really advanced workflow routing rules and very complicated features that we thought our customers wanted. Because when you send out a 50-page questionnaire, only your most diehard users will fill it out, which means you get requests for power features.
At the same time, we were getting NPS feedback from customers who had really basic requests. They wanted the app to load faster, search to work better, basic things like that. We realized listening to all our customers could lead to tremendous insights. Getting customer feedback at scale drives you to the pain points that are most important, and they might be very different from what you’ve dreamed up on your product roadmap has on it.
In addition to the roadmap, that feedback is also great for messaging. If everyone describes you in a certain way, or they routinely say they get X value from Y feature, that can help you rethink how you describe yourself. When you go beyond a simple NPS score and start tapping into review content, there is just a goldmine of information there.
At Salesforce, there was always this temptation — and I think every marketing department has it — to write some fancy positioning statement and add techno-jargon and put a bunch of complex diagrams on the homepage. Then at the end of the day, Marc Benioff would take a look and say, “Where are the customers? I want to see customers talking about what Salesforce is, not us talking about who we are.” And I always remembered that.
Those experiences made me realize how impactful leveraging the voice of the customer could be. Why not bring those stories to life and use them in all sorts of channels, whether it’s in your advertising, your website, your marketing materials or your sales process? There is nothing more authentic and genuine than other customers who are using the product.
But you have to be careful. You don’t want to go down the path of having very forced testimonial quotes that sound awkward. Just share what real people are saying. And if you believe in your product and your service, trust that they are going to say great things.
You just touched on a sensitive topic for many marketing executives — being open and spinning less can be scary. Do you have any recommendations for other CMOs on how to be comfortable with that level of authenticity?
Yeah, it’s definitely scary. Any CMO is going to be very careful about cultivating the brand and their company’s image. But this is another instance where B2C drives B2B strategy. At first it was nerve-racking for an ecommerce brand to have real-time reviews right on their product listing. But once they started started showing up on shopping sites like Amazon, that evolution happened and you saw them everywhere. Brands realized that having real customers speak in their own voice, not some marketing voice, is what helped educate buyers.
Over time, as you start collecting and sharing reviews, you’ll start to see they aren’t so scary. In fact, they are really helpful. Because having an authentic discussion with your customers, letting them openly talk about their experiences, has never been more powerful.
Even if there is bad feedback, embrace that. It’s actually great — find out what your customers don’t like and fix it. It’s a pretty simple playbook, but it all revolves around being a customer-centric company. The Apples, the Amazons, the Slacks of the world, they are fully embracing a customer-centric strategy, and their growth shows the success of that belief system.
Given the complexity of the B2B buying cycle, what are some ways marketing and sales can use their customer’s voice throughout the buyer’s journey? Are their any touchpoints where you see an opportunity for more authenticity?
You have to realize that these are long deal cycles, even if you are in a high-velocity business. At Slack, we saw people take up to three months from the first interaction until they would sign up as a lead, then it would be another few months before they became a customer. Move into more complex enterprise products and you’re talking about year-long deal cycles. In a long journey like that, there is going to be a lot of education needed for both parties — for your customer to understand what you’re about, but also for you as a company to understand your customer.
The most innovative companies are finding ways to incorporate the customer voice much earlier in the buying process. Historically, marketers viewed it as a bottom-of-funnel activity, sending some case studies or offering references. Today, leading-edge companies are trying to surface reviews and testimonials much earlier in the buying cycle, because with B2B buyers, it is an issue of building trust in a limited amount of time.
I think it’s very cool when a company uses their customer’s voice on something like a lead form. Why have just a static, blank, white, lead form with eight questions on it? Use that space to provide incredible validation points from actual customers. The trick is to think about the different kinds of quotes, the depth and type of detail, and where each one makes sense at different points in the funnel. Break it down and look for all the opportunities where that specific piece of customer voice content can have an impact.
One last question. You recently joined TrustRadius as a board advisor. Why did you decide to take this opportunity?
There are multiple of factors why I’m excited to join TrustRadius. The first is, as I said earlier, we have never seen a more dramatic shift towards the voice of the customer. Look at how much a review can be amplified, how much authenticity and trust it builds, how much power it has in the buying process. In B2B specifically, a role once owned by high-paid analysts is now going back to actual users, and those users are providing a lot of value. There is something authentic and just good about that — I like that shift.
The next reason is, when you look at TrustRadius compared to some of the of the other players in the space, you realize that they are doing this the right way. There are some unsavory tactics that have been going on, with some sites simply focused on lead gen and luring people in just to sell their data, and I’ve never been a fan of that. I’ve always wanted to work with and support companies that are authentic and providing me value.
TrustRadius solves a serious pain point, which is getting customers on the record. It usually takes forever to find the customer, get approvals, distribute and everything else. If you can take that pain away, that’s wonderful.
But then, rather than saying companies need to pay to get leads, TrustRadius helps you take all these wonderful user reviews and integrate them into your sales and marketing process. Suddenly these review can dynamically appear on your website and lead pages to increase conversion. They can instantly show up in Salesforce so a rep can have relevant and authentic testimonials right at their fingertips.
TrustRadius is going to help you sell more. It is going to help you sell better, and faster, and more authentically, while building better relationships. What marketer wouldn’t love that? I know I do! Combine all those factors with great leadership, and it’s an honor to join TrustRadius.