Consistently ramping your ARR is a whole lot harder if your customers don’t stick around. In an age where earning customer loyalty and trust is harder than ever, the road to lifetime value is paved with customer feedback. If you take the time to listen, understand and act on what your customers are thinking and feeling, you’ll create an army of advocates and drive topline revenue growth for good measure. SurveyMonkey CMO Leela Srinivasan will outline seven tips for driving business impact through customer feedback. Expect real-world examples from businesses that are listening and acting on a daily basis.

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Leela Srinivasan, CMO @ SurveyMonkey


Hi SaaStr, how are you? You’re having a good day? Well, I appreciate the fact that you could be in many other sessions right now. I’m going to try and make this one worth your while.

To give you a little bit of context and the reason this is important is because I will draw on some of these experiences as we go. Here’s a little bit of my marketing experience, but I need to back up a little bit and go off slide to tell you about my pre-marketing experience. I actually worked in sales for five and a half years and that’s probably why I have tended to gravitate to B2B marketing. Worked as an AE and then a sales manager. Decided to go to business school, did that for a little bit and then came out in management consulting, a company.

It was only after, that I had the chance to hop over to LinkedIn and I worked for their talent solutions business for about four and a half years. When I joined it was about 500 people and maybe a couple of dogs. When I left it was six and a half thousand, so that was definitely a fun ride. From there I went to OpenTable. That was a shorter ride, about 15, 16 months. The company actually acquired on my fifth day there. So, it wasn’t quite the experience I thought I was going for, but certainly a learning experience and I was responsible for restaurant marketing there. So, they’re a B2B piece.

From there I spent two and a half years at Lever, the recruiting software company. Definitely recommends their software if you’re in the market for hiring in a better way and helped them from series A through C. Finally got the call to join SurveyMonkey about 10 months ago. It’s been a pretty busy period. We IPO’ed in September, October and been really loving it there. Our mission is to purr the curious. So, it’s hard not to love that. We have 20 million questions per day answered on our platform and our goal is to help organizations measure, benchmark, and act of feedback from customer, from employees, and other organizations. To help them transform and grow.

Feedback is clearly why we’re here and if you need anymore reasons on or reasons to believe that feedback is important, here are some pretty sobering stats from some recent research that we ran. I hate to break it to you marketers, but we’re just not credible anymore. 63% of customers, think that marketers are selling them something that they do not need. Well, that kind of hurts actually. I hate to think that our profession’s lost that much credibility and if they’re not listening to marketers and corporations, who are they listening to? Well, of course it’s other customers.

So, 82% of people finding a little bit customer testimonial to be much more credible than what they hear from the organization and then there in the middle, half of buyers being willing to share an unsolicited recommendation. So, we are definitely in the feedback economy whether you like it or not and the question is, what are you going to do about it? That first 63% tells me we all need to be doing a little bit better job of listening, of empathizing, and of delivering value.

I’ve got seven tips I’d like to share today. Ways in which either I or folks in my organization have leverage customer feedback to create what we fancifully call, rabid fans and also to drive growth in the organization. Let’s start with tip number one, which is using feedback to inform your biggest messaging decisions. Let’s face it, marketers do spend quite a little bit lot of time making shit up, don’t we? We really do and history is littered with organization that have just got this shockingly wrong.

One of my favorite stories, well, I think you met this talk was Coors, the beer brand went into Spain and they took their campaign. The campaign slogan was turn it loose. It turns out when they translated that in Spanish, it translated to suffer from the effects of loose bowels. So, it was literally a little bit crap campaign. There’s no excuse for that in this day and age, right? You have to be listening to customer feedback and incorporating that as you’re developing your messaging, your positioning, your product names.

This is something that we’ve been doing at SurveyMonkey and I’ve done in other places. It starts with … We’re actually going through this right now as we’re thin about gearing SurveyMonkey up for it’s next push. We’re moving to enterprises. You may or may not have heard. We’ve got some hearts and minds to change on that journey and so one of the important things we’re doing is trying to understand what is the best way to communicate that message as we go into market. It starts with auditing your existing point. What is your messaging and positioning out in the market place? How might you want to change that?

We’ve started with brainstorming internally. Where do we want to go to? What’s believable for SurveyMonkey. We cut the jargon. You definitely don’t want jargon in your messaging. We drafted some concepts and then those are concepts that we test through both qualitative message testing with existing customers and prospects and then also of course by fielding a little bit survey and getting quantitative results as well. That’s helping is to really zero in on the messaging that is going to resonate, be more effective in our marketing funnel, and therefore drive more growth.

We also did this at LinkedIn as well where we ran all of our messaging through the same process. It takes a little bit of extra work, but trust me, there is no reason that you should fall into the trap of what Coors was doing and get that messaging wrong. So, that’s the first thing, use customer feedback to shape your messaging. Make sure you come out to market strong.

Secondly, think of your customer feedback as the ultimate form of data enrichment. So, show of hands, how many of you enrich your data through a third party in marketing? There’s a little bit bunch of vendors out there in the trade show floor who are selling various services to enrich your data, to make it easier for you to target, to identify the right prospects. But if you want to and if you choose to, you can use customer feedback in much the same way. Use that as the ultimate form of data enrichment to help you understand how your customer is really thinking and feeling about you and your services.

So, one of my personal hero stories in this is the team at Box who and answered to the question, what if you could actually know what your customer’s thinking? Decided that they were going to do something about that. So, they mapped out their entire customer journey and looked for places where they were most vulnerable. They inserted what they call listening posts, at the moments of biggest risks. In other words, short, sweet surveys that they could fire at to gather feedback.

This is the important part, they took that feedback and through integrations into Salesforce from SurveyMonkey, they surfaced that at the point where the front lines, whether that’s success folks, whether it’s AEs, whether it’s marketing, where those folks are spending their time in Salesforce, so that they can then act differently, talk differently, behave differently, and suggest different solutions to customers. For them, it’s been a little bit phenomenal way to really highlight where the churn might happen and deliver better experiences.

In their quest to deliver what Box calls mind blowing customer experiences, this act of taking the customer feedback and pairing it up at the point of contact with the customer has been gold. So, I would recommend that. SurveyMonkey similarly were using service and customer feedback in the funnel itself. So, the minute you submit a lead gen form, you get the email confirmation and we include a link there to a very quick form where you can give us just a little bit more detail and that little bit of detail can help us customize and be more relevant without even that first point of contact to accelerate the conversation. We all know time is money.

All right, tip number three, leveraging customer feedback for surprise and delight. Now, when we talk about delight and this is a B2B marketing audience, to me it’s not B2B, it’s B2H, business to human. You are selling and working with another human being and so for me if you can leverage feedback and find the places where you can just extract nuggets of personalization that will help you be ridiculously on point as customers go through their journey with your organization, you are going to earn fans for life.

So, one example of where this has happened in my past work. An organization I worked with, very, very customer focused, we would take our NPS surveys and through an integration with Slack, feed then directly into a private Slack channel. That was a channel that I monitored along with the head of customer success, various members of the customer operations team. We were monitoring it of course for both good and for bad. We wanted to know if somebody was really unhappy, what had gone wrong with that interaction, what should we do differently? Should we actually reach out instantly to make things right?

We also chose to monitor that channel for things that were going ridiculously well. This company tended to have very loyal and happy customers and so we had a lot of nine’s and ten’s pouring through that Slack channel. Every now and then I’d go in and we’d scan that channel and look for these nuggets and this is a real nugget. So, we’re ask the question in the survey of, is there anything else we can do for you? The real answer came back, “Well, you can send me ice cream if you want to.” So, we sent ice cream to Toronto in the summer. This was already a super happy customer, but you should have seen the twitter explosion that occurred after that.

We took a happy customer and we sent them into delirium and it was just a moment of humor, a moment of finding that nugget, extracting something from that stream of information and going out of our way to show the customer that we were listening and that we cared. To this day, that customer remains what I would call a rabid fan of that prior organization. It cost us about 25 bucks. So, ice cream for the win.

All right, tip number four. I could probably do a whole session on this one. Turn feedback from customers, both prospects, in other words future customers and current customers into attention getting lead generating content. This is something that I’ve had the opportunity to do in all of my different marketing roles. I think as a content marketer, sometimes it can feel like things are super noisy out there. It’s really hard to get a differentiated message out. But if you can just zero in on that intersection of what’s unique about your organization and your point of view and what’s relevant and interesting in the markets, then that’s when the magic can happen.

I tend to find that as you’re gathering feedback from your customers and thinking about how does that fit into your content, there are really two types of feedback that your customers care about. The first is, they care a lot about what their peers think. So, I’ve had success at running surveys and getting customer feedback in various places including at LinkedIn where when I was there in 2010, we started something called global recruiting trends and to this day they still run that type of research although the format as you would expect has shifted over the years.

The point was, at LinkedIn, we had access to thousands of recruiting professionals around the world. If you were sitting there as the head of recruiting thinking about your year ahead, you desperately want to know if you were thinking about the right obstacles that are on your way, the right trends, the right priorities. So, we were able to survey year after year to help recruiting leaders figure out of they were any good at the thing they were trying to do, if they were thinking about the right things, and what trends to be on the look out for. So, that was huge.

The second type of feedback that I see being valuable to customers is really by what the end user or what your customers, customers are thinking about. I think the example abound in this category. I’ve got a Netflix example up here. Netflix run a survey a couple of years ago around valentines day to survey 30000 streaming customers globally to find out how many of them were cheating on their partners by watching ahead on Netflix without telling them. Have any of you ever done that? Yeah, I do it all the time. Anyway, what they found out was that the worst cheaters of all were in Brazil and in Mexico where 57, 58% of people were secretly watching ahead of their partner.

So, this content got a huge press coverage because it was interesting, it was humorous, and it tapped into helping expose the world of Netflix customers, which I thought was super interesting. Actually, something I saw this week on a similar, but maybe less humorous, but certainly useful not, HackerRank just published their 2019 developers skill survey. Another SurveyMonkey survey they used to survey 71000 developers globally in 100 countries to find out what skills are trending.

What skills do developers have today, what are the skills that they want to learn and that content becomes gold both for companies that are recruiting technical talent which is the ping audience of HackerRank, but also for other developers who they’re also interacting with in their market place. So, I think that’s been tremendously valuable for them too. Definitely think about who the audience is that you want to tap in to and how can you package that, their feedback, that content to drive leads, to become known, to build your brand awareness in a certain way.

All right, tip number five. Inform pricing and packaging decisions with real feedback from real customers. Okay, I’m going to ask you to be honest here, marketers, product people. How many of you admit that you’ve decided on a package or a price point by sticking your finger in the air? I see a few hands. Thank you for your honesty. It’s pretty chronic actually in the value where we’re all excited about product development and it’s only in the dying days before launch that we’re like, “Oh shit. I’ve got to price this thing. How much is it worth?” Anyone in the pricing space would argue that we need to be thinking about pricing way before then and that customer feedback can play an incredibly important role in helping us land to the right price point.

In fact, I think last year, Madhavan from Simon-Kucher & Partners may have been speaking about this. He is an evangelist for this notion of finding out about the customers willingness to pay long before you go to market. And he would argue that not enough organizations do this. I’ve done this in two different ways depending on the size, on the budget of the organization that I’ve worked with.

When I’ve had the budgets, I have gone with a pricing agency or pricing consulting firm rather and done the research with them. It’s been expensive, but it’s definitely been worth it. In one instance for example, at LinkedIn, we used that pricing research to better understand exactly what features to put into a subscription bundle to differentiate it from others on either side of it.

We also figured out what would our customers be willing to pay by doing Van Westendorp Analysis and so forth. Then there was a massive simulation running in the background to help us understand the cannibalization effects potentially of launching this package. But all of that was based on surveying customers, existing customers and future customers of our products to better understand that willingness to pay.

When I haven’t been quite as blessed with that budget, I basically bought Madhavan’s book. He wrote a book called monetizing innovation. There was a chapter in that book that walks you through the various stages that can go through in order to get qualitative feedback in minimum from your customers and use that to inform pricing decisions. That was actually something that I did at Lever. We developed a short survey to better understand the value features.

We put some content in front of a few of our key customers and we got there very real feedback, real time on what they thought would be prohibitively expensive versus just about right for a particular package that we were putting out to market and I think it launched well as a result. If you don’t have the pricing firm, definitely look at the book monetizing innovation. We also have some free templates on SurveyMonkey to help you get started in that pricing activity.

All right, tip number six. Using feedback to create a virtuous customer acquisition cycle and that for me is really about figuring out how do you identify folks that can become your customer champions and create the right relationships with them such that they not only submit feedbacks that can help enrich your products and services, but they become your champions. The people that will defend you to the end of the earth and the main way which I’ve done this at LinkedIn, a little bit at OpenTable, at Lever, and we’re just about to kick into gear at SurveyMonkey is through customer advisory councils.

How many of you have customer advisory councils in place? A few, okay good. So, to me I could talk your ear off about this. I’ll do some talking now. You can definitely find me later at cocktails if you want to talk a lot longer about customer advisory councils. But at each of the places I’ve worked, they’ve served a slightly different function. In some companies it was really about getting more feedback because perhaps other parts of the organization weren’t listening enough to the customer. At Lever, I think it was a combination. We definitely always wanted more feedback, but we also wanted to build these champions and bring them closer to us so that they could help us curve the path ahead.

Here I’ve got one of poster children from my Lever days, Johnny Sanchez. He was at the time the director of recruiting for Hot Topic, the clothing store. My nine year old loves to buy lots of earrings and Johnny was one of the members of our second advisory council. Why it was really important for Lever at that time to have Johnny on the council was he represented the new breed of customer that Lever was attracting. We were in the process of moving up markets and we wanted to understand what organizations like Hot Topic really wanted from recruiting services and software.

Johnny was full of feedback. He had lots to share, lots of ideas, lot’s of feedback on how the technology was working and areas where we could improve it for an organization like his. So, critically, in addition to inviting him into the tent and bringing him on this councils of 12 to 15 customers, we listened to that feedback and we acted on it and were able to come back to him with an update in areas where we felt like the feedback would help guide us in the right direction for the portfolio of products. Over time, because of that, because we listened to Johnny, because we took that feedback, he became one of out staunchest advocates.

You see his LinkedIn profile on the right hand side, yes, right hand side of the slide. He was willing to put up for the world to see that he was a member of our council, that he was helping us shape our future. He became the person who was constantly chiming in on discussion threads. You know that slide earlier about customers sharing recommendations and feedback, Johnny was absolutely in that camp and he would champion us online, off line. He would demo our products to other people. He was providing indisputable proof of our fit and relevancy to his peers. Several of who he referred and who became Lever customers.

So, definitely felt first hand the real power of partnering with a customer like Johnny to use that feedback, harness it not only to drive out product portfolio, but also to build the kind of relationship that would last for years to come. I feel so passionately about this subject. We’re actually joining forces with Influitive, Sendose, TrustRadius, and Point of Reference to launch something called the customer powered alliance in the near future so we can go much deeper on the power of really building and engaging customer advocates and champions. So, stay tuned for more on that.

All right, my last tip is around using customer feedback to create devoted internal fans too. Now, why this is important, I’ll explain in just a second, but if I ask for a show of hands of how many of you are either recruiting or struggling to recruit or retain talent this year, probably a lot of of hands, right? Really difficult especially here in the valley and one of the things that we discovered through SurveyMonkey research and we do love our research is that when your employees feel like your company is listening to feedback and understands and empathizes with the customer, this actually breeds retention and helps employees feel like the belong to something that matters.

When we’ve surveyed individuals who believe that they companies display a high degree of empathy for their customers, 82% of them believes that they’ll still be at their job two years from now. Pretty darn high. When we have surveyed those who believes that the organization has low empathy for their customers, only 66% of them, two thirds believe that they will be at their job in two years. Now, the cost of re-recruiting is estimated about one third of an individual’s salary. So clearly when you talk about making money, this is a way that companies lose money by not bringing their employees closer to their customers.

So we see this really strong inter-linkage between customer engagement and employer engagement. Similarly, those who believes that customer satisfaction is a priority at their company, 83% believes that they’ll still be at that job in two years time. If you ask those who think that their companies don’t really focus on customer satisfaction and see it as a low priority, 56% only believes that they’ll be that job in a couple of years time. So, that’s a huge differential.

This is why as a marketeer, I find that the lines between corporate brand and employer brand are continuing to blur because there is this inter-linkage. The more we can listen to customer feedback, empathize with the customer, celebrate and elevate the customer and bring our employees close to all this good about the impact that we’re delivering for customers, the more likely they are to stick around and see meaning in their work.

All right, we’re nearing the end here. So, I wanted to recap the things I’ve gone through, but I also wanted your feedback. Today guys, you’re my customers. This is the moment where if you’re on an iPhone, you pull out your phone, you open the camera, you point it at the QR code, and a link should magically appear on your browser. There’s a five question survey. Again, I would love your feedback on whether or not this has been useful. If you’re on android, I’m sorry. It doesn’t quite work that way. You can either use a QR code reader or the URL is

Let’s just recap the ways in which feedback can drive growth and create these rabid fans at your organization. First thing, don’t even launch a campaign or name a product or reposition your brand, your product portfolio or anything else without making sure that you incorporate customer feedback into that decision. That can be a feedback from existing customers, from future customers, from past customers. It should reflect customers across the different segments that you’re pursuing but definitely make sure that you do that with customer feedback in mind. That will make it much likely that your messaging is going to land the way you want it to.

The second thing here, thinking of customer feedback is the ultimate form of data enrichment. Making sure that you don’t miss the opportunity when you’re surveying customers and getting feedback throughout that life cycle. All the way from acquisition up front where you can ask more questions when they fill in a lead gen form all the way through that journey to surprise and delight at the end. Make sure you seize the opportunity to grab feedback from them and integrate it into the systems where your front lines is going to actually act on it because that then becomes the ultimate form of data enrichment, enables your organization to deliver much more personalized and impactful service to your customers.

The third thing here, leveraging feedback for surprise and delight. This is the business to human thing. Make sure you scan all your feedback for those golden nuggets that will help you deliver an unbelievable level of service to your special customers so that they remain fans for years and years to come. The fourth thing, using feedback from customers both current, future, and also their end users, the customers that they’re looking to build in order to generate high attention value added content that people will actually fill in a form to download and read. I’ve seen that be successful across every organization I’ve worked at.

The fifth thing here, don’t ever launch a product without doing some customer feedback to better understand customers willingness to pay for features and functionality and incorporating that into your price point and into the features that go into the specific bundle that you’re presenting to them.

The fifth thing here. Oh sorry, that was the fifth thing. The sixth thing, creating a virtuous customer acquisition cycle. Work really hard to generate the kind of relationships that you want to through customer advisory councils so that you are setting up this virtuous cycle of feedback coming in from customers who are in the segments that you most care about. Using that to inform your product, but also bring those customers closer to you so that they become your staunchest advocates.

Then last but not least, do not forget about the power of bringing your own employees closer to your customer base. That is going to be the secret to making them feel super engaged in your organization and hopefully that means they’re going to stick around for longer to come. I’m going to give you the benefit of three and a half minutes back. Thank you all for coming. Hope it’s been useful. Thank you for taking the survey and enjoy the rest of your night.

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