How much do you talk about Customer Marketing? Be honest.

It’s the #1 thing SaaS companies do the least of, that they should be doing far more of.  It gets almost completely ignored until $15m, $20m ARR, or even longer.  And even then, it’s often an afterthought in the chase for new names, new leads, and new logos.

While the concept may sound old hat to those that have been in the software business for a long time, in SaaS, in particular, very little tools, processes, and software are applied to marketing to customers after they are closed.

Over the last 5+ years, we’ve all started to turn Customer Success into a science and a key discipline in SaaS.  But Customer Success in many ways has been defined as an extension of Sales.  Sales closes, and hands off to CS.  While that’s chronologically accurate in most cases, really CS’s cousin should be Customer Marketing.  If you do it right, you can keep your customers for 10+ years.  Or even longer.  And like retention, a marketing journey should also begin again once a customer closes.

Customer Marketing is similar to Demand Gen, but with very different end goals — retention and net account growth.  The playbook is similar, but not the same, and needs different content, marketing, and ultimately, staffing:

  • Customer and Field events. These should be just as much about retaining customers and growing accounts.  It’s fine even if no new prospects come to your event — so long as 50 existing customers come. What % of your soft and hard budget for events goes to retention, and what % to lead gen? You can wing it in the early days, but you need a firm ratio and strategy after that.
  • Webinars and similar.  Webinars are an underrated asset.  Done as one-offs, they are a pain, and no one wants to own them.  But done regularly and right, they are a great way to authentically interact with groups.  Do a weekly webinar on something different each week.  Invite both your prospects and your existing customers.  Ask an existing customer to speak on a webinar at least once a month, and watch them sell your product for you to the prospects that show up.  To really make this work, though, you have to develop a cadence.  You have to do it every week, at the same time, like clockwork.   More here.
  • Drip marketing.  You’ve probably set up automated campaigns for your pipeline now.  But what about your customer base?  Are you sending them thoughtful content every week or two designed to help them get more out of the product?  And importantly, if so, is it any good?  When was it last updated?  I bet you don’t even know.  Mediocre content marketing helps no one.  One great piece of incredible, helpful content a week, to your base, shows them you truly add continual value.  98% of vendors don’t even do this.
  • Whitepapers and static content.  I bet right now all your whitepapers are about ROI calculators and similar pitches to leads.  But how are you helping spread adoption and engagement at the customers you already have?  How good is your onboarding content?  I bet more effort went into the latest case studies to support sales.
  • Podcasts, blogs, and video content.  Podcasts are everywhere today.  But it’s hard to get distribution on podcasts and blogs for your nichey-vendor content.  They may not generate many leads.  But you know who will read and listen?  Your top customers.  The ones that are responsible for your app, day-in and day-out.  It might be better for just 50 of your customers to listen to your podcast than 1,000 folks who will never even convert.

Etc. etc.  As you can see, almost every part of the demand gen toolkit can be repurposed for customer marketing.  Don’t just use that toolkit for new logos.

One big challenge of course is resource contention.  Your marketing team will get a ton of pressure to generate leads.  To help create pipeline.  To help sales grow, grow, grow.  And that pressure is good.  But lead gen also has clear quantitative goals, e.g. grow leads 110% this year.  More on that here.  If you don’t come up with clear quantitative goals for Customer Marketing as well, it will never get enough attention.

So while these rules and guidelines aren’t perfect, and need to be tweaked over time, from, say, $2m to $30m in ARR, you can probably use the 10+10 Rule:

  • 10% of your Revenue Up For Renewal should be invested in customer marketing.  Yes, that may seem like a lot at first.  But it’s a lot less than you are likely spending to acquire those customers.  That’s probably 20%-30% or your first year ACV or more.  You’ve gotta spend a decent fraction in retention, or you aren’t doing it right.  and
  • 10% of your Targeted Account Expansion $$ should be invested in customer marketing.  If you want to grow, say, $2m of your existing base to $3m this year … that’s $1m in growth. Consider allocating $100k to customer marketing to help “close” that upsell.   Don’t just leave it in the hands of Customer Success, Account Management, and Sales.

Depending on how your business runs, this may be a lot of money, and a lot of change.  You can tweak the 10%+10% numbers.  At least set goals and spend commits here once you have, say, 2 years of revenue under your belt.

Ultimately, if Second Order Revenue drives a huge amount of your growth (40%+) and you’re not following the 10+10 program … you are probably concentrating much too much of your marketing dollars on getting folks into the funnel.  Rather than making sure they are Customers for Decades.

The 11 Year Customer

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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