Will Whitham, a Senior Copywriter for our sister community, CMO Alliance, transcribed this article based on an episode of the CMO Convo podcast. In this conversation with Amanda Malko, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of G2, they both deliberate what customer-led growth really means, and how organizations can genuinely implement this strategy.
While it's written with the intended audience of CMOs, we thought the sentiment of this article is perfect and will ring true for CMOs and CS professionals alike. 👇
There are many ways to measure the growth of a business. But while you might want to focus on something like revenue, profit margins, brand awareness, or lead conversions as a CMO, at the end of the day there's one thing a company needs to grow more than anything: customers.
And it's not just about getting new customers, it's about retaining your current ones and keeping them along for the ride.
That's why many organizations are starting to build around "customer-led growth". To explain what this means for you as a CMO, there's no better person than Amanda Malko CMO of G2, and tireless advocate for the power of the customer voice.
She joined us on an episode of the CMO Convo podcast, which is now available in written form with just a little scrolling down this page.
- Amanda's background and role at G2
- What is customer-led growth?
- What is the customer-led growth approach?
- Challenging preconceptions with customer feedback
- Capitalizing on your successes
- How to measure customer-led growth
- Stakeholder alignment on customer-led growth
- When is your business ready for a customer-led approach?
- The future of customer-led growth
Amanda's background and role at G2
Will: Who better to talk about the customer and customer growth than the CMO of G2, which is probably the premier peer review service on the web? I can't think of any of the names that are bigger than G2. So it's really, really exciting that you're here, Amanda.
And as I said, you’re one of the most prominent companies that do this kind of thing, but for the people who don't know who G2 is, maybe you could introduce G2, who you are, and what your role is as a CMO there.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm the CMO of G2 and we're, as you said, a software marketplace and review site. We have 60 million software buyers who come to G2 every year, and they’ve left over one and a half million reviews for software products across 2000 categories.
So anyone in the world in a business profession is buying software, and so G2 is really the place where people can discover what their peers are using, review the software they're using, but also – if you're evaluating software – find really trusted, authentic reviews and feedback and advice from peers on what you should be thinking about and software that you might be about evaluating whether it's right for you.
What is customer-led growth?
Will: And that's so important these days when it comes to pretty much any kind of marketing, B2C, B2B. Everything's based on peer recommendations now. It's one of the core elements, whether it's just looking at how many stars they have ranked on stuff like Trustpilot or something that takes more time like reading in-depth case studies.
But then how are we getting to this idea of customer-led growth as a way of pushing companies forward? That's what we're talking about today. What is customer-led growth? Because people might be familiar with "product-led growth" and stuff like that, customer-led growth might be a new concept to a lot of our audience.
Amanda: I think so too. I mean, I think it's probably one that we're all inherently familiar with. It's interesting because you talk about the prevalence of reviews, and it's a great place to start thinking about customer-led growth.
In B2C, when we're consumers in our day-to-day lives, I go on Amazon, and I have a review strategy. I have a way of looking at things and deciding, like, “Hey, if I look at these reviews, does this feel like something I want to buy?” and it's just sort of this inherent part of how we shop today, and it's not far-fetched to think that in our business lives, we're still the same people. We're going to be thinking about what are my peers saying, and looking for that trusted customer voice to make those decisions.
And so when it comes to customer-led growth, I really look at customer-led growth as something that can apply to any business, whether it's B2B or B2C. It really comes down to leading with the voice of your customer, to shape everything from how you build your product to how you go to market. And it means really starting from the perspective of your customer, not necessarily your own organizational perspective or the perspective of your product.
I think we all know to do that as marketers. I think putting that into practice and really enabling it across the entire organization is the more difficult challenge.
Will: There are lots of advantages of this approach as well. If you're thinking about the customer first, then that's going to trickle down throughout the rest of the organization, surely?
So if the marketing department’s thinking customer-first, then that's going to apply to how the sales team operates, to how the product team works, to how your customer success – of course, customer success are gonna be thinking about the voice of the customer.
Will: Are there any other big advantages to this kind of approach that apply to different types of organizations?
Amanda: Yeah, I mean, I think that you hit the nail on the head with if you can help everybody understand the voice of the customer and really define what customer-led growth means across your organization, it's going to result in better products, better marketing experiences, better sales experiences.
And hopefully, that means you're able to capture more revenue and more interest from your customers, and you're gonna meet their needs over the long term. So I think the other benefit is that if you continue to do this, not only will you see more success in growing your revenue, but hopefully you've got customers who are going to stay with you longer because you're continuing to meet their needs and listen to what they want, even as the market and your product evolves.
And so I think that that's the other advantage – not just that sort of upper funnel everybody's seeing growth up into the right, but that ability to really retain the revenue over time.
Will: Definitely. Increasing customer retention, that's got to be one of the key goals of customer-led growth. It's not just about demand gen, it's not just about generating leads, it's about ensuring that you’re building the sort of lifetime connection with customers over a long period of time.
What is the customer-led growth approach?
Will: So, are there certain processes you can take to engender those kinds of results, to get those kinds of customer-led long-term results that people can put into practice?
Amanda: Yeah, I absolutely think there are. I mean, I think the first one starts with really defining a way that you as an organization tap into the voice of your customer. So I would say G2, if you're in B2B software, is a no-brainer, right? Because I talk to CEOs at very, very large enterprise software companies that regularly – I'm saying on a weekly basis – are looking at the reviews.
You can set up a Slack channel, and every time you get a review on G2, you can take time every week, and just review what people are saying about your product. If you work in product, you have a goldmine of real-time feedback. You can also aggregate it over time and learn what people are saying about your brand.
So at the very least, it's defining processes that help you understand your customer on a more regular basis – not the once-a-year focus group or once-every-two-or-three-year focus groups – but how do you really tap into that and then share out those insights in a way that's scalable and helpful for every part of the organization?
And so, easier said than done. I think starting with reviews is a real-time feedback loop. There are certainly many other ways. People use things like Pendo, and Medallia to do real-time NPS. Qualtrics is a great example of a company that sort of leaned into that, and I know I always love doing my Qualtrics surveys to get feedback on things.
So I think the first is really defining what we need to understand, how are we going to do that, and then what's the plan to make sure that's shared in a way that's actionable for every part of the organization, and that'll look different from the CEO to product to sales.
Challenging preconceptions with customer feedback
Will: It's interesting you talk about the voice of the customer as well, particularly since a lot of organizations, as you say, they'll do customer feedback, maybe once a quarter, once every half a year.
Bringing that voice of the customer into real-time has surely got to be challenging. It's going to challenge a lot of your preconceptions about what you think about your business, about your product. In order to really understand who you are, you have to think about what other people think about you, and having the customer's voice and those challenged preconceptions could be quite worrying at first.
It's going to ruin a lot of people's preconceptions about what they're about, what their business is about. How do you think CMOs can respond to that, if they’ve got certain ideas in their head about how to market and then suddenly, "oh, no, the customers have changed completely"?
Amanda: That is such a great question, and it's so true. I've seen that sort of look of fear. In a former life, I did a lot of consulting, and I would often start with, “Okay, how much do we know about our customers? Do we know enough to make these decisions and make them well?” And you see that moment of fear of like, “Oh, we had it wrong!” It's usually quickly followed by delight because then you can find what they want, or where there's friction in the product or friction in the go-to-market motion.
The CMO of 6sense – I love this – she has a phrase that says she's finding the red. And so when you can find the red, if you can celebrate that and say, “Okay, we had it wrong, but now we're listening, and we can get it right,” I think it's such a great opportunity. So I think it's really flipping it from something that could be scary to “What's the opportunity here?”
I also think if you do it regularly, you're never going to be surprised because your customer doesn't change. With the exception of maybe COVID, which obviously changed things for everybody and across the board and overnight, I can't think of another time when things change radically overnight.
So if you're always listening, you're never surprised, which is the delightful thing about finding ways to more regularly tap into what's happening with your customers. You can iterate with them over time and not find yourself in that “oh no” moment.
Capitalizing on your successes
Will: And even when you're not getting “oh no” moments, even when it looks like everything's going great, it's not a time to rest on your laurels, is it? You're getting all these five-star reviews through, you're getting all this great feedback – you need to capitalize on that. You can't just say, “Oh, this is great!”
How can you capitalize on that effectively? What are the best ways to utilize good reviews and good customer feedback?
Amanda: I'll start by just saying that oftentimes we think about the funnel as a thing that starts with awareness, you're moving them down, you convert them, and maybe you think about upselling as part of your funnel.
But really, advocacy to drive word of mouth, that's actually going to hopefully make your customers become one of your best marketing channels, and they're referring new customers, or they're part of your marketing in a way that actually brings more people to the top of your funnel.
And one of the best ways to use reviews is to actually use reviews in marketing.
I've seen people use the actual review. Say one of your advantages is maybe your implementation time is half of any other software company, so you can realize time-to-value faster than anybody else. Great. You probably have some great feedback on G2 about that. How do you actually use that when you're going out to your customers, whether it's in sales or marketing? Say, “Don't take it from me – here's some actual feedback from our customers.”
Another way is to actually take insights from reviews and think about how can we actually use that to inform our overall messaging. We think we know why we're great, but let's tap into our customers and see why we're great.
And then also, if you're on review sites, not only are you getting reviews, you're getting feedback and ratings on how certain features and attributes of your product stack up against those of your competitors. So you're probably doing competitive landing pages, why not bring in, again, the sort of trusted, verified feedback from G2 to create some of those competitive landers, one-sheets, sales decks that help people understand, okay, you're looking at these two companies – how do you actually compare?
That's something we do I think, inherently. Amazon does that really well just on their site. The same is true in B2B. Help your customer do that comparison shopping by leveraging the insights and feedback that you can get on G2.
Will: Things like case studies are extremely important for B2B companies. They're considered one of the most valuable pieces of content to B2B buyers.
Having that continuous feedback loop gives you options about who to approach about case studies. If you're getting great feedback from a particular customer, you can capitalize on them.
Is there more that we can do than just case studies with this kind of customer-led growth? Case studies can be great, they can be jazzy, but there's only so much you can do with them at the end of the day. Is there more that you can do to build on those customer stories?
Amanda: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things you can do is really elevate your customer's voice and make them like co-marketing partners or thought leaders with you. So, you know, one of the stats that came out of a recent research study that we did a G2 is that 67% of B2B buyers do their own homework and make a decision – in their mind they made a decision – before they ever talked to sales. And so how are you going to get in front of them and really educate them about your offering? Because they're probably going to be making a decision before they actually raise their hand and say they're ready to talk to you, do a demo request.
And so beyond just doing case studies, how do you actually lean into your customer and put them on stages? How do you co-market with them? Do thought leadership. Invite them to do content for you if you have a blog or a publication. This is great for B2C as well.
It's really leaning in and not thinking of your customers as “I need this polished packaged case study,” but also saying how can I actually get them to share their story both about their business and hopefully about what we've done together in a way that feels authentic, and maybe even isn't a channel we own?
How can I just elevate them in channels where I know my customer is spending their time? That can be a great way to go beyond just the case study to help kind of share the success in a way that's not just, as you said, the standard, you all know it has a template in a nice format and you've written it. Sometimes it's just great to hear from the customer directly.
Will: Elevating certain customers could almost add a sort of sense of competition between customers. "You're elevating these guys who’ve been really successful; we want to boast about our success as well, and we want to stick with you as well because you're elevating us". A way of retaining customers is elevating them.
Amanda: I absolutely think it is. If you do it really well, not only are you picking the customer who loves you, and is having great success, but they're also one that you think has real growth potential, and so you're like, “Let's lean into that,” right? And so you can do that to serve multiple objectives.
I think the other thing is this: certain businesses have a real opportunity to build customer communities. And so I think of companies like Airtable as a great example. I think Miro has done some things in this regard, where they're actually creating platforms where customers can share use cases and learn from each other.
Airtable has Airtable Universe customers actually putting their Airtable projects up on Airtable Universe. And so what I love about that is it's sort of an atypical case study if you will. They just put it up there and said, “I think you're going to love sharing projects with each other,” And guess what? They did. And so Airtable doesn't have to go around and say, “Tell me what you did. Tell me what you did. Let me see your project.” They’re just creating a forum for people to do that, who inherently want to come together and share.
Not every project or product can lend itself to that, but many can. And so it’s sometimes just kind of leaning in and creating a space for people to share and getting out of the way. We don't always have to be the company that's sort of going around and formalizing everything; sometimes it's more about elevating the customer in a way that just gives them a platform to share.
Will: And those kinds of communities can be incredibly powerful because once you're in a community, and you like being in that community, it's gonna take a lot to get you out of it. You want to stay a customer of that organization if it allows you access to that community. It's really powerful but very difficult to build at the same time. It's not something you can force.
Amanda: It is the ultimate competitive mode. If you do it well, it is the ultimate competitive mode for exactly that reason.
Will: You can't squeeze blood from a stone though when it comes down to it. There's nothing worse than someone trying to force a community and trying to force these connections. You've got to be subtle about it. You've got to kind of move people in the right direction without saying, “Oh, you guys need to start talking to each other,” kind of thing.
Amanda: Yeah. And a Slack channel is not a community. It can be part of your community strategy, but I see a lot of people who are like, “But I have a Slack channel!” Not quite. It's part of it, but I think it doesn't necessarily come inherently with the stickiness that you're looking for in a community. It's really about the value exchange for everybody and nailing that before you kind of figure out your tactics on how you bring people together.
How to measure customer-led growth
Will: So these are all kinds of big-picture ideas. Let's get into some of the nuts and bolts of customer-led growth. And mainly, how do you measure the success of customer-led growth? Is it just getting good feedback? Or are there other more specific KPIs that we can use to measure the success of your customer-led approaches?
Amanda: I love this question. I think there's sort of a two-part answer to this. The first one is – and there's been research on this by many of the big consulting companies and user experience agencies – in general, if you lean into this, you should see the metrics that you use for your regular business, whether it's revenue or product adoption, grow as a result.
So there's sort of that inherent benefit if you do lean from the voice of your customer and think about how you're actually going to take the time to orient around customer feedback, you're gonna see, I believe, better results across all areas of your business.
But I would say that one of the top metrics would be NPS (net promotor score). You're gonna see that as a great kind of feedback loop to do NPS and over time see that hopefully improve. Would I recommend working with this company? That's something that you can continue to measure to get a quick pulse on how it’s going. Are our results really resonating with customers? Is our work really resonating with customers?
And then I would say reviews are another great way. We actually do ask for NPS as part of G2’s review process, but also just that overall rating and satisfaction. And the benefit of that is you're also seeing it across different areas of the experience, whether it's the customer service experience or the implementation experience.
And so oftentimes, really drilling into where you're doing well, and not well in those attributes can help you understand where you may have nailed it and where maybe more work is required.
And I think the customer service experience is one that's often unfortunately overlooked when we think about being customer-led, and it's ironic because as a customer that's one of the most pivotal outlets you have to really successfully use and adopt a product.
Will: Most B2B buyers will go to someone else if they get one case, just one case, of poor customer service. So having a top-notch customer service team has got to be essential for a B2B organization, whether they're going for customer-led growth or not.
Amanda: Yes. And making that experience delightful. How do you make sure that you're measuring that and seeing customer satisfaction scores out that experience and not make it something that’s sort of a cost center that you're just like, “Let's get them through as quickly as possible”? It's really more about how you surprise, delight, and satisfy what they're looking for when they reach out.
Stakeholder alignment on customer-led growth
Will: Talking about the different experiences and the different parts of the business because customer-led growth isn't just about the marketing department – it's about every single part of the business that has any kind of touch point with the customer.
How can CMOs go about getting all these different departments on board? Who do they need to speak to? Who do they need to align with? What kind of initiatives can they put in place to build those kinds of interactions that are needed to really implement customer-led growth in an effective way?
Amanda: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, ideally, you align with every functional stakeholder across the business – so everybody from your customer success team, if you have a support team product, design, if there's a design team, marketing. You really want it to be super cross-functional, but you don't have to do it all at once.
And so I think it really comes down to what are you trying to achieve. Are there particular areas of the business where you feel like there's the most opportunity? And if so, really, you could start and lead there.
One of the things that I did when I was at MailChimp is… MailChimp has experience principles that are created from insights from the customer about what they value in their product experiences, particularly in the space that MailChimp plays in. And those experience principles, we created one for a particular persona that had different needs, and we actually did workshops with every functional leader to help them understand these experience principles and translate them for their work.
So if one of our principles was a delight, how do we make sure that we bring that into the customer service experience? And so we actually created action items for each team from customer success, to support, to marketing. How are we going to bring these principles to life?
And they came out of research and insights about what our customers really needed and were distilled down into a very simple five-principle framework that everybody could understand and hopefully, in this case, rally behind, so that whether you were contacting support, seeing our advertising, going to the marketing site, or within the product, it felt consistent, not just in the way it looks, but in the way that you experience it as a human.
Will: And that consistency is absolutely essential. You want a consistent experience all the way through the funnel and beyond. You don't want anyone thinking, “There was such great marketing, but they've let us down on the sales side, they let us down on the product support side.” You need that consistency all the way through. It's got to be an absolutely essential thing that CMOs have got to drive for, that we've got to be consistent across the board.
Amanda: Yeah, and there's nothing worse and it hurts building trust in a relationship when you have this delightful sales experience, and everything's going great, and then I'm going to hand you off to the person who's going to onboard you, and your onboarding is a train wreck, right? And it's a totally different tone, and it's not…
That's not a great experience for anybody, but certainly, as a new customer coming in, if you're not having that consistency of certainly a bar for a good experience, but also, if the tone-tenor approach, what your expectations are, feel very different, it's not a great way to build a good relationship over time.
That's true in our personal lives, too. If I'm one way to you now and then we go out for a beer and I'm a totally different person, that's not delightful, whether it's a good experience or not. You want that consistency.
When is your business ready for a customer-led approach?
Will: So when's the right time to take a customer-led approach when it comes to a business in terms of different stages of business growth? Can you do it from day one, from the very start? Obviously, you need customers, but can a very, very tiny startup, for example, take a customer-led growth approach?
Amanda: Oh, I think it's critical. If you're a tiny startup, your speed is everything. If you can get speed, with the effectiveness of decision-making and product, you're off to the races. The companies that I see do really well at an early stage obsess over customer feedback because they don't want to waste time. I don't want to build something that then I find out… I don't have six months to wait and find out it's not the right thing. So they're constantly iterating and getting feedback from customers to make sure that they're solving real needs.
You're really at the basics when you're starting out obviously. That will evolve over time, and your iterations will become more refined, but anybody can use customer-led growth. It's taking the time and appreciating the need to take a step back and say, “Are we making decisions from a place of real customer insight or not? And if we're not, are we willing to take the time to go listen and do some homework, and then make a decision about how we're going to move forward?”
And usually, I think people wonder if it's too slow to do it. And my advice would be to imagine if you don't, and you wait six months when you could have just asked them.
Will: When you could have just taken action straightaway. You've got the knowledge at your fingertips when you have that, as you said, that real-time feedback loop. It's almost like the ultimate resource for anyone who's taking any kind of agile approach is having this continuous feedback loop.
The future of customer-led growth
Will: Let's talk about what customer-led growth is going to look like in the future. What are the expectations? What are the things that people should be focusing on to really build this kind of functionality into their organizations?
Amanda: Well, I think having some sort of real-time feedback loop is going to be table stakes. I hope that's true for most organizations today. I think in terms of customer-led growth, we are just in B2B in particular, seeing a lot more enthusiasm and interest in really leaning into software marketplaces and review sites, both as a vehicle to get that feedback and champion customer voice, but also as a way of really trying to understand who the right customer is for you.
One of the things that I'm excited about as we look towards a potentially cookieless future, is this ability to actually lean into the voice of your customer, even in something like actual signals about what am I interested in buying, through things like intent data. It’s such a huge opportunity for marketers because, to me, it's a much more qualified signal than what you think because I'm a certain demographic title I'm interested in.
If I raise my hand, and you see that I have an intent for a product, that is one of the best ways to actually get in front of me with valuable information because I've already raised my hand and said I'm interested.
So I think of the customer's voice not just as that customer is directly giving you that real-time feedback, but what are those other inherent signals? And so I think thinking about customer-led growth is also going to be important as we think about how we target our customers in an increasingly cookieless and privacy-first world.
You know, things like building your own audiences and community, really getting a strategy for how you're using intent data. We see about half of our customers using intent data in some way and the other half not. I think that the other half is… we're gonna see a lot of them catch up this year. Because we all have to, right? We're all gonna have to figure out new ways of reaching our audiences, which I think is exciting.
What are your thoughts on a customer-led approach to growth? Would it change how you operate as CSM?
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