The marriage between acquisition & retention with Tara Robertson, CMO at Teamwork (ex Sprout Social); Marino Fresch, VP Acquisition Marketing at Sprout Social

The relationship between acquiring customers and retaining them is an important dynamic between or within marketing teams.

Find out how two top leaders at Sprout Social navigate this area of their marketing function. Tara Robertson, who was Head of Customer Marketing at the time of recording, and Marino Fresch VP of Acquisition Marketing, talk to our host Alex about how they collaborate at their fast-growing SaaS company.

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Full Transcript

Alex (00:07):

Hello, and welcome back to another FINITE podcast episode. Today is an exciting one for me because I get to welcome, not just one but two experienced marketers onto an episode of the FINITE Podcast. Marino Fresch is VP of Acquisition marketing at Sprout Social, whilst his colleague Tara Robertson is Head of Customer Marketing. 

And we’re talking about how acquisition and retention marketing both work side by side at Sprout Social, as it continues to grow globally as a world leader in the social media management solution space. So I hope you enjoy.

FINITE (00:37):

The FINITE community and podcasts are kindly supported by 93x. The digital marketing agency working exclusively with ambitious fast-growth B2B technology companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams and B2B technology companies to drive growth.

Alex (00:57):

Hello Tara and Marino. Thank you for joining me today, I’m looking forward to talking.

Marino (01:00):

Hi, Alex. Good to be here.

Tara (01:02):

Hi Alex, we’re super excited to be joining.

Alex (01:05):

I should say to listeners, and I did warn you as well, this is my first podcast episode with two guests on at the same time. So I think we’re just going to have to figure it out as we go, the talking over each other thing and it will probably happen, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. 

We’ve got a really interesting episode coming up and the context and the reason for both of you being on together, is we’re talking about the marriage between acquisition and retention. Two areas that you both look after at Sprout Social. But before we talk about that in a bit more detail, I will ask you both to introduce yourself. So I’ll hand over to yourself Tara first, to tell us a little bit about your role and what you do, and then I’ll move on to you Marino.

About Tara and her background in B2B marketing 

Tara (01:41):

Yeah, thank you Alex. So, as you mentioned my name is Tara Robertson. I’m the head of customer marketing at Sprout Social. My role over here is really two fold, focused on one) helping our customers have a tremendously wonderful experience from the day they sign up with our product, whether that’s from on boarding to education and then of course, doubling down on how they grow within our product. 

And so working on both the retention metric, as well as a growth and up sell metric. Prior to being at sprout I led marketing at Hotjar, which is a growing startup, and then led an agency and our creative services and marketing division for about 12 years. 

We were also one of the first HubSpot resellers. So both living in the agency and SaaS world, I’ve had this marriage between both of those across my entire career. So I’m really excited about how I’ve seen that grow at Sprout and how we’re continuing to invest.

Alex (02:33):

Very cool, thank you. I realise I should probably have gone to acquisition first and then retention, but slightly in a reverse order, I’ll hand over to Marino and you can tell us about your role on the acquisition side.

About Marino and his background in B2B marketing

Marino (02:43):

Thanks Alex. Yeah, I’m Marino Fresch and I head up acquisition marketing. So my team looks after new customer acquisition. So that means driving traffic to our website properties and blog properties, converting that traffic to warm prospects through our funnel and then ensuring that traffic and those prospects make it all the way through the funnel, in close partnership of course with the sales organisation to turn into revenue customers for Tara’s team.

So I manage within my team, growth marketing, demand generation, marketing analytics and marketing operations. Prior to joining Sprout, so I’m originally from Northern Ireland. I’ve spent most of my career in London and the UK. Prior to Sprout, I’ve spent time at eBay, Expedia, Eventbrite in a combination of marketing and strategy roles, mostly in the UK and Europe before moving to Chicago about three years ago.

Alex (03:40):

Cool, very cool. So we’re talking all things acquisition and retention. I guess, looking to dive a bit into how the two work together and side-by-side. Sprout’s obviously been on quite a journey and I’ve been seeing a lot of growth and it’s a chance to kind of dive into a bit more detail around how the two sit side by side and how you work together. 

And that handover, whether it is a handover, whether it’s more of an ongoing, consistent alignment. So lots to talk about. In broad terms to start with, it’d be great if one of you, or both of you could share from your perspective, how retention and acquisition work together to drive growth, and then we can dive into a bit more detail from there.

How retention and acquisition work together to drive growth 

Marino (04:20):

Yeah. So I think I’ll go ahead and jump in here. I think that my observation through my career has been that quite often organisations, particularly high-growth, scaling organisations like Sprout, of course, initially they focus on acquisition. They want to build their user base and grow in size. 

And then customer retention tends to come a bit later. And understandably, once that base is built, it’s been my observation that many organisations start that customer retention journey about 18 months later than they should start it, once they start losing customers. And then it’s of course, hard to catch up with that. 

I think at Sprout, we have really considered both parts of that, right from the outset. So acquiring those customers, but also then ensuring that we are retaining them. We give them that smooth, joined up customer experience to ensure that they see consistency, they are retained all the way through the funnel. 

I think fundamentally what that looks like is acquiring those customers, ensuring that the retention team or Tara come up and work with them closely, but also increasingly on the acquisition side, ensuring that the customers that we are acquiring are customers that are lower propensity to churn at that acquisition stage. Loads of predictive modelling and through targeting the customers that are not only high conversion, high value, but also high retention customers.

Alex (05:49):

Interesting. And maybe we can dive into a bit more about that. Cause it makes me think about, in more enterprise businesses where people are generating leads and there’s that constant feedback from sales to marketing around quality of lead, which I assume still happens. 

But that implies there’s a conversation sometimes from Tara back to yourself saying, actually we’re bringing in the wrong type of customers, or actually this demographic of customer might be harder to retain than certain other types.

Tara (06:14):

Yeah. Alex, I’ll jump in on that one. I think, as Marino mentioned, there is a ton that goes into how we’re acquiring customers, how we’re thinking about retaining those customers. And it really starts with the customer. And so we do a ton of work on our end in understanding jobs to be done. 

What are the things that our customers are coming here to leverage our product for? And then based on that, can we deliver the value that they’re looking for? And so I’m a big proponent, I know Marino is as well, that marketing should really be about generating value, not just generating demand. 

And that is how we think about this across the entire funnel. And so for us, it’s really truly about partnership and it’s about the way that we work together to make sure that we are acquiring not just the right customers, but we’re giving them the right experience from the day that they sign up in our funnel to the day they convert to paid to how they continue to grow with our product.

Alex (07:03):

Interesting. And so I guess to give people a sense of the day-to-day, are you guys talking daily, weekly, monthly? Is it pretty consistent? I guess it’d be really interesting for people to hear about team structures and how you work as an overall marketing organisation within sprout.

The partnership between marketing teams at Sprout to align goals 

Tara (07:21):

Yeah. I’ll jump in on that. I think I mentioned just now it’s really a partnership in the way that we work. It’s not necessarily a handoff. And so, it really is dependent on what we’ve got going on and what we’re working on across our various disciplines and KPIs that we’re looking to move. 

Sometimes that’s speaking daily, sometimes that’s weekly, never less than weekly. We’ve got rituals on our team where our marketing squad leaders, which are the leaders across the entire marketing ecosystem, get together and talk about what are the things that we’re all focused on, where are there areas of collaboration? Where are there hiccups or impediments to how we can be successful? 

Because for us, it’s less about what our goals are in customer marketing versus acquisition versus even brand and more about what are our marketing goals for Sprout and how are we working together to achieve them? Yes, we definitely care about our individual goals, that’s part of our job to do so, but we also understand that as a team, our partnership is critical to making sure that as we hand off to sales, whether that’s on the acquisition side or the growth side, or even in the product lead motion, we’re really driving the right experience.

Marino (08:29):

And you can imagine of course, that that also extends throughout our teams as well. So our teams are constantly talking with each other, with their counterparts around what is happening, what initiatives are they leading, how that will impact from the customer and the prospect side of things to ensure that we’re coming out with an aligned message to the market, with customers and prospects. 

And also to ensure that we can not only be consistent, but drive as much efficiency as possible with leveraging campaigns, leveraging initiatives, leveraging channels across both customer and acquisition. Because of course they’re not different people, right? They’re not different prospects or customers. They’re the same people at different stages on the journey.

Alex (09:08):

Tara just mentioned individual goals, which is an interesting point in terms of are there areas in which, based on individual priorities and goals, you might have to pull slightly different directions from one another? I guess with what you said, the customer focus is everything. 

And if you’re doing everything for the customer, you should naturally align in a lot of ways, but are there ever situations in which you have to make decisions based more on the acquisition side or more on the retention side and that there might be a bit of discussion or maybe conflict is too big a word, but you know what I’m getting at?

Areas of contention between acquisition and retention 

Marino (09:42):

Yeah, I think it’s an interesting question. I think I would say yes. I mean, we’re constantly talking about what those goals look like, how they align. I think the nice thing is in general, we’re aligned against the same goals and same activities. I think where you do see variants coming in, which is very natural is the acquisition leavers, campaigns and techniques tend to be higher volume, higher scale because we haven’t yet converted those people into customers. 

We have to go out with a pretty broad net to capture them. Whereas on the customer side, we tend to be more focused, more targeted, higher touch, higher quality touch interactions. And so that suggests slightly different methods for a lot of our campaigns. But of course it’s not a hard and fast delineation between the two. So it has a good bit of overlap, but just by the nature of quantity versus focus, you see some variance coming in there.

Tara (10:40):

I would certainly build on that too. The first thing is that as a marketing department, our goals start as the business goals. And so what is our business hoping to achieve? And then how do we then break that down into our own roadmap across quarter over quarter, annual year to biannual to even month over month. And those are the things we’re looking at in those weekly meetings that I mentioned in our quarterly planning meetings. 

Often we do try, as Marino mentioned, to have our teams collaborating as best as possible, where necessary. And so often we’ll see that one campaign can have a primary, a secondary, and potentially even a tertiary goal. And then we ladder out the focus for our teams against that. 

And so wherein Marino mentioned quantity is certainly incredibly important from an acquisition stage, quality is going to be very important from a customer stage, but you can often achieve both of those with the right focus and with the right team drive and momentum. We try a lot harder, obviously from a growth perspective, we do want to be testing. 

We do want to be iterating and learning and not going too big and learning some of those smaller bets, but we also try to make sure that our big bets are very focused and very streamlined and that we can kind of figure out how our goals can counter and partner together. 

And then also sometimes make the hard decisions on, yes we could do this for acquisition, or yes we could do this for customer, but is that the right thing that we should be doing right now? Because sometimes some of our execution strategies really are truly better for an acquisition funnel than they might be for a customer funnel. And so those are the things that we need to look at on an ongoing basis.

Alex (12:20):

Well, let’s talk about that. Cause it was gonna be one of the questions albeit be a little bit further along, but in terms of execution of strategy and tactics and campaigns, how do those things differ between you both? And you’ve just kind of started to allude to it Tara but it would be great to hear more about that side of things.

Differences in tactics between acquisition and retention 

Marino (12:34):

I think a key focus has been, we talked a little bit about scale channels and leavers that we can use at scale on the acquisition side. I think increasingly, and it’s been particularly interesting this year, given that so much has been remote, we are increasingly trying to think about and try to focus on how can we actually become more efficient. 

So, events being a very specific example of that, where as events move online through much more of a webinar or an online format, then the benefit and the need to differentiate between customer and acquisition becomes much less because they’re no longer constrained by the physical environment that you’re in. 

I think where that becomes interesting and where we do actually try to maintain that differentiation is in ensuring that we are providing the right type of experience, both for prospects and for customers. So again, in an event specific example, that’s about ensuring that we’re reaching a very broad audience of relevant prospects while also preserving that feeling of exclusivity and a focus that’s super important on the customer side. 

So it’s really based on a campaign or a channel basis, but I think as much as possible, we are trying to find those efficiencies and to avoid that delineation of this is a customer campaign, and this is an acquisition campaign. Again, these are people who are at different stages of their journey with Sprout and the more consistent messaging, the more consistent focus we can give them, the better that overall experience is and becomes.

Tara (14:11):

I would add to that one too. I think it kind of goes back to what I mentioned in the last section, it’s starting with the North star or the KPIs. And so what is our primary goal that we’re looking to achieve? Is there an opportunity for us to expand that with a dual focus on how we work together and then break that down into our teams and do we have the capacity? Is this worth it? 

When it comes to where we put our teams focus on, knowing that focus is incredibly important as you’re scaling and growing your business. And oftentimes that does take the shape in large campaigns that we’re working on. So Marino mentioned events. 

Obviously this last year has been a strange one for all of us, especially when it comes to marketing strategy and your event strategy really had to be thrown out the window. And so we’ve done a ton of work internally on thinking about our digital event strategy, how to replicate some of what we had in-person to online, at a time where that’s actually been really hard, I think to do because so many other businesses are trying to do the same thing right now, and acquiring customers, retaining and focusing on the value that you bring has never really been more critical. 

And so that’s where we do see that huge opportunity in partnership because, Marino mentioned this so well previously, it’s the same person. The person that we’re acquiring is the person that we’re retaining and the person that we’re helping. And we want to think about that human experience across the entire funnel, and then also the value that we’re bringing to them. And if we can create great value with the same type of experience, whether it’s through a pre-sales or a post sales motion, then we’re doing a great job. 

Areas that it doesn’t necessarily align is when we think about our lead nurturing funnel or the way that we build email marketing across. That is something that we both have teams that essentially execute against it because we’re actually rolling out a very different strategy at that stage. 

And so those team members can work together on strategic insights or how they look at conversion or how they’re leveraging some of our backend of tooling. But your copywriting, the stage of your CTA’s, everything that you’re kind of driving that end user to get to, has variant differences that you just don’t want to replicate that. 

And so that’s where the work itself becomes actually really important because your event strategy then isn’t just about events. It’s about the followup, it’s about how we’re acquiring them in, it’s about that experience that they have afterwards and where we want to drive them to that you’ll see that come together and then start to grow apart in how we were partnering.

Alex (16:43):

You mentioned just then, and it’s a bit of a side question, but it kind of prompted me to think about it. I love what you said, you’re talking about the person, the human experience. I think we have a lot of debate in the B2B marketing world around B2B versus B2C and how things are very separate. 

And it’d be great to get your perspectives on that Tara cause it sounds like, I know that you’ve got a range of customer sizes at Sprout, and I assume everything from a freelancer who really is just an individual through to a more complex B2B sale with a bigger decision making unit and all the typical characteristics. But what’s your perspective on that B2B, B2C side and this, I guess this humanisation of B2B marketing that we always hear so much about

The connection of B2C and B2B by humanisation

Tara (17:20):

For sure. And you’re touching on a very soft spot. So I’m glad that you asked this one Alex. I am a big believer in H2H, which is human to human. There is a B2B strategy and a B2C strategy for sure when it comes to the way that people buy, the cost of what they’re buying and the experience they’re having. 

But us as consumers, we don’t care about B2B or B2C. We care about the experience. We care about what we’re going through, whether it is that we’re buying a piece of software or a sweater. And so I think understanding the human and understanding the value that you can bring to them in the sales cycle they’re going through and then meeting them where they’re at is really critical. 

And companies that I admire that are doing this well in a B2B space are the ones that are speaking more from a human perspective and really meeting customers where they’re at versus trying to be too robotic or too businessy. Because that’s not what we want as consumers. 

And so I’m a very strong proponent of thinking about a human to human world and thinking about the person on the other end of the funnel that you’re working with and less about the software. The software is important, but it’s a very diluted industry in every possible way. And so the ones that are winning, the companies that are doing it right, are the ones that truly understand their buyers. And that doesn’t matter if you’re selling to consumer business.

Marino (18:37):

Yeah, I think just to build on that, I think it’s a great point on something that I used to hear a lot. Fortunately, not so much anymore is, I think for a while, there was always a sense of when you look at online marketing, for example, LinkedIn is your B2B channel. Facebook is your B2C channel. 

And I think we’re starting to realise particularly in a more blurred remote working world today that that’s no longer the case, but of course it’s the same people across both channels. And the decision maker, the B2B decision maker that’s using LinkedIn during the day is also using Facebook. And so it’s as effective if not more of a potential way to reach that audience without trying to categorise them in this persona of B2B B2C.

I think the other key point here, particularly from an acquisition and retention lens is, and I don’t want to speak for Tara here, but I think it’s fair to say, we are thinking on operating and running campaigns and marketing across these channels and across these stages and really one of the key differentiators when we think about the prospect and the customer, is more about the win. 

So not so much what are we saying and the channel that we’re saying it in, but when are we saying, what is the right moment to be saying that, through the customer journey and that moment to talk to that customer prospect, that’s also substantially different between B2B and B2C. 

So the journey is the same and the channels are very similar. The timing, the moment, and the decision making stage is something where there is the chance and the need to be that much more targeted and focused.

Alex (20:14):

Yeah. Great points. I always refer back to an example of a B2B FinTech currency exchange, the most kind of dry, boring FinTech you can imagine, getting huge results from Facebook Ads a number of years ago, at a point when, as you say Marino that Facebook was the B2C platform and LinkedIn was the B2B one and it was just one or the other. 

But yeah, fortunately I think it’s a discussion that we have more and more and people are becoming more aware of, which is a good thing overall.

Marino (20:41):

I think it’s a fact there is somewhat of the blurring of some of the lines between work and non-work that particularly has happened this year.

Tara (20:48):

I love that you said that Marino. Cause it makes me think a lot about some of our strategies and where we’ve been building in on community and connection in a lot of the digital world. And when you think about it, communities in a lot of ways exist often in Facebook. And so people are now going to social networks to do their job and to connect with people within their own personal networks. 

And so those blurry lines have never become blurrier, but also huge opportunity for businesses that are growing and finding ways to reach and to provide the value to people that are there because you can make those connections. 

And to think about this isn’t just a, you don’t go to Facebook during a 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM, you’re there all day long. And that wasn’t always the case. And so I think that that’s part of what we think about when it comes to acquisition, but also even retention.

Alex (21:39):

Cool. I want to talk a little bit about, we’ve touched on it already slightly, but the fact that Sprout’s business has been growing quite a lot and scaling globally. I wonder whether that has really impacted your roles and how much? 

And I know you’ve been at Sprout differing amounts of time and have seen different amounts of growth, but whether that kind of scaling globally has really shaped a lot of what you do and any of the challenges and opportunities that have come with that? 

The impact of scaling globally on acquisition and retention 

Marino (22:05):

So it’s definitely forefront in our minds right now as you might imagine Alex. So much of our growth has been as a US originated company centered in the US initially, but international is growing very, very quickly for us. And we are increasingly leaning into that. 

I would say that we are seeing a huge amount of traction internationally. And so we are really responding to that demand, responding to that traction. I think as a European, if I can say so working in a US company, I always find that the term international is an interesting one, because we really mean everything that isn’t North America when we talk about international and that’s okay. And I think that what that means, what I take from that is that when we’re talking about the entire rest of the world here, then the opportunity is huge. 

And the opportunity for Sprout and for any organisation is huge. And the challenge by extension is prioritisation. So something that we are thinking and focusing on very heavily is where do we want to focus on international expansion very specifically, where are we seeing that traction? Where do we want to lean into that further? And then more tactically, more specifically, it’s about focusing on how and where can we operate globally with efficiency. 

So the leavers, the channels and the mechanisms that we can do centrally from our US office that scale easily globally: paid media is a good example of one of those. But then where are there channels and campaigns and leavers where we need to be very locally relevant and adapt that to the local market, or indeed do something that’s entirely different to that market? 

So I think it’s hard to disagree that yes, we want to be as locally relevant as possible, that the challenge comes with doing that at scale for the whole world. And so I think a lot about where do I want to target my resources and my efforts, and where will that be the most critical to do so and the local relevance will be most important to focus on.

Tara (24:16):

Doubling down on that, plus one to everything Marino said. The few things that we’ve looked at, obviously one as we’ve scaled is understanding your total addressable market, making sure that as you look to scale, you understand what the opportunity is and what the opportunity cost will be as you invest in different areas within the world or different regions. 

And then the other part is, as Marino mentioned, your acquisition strategy becomes really important on where is it more important to have localisation and where is it more important to think locally while you’re acting globally? And the way that I think about that is how does that translate into the customer experience once they do convert? 

Because if you are translating on the website or you’re thinking about even localisation within languages, and then that customer converts, but localisation doesn’t get met with customer support, it doesn’t get met with an in app experience. Then you’re introducing opportunity to turn, you’re introducing a bad customer experience that’s also not expected. 

And so that’s where it is critical that we’re partnering across the funnel so that we understand one, what is our total addressable market? Are we ready to invest? And then two, as we invest that investment can’t just be one channel. It has to be across the entire life cycle. 

And that includes talking to product, that includes talking to our customer success team and thinking about all of those different components. And if you’re not ready to pull one of those levers, you either a) don’t or b) you start to think through, what notifications or in app messages or experiences do we want to create that helps our customer feel supported and helps them feel like we are investing in their region as well?

Alex (25:53):

Yeah, that’s a great point. I hadn’t thought as much about the localisation side, but I guess if you’ve got a landing page in German and ads in German, but there’s no German product or no German support or no German anything else, then it’s going to be a bit of a friction cause potentially, so operationally that must be a big challenge in terms of planning, that kind of thing. 

And as you say, working a lot with product and teams more widely, this goes far beyond just marketing, which I think is the case with a lot of SaaS businesses. But yeah, that definitely sounds like an interesting challenge. We’re going to talk a little bit about the product side of things anyway. 

So maybe that’s a good time to do that in terms of thinking about, I think a lot of our listeners, particularly if they are in a B2B SaaS business will know that particularly on the retention side Tara, once a customer is in and using a product, a lot of the retention activity and messaging and notifications and all the stuff you’ve just talked about happens inside the app itself, inside the browser on the phone. 

And so I imagine that you’re working pretty closely with the product team to think about that side of things. I know there’s all kinds of different tools and great things that you can use to communicate with customers inside your own solution. But it’d be great to hear a bit more about that from a retention perspective.

Collaborating with the product team for customer retention

Tara (27:00):

Absolutely. And I think from a marketing side, there’s a couple of things that we’ll think about. The first one is a question that I get often, is how do you figure out growth? What does the marketing growth upsell cross sell engine look like? What are the strategies that you can execute? 

The answer often to that is you have to look at your customer entire landscape and understand how many of your customers truly are ready to grow before you start throwing up-sale strategies at them. And so to your question on working with product, for us it’s often very much understanding what are the stages of stickiness that we need to get our customers to engage in the product. 

One of the worst things that every company in SaaS probably hears sometimes is when your customer leaves you, they leave you because they don’t know what you do. And something that they went to a competitor for is something that you actually already do in-house. 

And so for us, the way that we’re partnering is often working with our product marketing team on go to market strategy, positioning product launches, but then working with product marketing and product on what are the sticky behaviours that we need to introduce to our customers? What is the education that we need to be driving to get more of those customers or a bigger pool of customers ready to get into that up-sell growth motion? 

Because we want to focus on, in the same way that Marino or a typical acquisition strategy does, getting customers to engage with our content, to engage with our experiences, to then open up to being able to convert, but you have to do it very cautiously. 

And so we have to be careful that we’re not just throwing a bunch of demand strategies because our total addressable market is small compared to when you’re looking at acquiring across the entire world. And so that’s the thing that we’ll spend a lot of time with the product team on is identifying what are the things that our customers aren’t using that should be using in the product? 

What are the things that our customers absolutely need to be using from day one? And then what are the key components of the product that showcase that they’re ready to move up to that next stage? Or to be able to grow and scale? And then based on that, we’ll cross-functionally work on dual execution strategies. 

And so a great way that we also partner is we have internally what we call these squads, where you’ve got a team member from customer marketing, a team member from product design, product marketing and growth marketing, working together to impact different stages of the funnel. 

Starting with onboarding. We now have one that’s focused on life cycle, and together we’re really truly on a weekly to bi-weekly and then monthly basis building a shared and joint roadmap that impacts that customer journey and similar in the way that I work with Marino it’s about the customer at the end of the stage and the same customer. And then what are the channels that they need to go down so that we’re not essentially running up against each other?

Marino (29:46):

Yeah and from an acquisition perspective to build on Tara, that’s also about raising that awareness, driving that traffic. But as those prospects move into that consideration and decision stage of the funnel, ensuring that the acquisition team is considering and incorporating these elements of stickiness into that.  

So that we are communicating those features that we want people to use the most, because they’re the most sticky once they get into the product, ensuring they’re aware of those features and ensuring that the prospect set that we’re driving through to revenue are the ones that have the highest propensity to be retained, to use those features. 

They’re aware of those features and they’re buying or subscribing to the product, because those are the features that they ideally value the most or at minimum are aware of and want to use in the product when they get there. And again Alex, that speaks to your earlier question around how we align across acquisition and retention. 

And really, I think as Tara has talked about, it’s really about trying as much as we can across both our teams to also think in a holistic funnel all the way through the customer journey and in a positive feedback loop way of, what are the signals that we need lower in the funnel from the customer, how can we ensure that acquisition is aligned to driving the set of prospects that has those signals, has those use cases, and that we’re as clear as possible and as consistent as possible from a brand perspective by doing that.

Tara (31:13):

The other thing I would add in tactically, that’s really important for us, is when you’re communicating with the customer, you’re doing it across your entire business. And so this is more of a tactical thing that we just absolutely have to do, is just make sure that product marketing, product, finance, like every team that communicates to the customer is centralised so that our customers aren’t getting an extreme amount of emails on an ongoing basis. 

That’s creating multiple different goals of things that each of us want to do. And so we work together just on an ongoing basis on making sure what does the customer experience look like? And are we communicating the most important things? What are the things that need to give that are less important potentially, and making those hard calls together as a team? 

Because there are often a lot of things that a lot of different departments want to do, but that doesn’t mean those are all the things that our customer needs us to be doing for them. And so we’ll spend a lot of time in customer surveys and working together on customer experience and then identifying a roadmap again, cross-functionally that puts the customer at the epicenter. 

And without that, it just really will fall apart because then suddenly you’ve got 15 different emails a week coming from various different places and a customer saying like, wait a minute, what’s going on here?

Marino (32:28):

Yeah, it’s a great point. One nice thing for me on the acquisition side is my team is the predominant stakeholders of what prospects are receiving from us as soon as they become customers. Then the flood Gates open in terms of who wants to talk to them, what we want to say. 

And Tara’s team is the gatekeeper of that and of that experience and that’s critically important to ensure that we are not inundating them, and we’re also telling them about the things that are actually important to them at the right moment in time.

Alex (33:01):

Makes sense. And somewhat related to that is it’s pretty much impossible to have a B2B marketing conversation without at least talking a bit about the relationship with the sales function within an organisation. So I’m interested, I know that obviously you’re a SaaS based solution. 

Price point, you’ve got free trials on the website and a range of tiers for different business sizes and scales of operation, but how do your roles and teams interface with sales, if at all, and is there account execs for different roles, for different types of customer, or is it really more of a marketing lead retention activity more than anything else?

The dynamic between sales and both marketing teams at Sprout Social

Marino (33:34):

Yeah, I don’t really talk to sales. No I’m just kidding. So it’s critical as you might imagine. And one of my observations has been over the last few years that I do see with B2B SaaS organisations that in general, the sales and marketing relationship has become much, much stronger, much more aligned and much more bi-directional, which is a really positive trend in the sector. Clearly it’s a partnership. 

The way that I think about that is I care deeply about how my prospects, the prospects that my team generates move to revenue and what happens at every stage in that funnel, because there’s really no point in my team spending budget and time and effort, if we’re not then effectively converting them or driving the right prospects. 

So something I try and communicate consistently is that our job as marketers is not finished until they have become customers, at least as an acquisition team. From the sales perspective, one of the things that I think is absolutely critical is that flow of information back to the marketing organisation. 

So for me, it’s a machine that is constantly in need of optimisation. There are constantly changing input and output signals daily or weekly or hourly. And it’s vital that everyone who’s working in sales and marketing is aware of those aligned on those signals and KPIs. And we are constantly communicating what’s happening within that.

 So how is the volume changing of what’s moving into the sales funnel? How’s the quality of that volume changing? Where are we seeing signals that are positive or negative? How do we need to tweak for quality and quantity and just having that be as close and aligned as possible and as efficient as possible.

 So it’s the classic way of thinking about the acquisition processes as a funnel, which is very helpful and accurate. But I think one of the risks of that mental model is it just goes one way, right? It just goes downwards into the sales organisation. In reality, that upward feed, positive feedback loop communication mechanism is absolutely vital because that is arguably the single most important signal that an acquisition marketing team can have that tells them if we are doing our jobs well or not.

Tara (35:57):

Yeah. And I think it’s very similar on our end. We have a sales driven model for both the acquisition, as well as customer growth. And so a lot of what we work on is consistent partnership. Marino hit it right on, critical, you have to have a great partnership with your sales team. You also have to be aligned to revenue. 

I think something that we work on really substantially is not just looking at the volume game, not just looking at the MQL, but actually thinking about that entire funnel, both downwards and upwards, making sure we have consistent feedback loops to what are we working on. How is that performing? 

What did we learn if it’s not performing at the rate that we’d like it to? And then what are some of the big bets we’re working on together? I think something that I would add is that having a joint and shared a roadmap is really important.

And so as marketing is rolling out different campaigns, or as we’re rolling out different opportunities that we anticipate, we’re passing over to the sales team or that we need sales buy-in. They have to be a part of that decision as well and part of that discussion, so that we can make sure we’re not just passing over opportunities, that then don’t get followed up on and then vice versa that they’re not seeing the opportunity in the campaigns that we’re prioritising. 

If you don’t have that clear partnership and you don’t have that strong alignment, one through all the way to revenue and then to what you’re doing together, you just end up being in a position where sales is asking for a lot of things. Marketing is trying to lead a different strategy. You’re not necessarily aligned at the level that you need to. 

And so trust is critical and then data and making sure that you understand the different stages of the funnel and where you’re going, and that you’re viewing that together on an ongoing basis so that everybody is clear and comfortable with the directional movement, because otherwise it gets real awkward.

Marino (37:43):

I’ll just add one more point there Tara, I think that’s really, really interesting. It’s that alignment piece of course is critical. And I think that for a lot of organisations, they perhaps feel like they’ve got that alignment, but one area where it’s easy to fold on is on the velocity of that information feedback loops. So that means that the speed of communication to understand, hey we’re seeing a change in what’s happening in conversion rates and volume. 

And you know, most organisations will filter its way back to marketing or back to sales eventually, but often that delay is disastrous. And so ensuring that information is moving really quickly means that marketing and sales respond rapidly to something before it becomes a problem, or indeed where there’s an opportunity, where there’s a signal that’s telling us, this is actually working well, this particular type of prospect is converting effectively, is faster. We can move against that. Then the more impactful it is.

Tara (38:42):

You’ve gotta have conviction in what you’re prioritising and why you’re prioritising it and the data to back up on that, because there are so many great companies out there that are doing great things. And I think often you get both marketing and sales teams coming up and saying, what about this awesome thing that I saw this great company do? Can we do that? 

And that’s why it’s important that we together are leading the strategy and working on what we’re focused on and that we do that. And we do that brilliantly versus throwing in a bunch of other ideas or a bunch of other things, which as Marino mentioned, if you see a falter in the funnel, which you will, you always do. 

That’s part of what we’re constantly looking at. You’re working on that strategically and intentionally and not necessarily making the wrong bet. The last thing I would add is again more tactically, both of us have weekly pipeline meetings that we review with the sales team and where we’re truly sitting down together. 

It’s a little bit different with how it’s led between acquisition and growth because our emotions are a little different, but the common denominator is that both Marino and myself sit down with our sales leaders on a weekly basis. We’re looking at the funnel, we’re looking at the data, we’re looking at where we’re prioritising, what marketing is delivering or not delivering, what sales is delivering or not delivering and making sure that that’s an ongoing discussion. So one-on-one certainly important, but that pipeline meeting is something that is critical.

Marino (40:04):

And we look in those meetings, we look at the entirety of the funnel all the way through, not just the hand off point between sales and marketing, which is the obvious place to focus, but that only gives you a tiny part of the picture.

Alex (40:18):

There’s some great points there, I think we could probably do a whole another episode just on marketing alignment, but some great tips. I want to wrap up by, it would be a shame once we’ve got you here not to ask you a bit about the wider social landscape and what you’ve been seeing, particularly given the last period that we’ve been through of a very weird state of the world. 

I’m sure you’ve got a lot of data as a business and you’ve seen trends around how social is being used in different things. But I guess based on everything that’s happened since February, March, but also looking into further into 2021, any key kind of trends, observations around how you see social playing a role in your customer’s businesses?

The role of social media marketing in 2021

Tara (40:56):

Yeah. I think Alex to start on that, it’s everywhere this year. We’ve been very fortunate to work for a social media company, but it’s also something that you have to be very cautious on. And the way that people are using social and what’s critical for businesses is that a couple of years ago, social media was a channel. It was something that people could use that’s a part of their ecosystem and a part of their strategy in a holistic marketing funnel. 

That’s no longer just a channel, social media is a must have versus a nice to have, because it’s how people are connecting. And this past year has shown us that more so than ever. And so when you think about yourself as a consumer, when you think about yourself on the other end of the business, what are you doing today right now, when it comes to how you’re connecting with colleagues, how you’re connecting with people in your network, how you’re learning from each other. 

And we’re often going to different social networks to digest a lot of that. And that’s not going to change after this year, even when hopefully things start to normalise, we’ll see the digital landscape continue to evolve. And I think social will just be at the epicenter of the way that businesses really truly do work together because not only are people coming to social right now to digest information, they go to social for customer care. 

They’re looking for social as a way to connect, to get referrals, to get opportunities, to find new people in their network. And so it’s truly something that we’re just at the tipping point, I think of where social is starting to go. And I think if you’re not on social, you’re doing yourself and your company a disservice. Maybe you have a little bias there, but at the same time, it’s definitely what we’ve been seeing in market.

Marino (42:31):

Yeah, I think that’s exactly right Tara. I think also something that has been happening for a number of years and has been accelerated this year is that two way communication, which has really picked up this year. So what we’re increasingly seeing is that the brands that are successful are those brands that are embracing social as that primary communication channel. 

And also recognising that in many cases, consumers, their customers are in the driving seat of that relationship. So the customer, the consumer can and wants to steer the relationship with the brand, influence the brand, particularly things like, how do they make social and charitable commitments and so forth? 

And it’s no longer enough that that socialism is a one way communication channel or a customer support channel. It’s really a way that consumers want to and are steering the identity that they want the brands to have. And so brands that realise that, embrace that and encourage that, are moving ahead rapidly, particularly accelerated this year.

Tara (43:35):

Yeah. And the final part I would add to it too, is there’s just such a huge opportunity when you think about social listening that is just growing in the market right now, there are a lot of people on social, myself included that are active listeners and constantly going in and reading and understanding, and then communicating in different ways. 

And so we’re seeing a lot of companies now starting to leverage listening as a way to then drive their campaign strategy. When you look at the amount of people that are constantly on Twitter and tweeting and sharing experiences, and then you start to look at the data that’s behind that, you can build an incredible marketing strategy around content that will convert, or opportunities on how you have a clear differentiator, are things that you aren’t necessarily seeing without digging into the data. 

And so starting to use social as a way to drive your data and to drive your strategy is just such a huge opportunity as a whole.

Alex (44:28):

Yeah. There’s a really interesting area of social and one that I need to look a bit more into, but there’s some great perspectives there. So we’re going to wrap up there. We’re out of time, but I want to say a huge thank you for you both joining and sharing stuff so openly. 

I think there’s some really actionable and useful insight there for anyone within the B2B marketing, tech, software, SaaS world and beyond. So thanks for joining the podcast and for sharing everything.

Marino (44:49):

Thank you, Alex. Enjoyed it.

Tara (44:51):

Thanks for having us. We didn’t talk over each other too much.

Alex (44:54):

Perfect, thank you both.

FINITE (44:56):

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