Aligning sales, marketing and customer success in B2B w/ Hunter Montgomery

October 20, 2021


Sales, marketing and customer success teams need to be aligned in B2B SaaS organizations. This helps companies grow, but also to retain net revenue and sell deeper into existing accounts. Hunter Montgomery, Chief Marketing Officer at ChurnZero, joins the show to talk about how these teams can work together to drive meaningful results. In this episode, we answer questions like:

  • What’s the role of customer success within B2B SaaS organizations?
  • How should organizations budget for customer success investments?
  • What are the gaps between marketing, sales, and customer success?
  • How should marketing teams plug in to drive customer retention efforts?
  • How important is it for customer success to have strong sales skills?
  • How does ChurnZero leverage their own platform for marketing?

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we help you go in the trenches so you can learn more about digital marketing. I’m your host, John Tyreman, and I am joined today by Hunter Montgomery, Chief Marketing Officer at Churn Zero, a customer success enablement platform, and we are here to talk about the importance of alignment across sales, marketing and customer success, a very important topic especially today. Hunter, before we dive into our topic, I like to start off these podcast episodes with a quick icebreaker. What’s one interesting thing about you that folks wouldn’t gather by looking at your LinkedIn profile?

Hunter Montgomery:  Okay. It’s a good question. Well, you’d have to scroll down and actually this came up last week at the customer conference – we were talking about this at our conference last week. It’s on LinkedIn, you’d have to scroll down pretty far. But one of my jobs after college, I was a cowboy on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, so that’s, you know, I have my little polo shirt in downtown DC, work for a SaaS company. I don’t think anybody would contend me as a cowboy, so.

John Tyreman:  Very cool. Well, the more you know, right? Well, Hunter, let’s start here. For listeners who might not know, what do we mean by customer success? 

Hunter Montgomery:  So, especially in the software world right? We focus on B2B SaaS software companies. You know, we provide them a platform where they can track the health of their customers. So you know when someone’s in trouble before it’s too late. Kind of the old way of, “Hey, three months out or two months out from renewal, call your customers, see how they’re doing and start talking them through the renewal”, right? That caused a lot of angst. Not very good planning and a lot of surprises for any company, and as companies are sort of… especially during the pandemic, even before the pandemic, started to look at customers and how important they are to keep around. Like, you have all the stats on how much more it costs to get a new customer than to retain a customer. But really, the metrics around making your customers happy and sticking around and not churning right? Hence the name Churn Zero –  has become very important for organizations. And so for us, customer success is making your customers so happy with your service or product that they don’t want to leave, right? It boils down to that. And there’s lots of different ways you can do that, lots of different metrics you can track, but ultimately it is making your customer successful with your product or service so they don’t even consider finding another one to replace you. 

John Tyreman:  Yeah, reducing churn is definitely a big focus area for a lot of these B2B SaaS companies like you mentioned. And you also mentioned an event that you put on last week. I’d like to ask you about that. So Churn Zero recently put on a live in person event called Big Ryg – rig spelled ryg – in Washington DC on October 6th and 7th. Can you share with our listeners what that event is all about and maybe a story from the event since it’s fresh in your mind?

Hunter Montgomery:  So the Big Ryg started out – we did these, we don’t call it little rygs, but they’re their rugs – so RYG is red, yellow, green –  like that’s the way you determine your customer health. Red being bad, green being good, and it’s sort of common in the CS world so we’re doing little networking events, and it seemed like the next progression was going to do a Big Ryg, right? Let’s get everybody in person in DC. It was postponed last year. We moved to virtual because of COVID and started looking at it again. We were like, we need to get back in person. So the Big Ryg in DC is targeted for customer success leaders – really like the director and above, people making decisions. So over 50% of the people attending were director and above and then 75 were managers and above. So it’s really about trying to make people better at customer success. It was not just Churn Zero customers. It was an industry event. So we had a little over 160 people in downtown DC over a day and a half, and it ended up being kind of a great event, in terms of one, a lot of people were very excited to get back in person, like people were – you had to be vaccinated. We had a number of people saying hey, I’d love to be there but I can’t make it for the reason, company policy. So the people who were there were there in earnest and ready to go. It ended up being a really good event. In terms of kind of one of the stories, I mean, there was lots of great interaction with people but I remember talking to one woman and she was so happy to be around people again right? Aut also she was happy to be around CS people who are doing the same thing she’s doing. And as she said, “I’m happy to be with my people”. I know from the marketing side, when I used to go to HubSpot or Eloqua events,you just find this bond of sharing kind of the war stories or sharing – you hear all what is great to be the ideal customer and how you do marketing or customer success and then you start to talk people are doing it every day and you realize, you know it’s hard and I’m not perfect and that  picture you hear about on webinars and things like that is not always the case. So, it was just a good event and that woman kind of did a great job of articulating just about being with her people. 

John Tyreman:  I love that. And it is so great to be able to get back together with your own tribe. And kudos to you for pulling off an in person event. Yeah, major kudos to you. And do I have it right that there’s a virtual component of the Big Ryg event for folks to attend? 

Hunter Montgomery:  So, we have Big Ryg Virtual, on November 18, and it is not a replay of the content from Big Ryg DC. It’s a whole new speakers, whole new agenda, we also expanded a bit more to have sessions for CSMs. And so there’s  people who are everyday doing that job. So we have a few sessions that will help them. And then we also can keep the higher level, the director, the VP and all that but it’s a good way for us… and we learned last year we had over 5000 people signed up for last year’s. I mean obviously digital and virtual is a great way to offer the good content to people all over all over the world right? We have customers in Europe and Australia and so virtual is here to stay. 

John Tyreman:  Very cool. Well, red, yellow, green, so that just kind of piqued my curiosity a little bit, and I come from a market research background so I’m used to like net promoter score and, you know, nines and tens are green, sevens or eights are your passives and everything. Is that kind of the same model? 

Hunter Montgomery:  Kind of the same model. I mean it takes it to a much different level in terms of we just bring in any data that you have on your customers that you think is relevant to determine how they are doing as a customer. It could be product usage as simple as, “Hey, are they logging into your product?” to “Is it more low detail, like which products are they using, which features are they using”. We can bring in finance information, we can bring in firmographic. So, it’s really trying to build this health score on all the little data points you have, MPS being one of them too. That’s another one we did multiple different surveys. So I’m going to bring that all in and I’m going to use that to really have a good idea of where you are as a customer. And we’re getting – the system is getting so good at it that we are getting to the point where you can forecast like a sales team, that will funnel that will forecast. Well a CS team should be able to do the same thing. They can use a health score or churn score to determine the likelihood that someone will renew or even upsell right? A lot of it is finding ways to get your customer to use more of your product, more features, more seats, whatever it may be.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, that’s really interesting. It sounds like that there could be different scenarios or different metrics that pull into the health of your overall customer success program, and that kind of leads me into my next question. So, can you elaborate a little bit on some of the common business challenges or some of the pain points that maybe they’re symptoms of core customer success?

Hunter Montgomery:  It starts with getting them onboarded. That is one of the most critical parts of any customer experience with your, with your product. Are you getting them in the system set up properly, the team understands how to use the product, how to use it efficiently and effectively. And then monitoring them through that step. So we will do a health score for onboarding, like if we know someone’s in the red on onboarding, that’s a concern. So let’s go and address that, before it gets out of hand and then once they launch, there’s other health scores you can give along the way. So the idea is really, are you getting them on board? Are they using a product the way they need to use it? And if they’re not, you need to proactively go out there and say, “Hey here’s a feature you’re not using. If you do these three things, here’s how easy the feature would be to use”. We have one customer – he told me this story that there is one feature – one feature… he’s like, if you use this feature, if the customer uses this feature, there’s a 95% chance they’re gonna renew. That’s critical in their process. And before Churn Zero, they had no way…. I mean they could go in there and do some back end reports on the product but it’s hard to get that to the CSM team. It’s hard to kind of track it. So the whole idea is looking to see to make sure people are using your product properly. Right? So that’s one. You know, taking advantage of it. And then the other part of it too is you need to show value. So you can have a great product that your team uses and if your boss or the CFO comes andsays, “Hey, what’s this line item, do we really need this software?” And if you say “Well yeah my team really likes it”. I mean that sometimes is not the argument the CFO wants to hear. He wants to know or she wants to know, how is it helping the business and to your point about churn, right? If I can say, “Hey, it’s going to bring our churn rate down. It’s going to make our retention rate up, it’s going to increase…” Revenue retention is a big number right now for SaaS right? I’m going to also be able to upsell our products within our customer base. If I have this tool and here are the metrics I can show you, that goes a long way convincing a CEO and a CFO that this is a critical tool. And we talk about it a lot. Sales has their CRM, marketing has the market automation platform. Neither team would exist without it. If I came to a company and the CEO said “Yeah, I’m not going to give you a market automation platform. You just need to use, you know, an email blast tool” –  or something like that. I mean, I don’t think I’d join. I don’t think I’d join that company. So the same thing – we’re trying to get the CS organization to have that influence by saying this is our tool, this is a tool to manage probably the most important asset in the company. And that’s the customers, right? You’ve got to make sure that they stick around and they’re doing what we need to do, and if things are going to happen, if any red comes up, you better tell me early on, but not on the 11th hour.

John Tyreman:  You mentioned sales teams and their CRM and marketing teams with their marketing automation platform. I’m curious, when you’re talking with other B2B SaaS companies, how do they approach an investment in a customer success platform like this? Does that budget typically come out of a marketing budget, a sales budget or is there a customer success budget that’s typically used in this case?

Hunter Montgomery:  Yeah I mean, I think it needs to come out of a customer success budget. Right, so we have a survey we did last year and we just redid it again and we are going to publish in the next couple weeks with CSX leaders of kind of where they fit in terms of, do they have a seat at the executive table, do they have a seat in board meetings. And a lot of it, that number keeps growing because you need to have your own department and ownership of something and not sort of be a side item for an organization. Some CS organizations might report under the CRO, but they’re not going to directly report under the head of sales. And the same thing on the marketing side, because it needs to be a business operation that has metrics focused on retention, and, you know, be it logo retention or revenue retention right? There’s different ways you can gauge how you’re doing with the customer base. But for someone to really be… an organization to really be successful, they have to have their own budget, they have to kind of own that budget and they’ve got to make a case for their team to have the right tools.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, that makes total sense. Well let’s shift gears a little bit. So depending on the complexity of the sale right? So B2B SaaS organizations – that could be a very long sales cycle, it could be a very short sales cycle. But I guess depending on the complexity of that sale, there’s a lot of information gathered about accounts, during that sales process. I’m curious, what are some of the common gaps in that flow of information between marketing to sales to customer success?

Hunter Montgomery:  Yeah I mean I think it starts with the old ICP right? Ideal Customer Profile. Our sales and marketing align and we usually are right? Because we have to be. Because if I send a bunch of prospects to the sales team that aren’t a good fit for them we hear it. And we see it in the numbers, conversion rates, close rates, all that stuff. I mean, that’s a good thing. Sales and marketing over the last five to ten years have done a very good job of coordinating our data, and the sales funnel and and have the same metrics. And so that’s easy enough. Where that gets more complicated is when you hand it over to the CS team. They’ve surely bought into… we’ve all kind of bought into what the ICP is, but then when you get it in there, you may not know for nine to 12 months if that company is going to churn. You can do things like, Oh, they’re not happy, you can do scoring, you can rdo churn scores, but you really don’t know until that renewal happens. And that is where that delay is. And I think that’s where the idea of being more proactive and seeing somebody along the way and saying look, this latest batch of customers wherever they came from, that are four months in, we have a lot of red. Why do we have a lot of red? Something’s not fitting. Like our big thing is, we want to have usage data. And some prospects say, “Well we don’t really have usage data – we can’t get it. I mean, you can still work?” Yeah, we can still work very well without usage data but that’s sort of the secret sauce in a lot of ways, You’re a SaaS company. You want to see how your company is using it. So I think that’s you know, that’s the bigger challenge is handing it off from sales to CS, and when do we start to see if it’s not too late.  Now, if you’re around long enough, right? You know what that is, and you come back and CS comes back and says, “No more of these”, right? Here’s what profile we do not want. And then in a healthier organization the sales team pushes back and says, “But what about these? Iit can work, or you’re just not thinking about how the product works in this industry, not asking for new features. We’re just saying, I think that there is a good use case for this”. And then that discussion will have happened back and forth but I think a lot of it is in making sure that we’re all on the same page on who we are going after, you know, where the ownership is in organization. And, you know, the good thing about all the SaaS companies working together, we have the tech stack, we share the data. It’s not perfect, it’s never perfect but we do have a way to pull out data and make an argument a lot of times. And  if you don’t have the data then it kind of makes it easier to say well no then, right? Until you get the data.

John Tyreman:  That’s a really good point about sales and marketing alignment, and then aligning that with customer success. And I think I see that too within the last five years or so, marketing and sales just across most software companies have done a really good job of aligning themselves. In that same vein, marketing is typically responsible for generating new leads before that point of sale, and then customer success is responsible for everything that happens afterwards. But as a result, customer marketing can be a low priority for marketers. So, in your mind, How should marketing teams plug in to drive those customer retention efforts?

Hunter Montgomery:  I mean, it’s… so this came up in our conference last week because we, it all depends on your relationship with the CS team, the head of marketing, head of CS. I have a very good relationship with Abby Hammer. I can see… we talk, I see what she’s working on as we start to have new features coming out. I say “Hey, why don’t we do a webinar about this feature”. Or we had a newsletter, when I first started, that went to everybody. And I said “What if we do two versions – like there’s not a huge difference in it, but it’s how you want to talk to customers. What if I do a customer newsletter and prospect?” And she’s like, “that’s great”. I said “I’m gonna tag your team for articles because your team knows we want to talk about to our customers”. And she’s like, “that’s great”. So it’s a little bit of feeling it out. Hey, I see some gaps, I’ve been doing marketing long enough, I see some gaps. I know what the company initiative is. I know what we’re trying to expand. We came up with an enterprise version of our product and I say “hey I know that”. “Hey Abby, let’s do some enterprise content”. And she’s like, “that’d be great”. She’s got the subject matter experts, I have the people who can write and create some campaigns. So we work on that. The benefit for like an Abby on our team is our platform is like a market automation platform. She can do automated campaigns and messages and things like that to customers based on where they are, what they’re doing and what they’re not doing. So she’s very good at that. Where she needs the support of is, “okay now I need some content to back that up. I need some… hey maybe you guys can maybe write even a… write a better email. You know how to position it a little bit better.” I talked about how we want to talk about the product, the features. So a little bit of it is organizing it. Where we had a conversation with somebody at the bigger conference and basically they said “Look, our marketing department just does welcome emails to our customers and then six months in they do another email that says how are you doing?” Right? And they’ll do an NPS survey. They don’t have the data right? So their marketing team doesn’t know where the customers are so they just sort of do the…”we’ll do blanket information”. So I think it’s a little bit of, you just need to make sure you have a good relationship with your CS team, see where the gaps are and say “hey I’ll do this and it’s not going to be much effort. You don’t have to worry about it. We’ll do the heavy lifting. You just come in and make sure we’re doing the right thing.” Because at the same time is, you know, they kind of run traffic. I’m not going to do a blast to the customers if I know another message is coming out that next day. Like we’ve kind of run that coordination between the CS team so it’s just communication and coordination and finding out where quick wins are. And then as you sort of get those under your belt, what’s the next area you can go in and really help the CS team and help them. If I say, “Look, Abby, how do we get more Enterprise editions out there? How do we get some customers to upgrade?” And we coordinate on that and then that helps drive that number which tells me what she’s working on.

John Tyreman:  Those are some really great points. I like, particularly the point about talking to the customer success team about the different topics to create content around because customer success – they’re talking with customers, they understand their pain points, and that’s marketing gold right there. So if you’re in the same lockstep and key with your customer success team, I can see how that can really kind of flow both ways. So, kind of, on the other side of the coin, you know, sales and customer success roles, they can have different behavioral tendencies based on you know, the person in that role, are they aligned with that role. So I guess my next question has two parts. Number one, how common is it that customer success managers can carry a sales responsibility? And then number two, how important is it for Customer Success roles to have strong sales skills?

Hunter Montgomery:  So that’s one of the hottest debated topics for CS organizations, and they came up again last week. And there’s a great session, where one of our customers talked about, it really comes down the complexity of your product and sales cycle. So if it’s a highly complex… let’s just say it’s a renewal and it’s a highly complex process for renewing, takes a lot of time. That may be something you want to push to more a sales or account manager role. If it’s something, that’s really, it’s part of the relationship, you already have your customers, it’s a fairly quick process, the idea is really… you’ve already shown the value over the last nine to 12 months for that customer, so getting them to understand that their renewal is just part of the process. Then it’s sort of, maybe that’s one that’s more handled by the CS team. In our organization, our CS team handles everything with the customer:  renewal, upsell, cross sell. They own that because they have a very good relationship, and because our product is relatively straightforward, and the effort to get them to do that, does not take a lot of time away from the CSM’s role, and just trying to make the customer successful. Like part of that is in their role. But yeah, then there are organizations that say we want to put all renewal to the sales team. And that requires a little bit more coordination. So a salesperson just doesn’t come right back in, and doesn’t know, is tone deaf, doesn’t see what the customer has been doing… like a little bit of that coordination. Then it also helps if you have a central system where a salesperson can see the data and see what the relationship has been like the last nine months.  And I think, you know, the point about a CS organization understanding how to sell. Yes, yeah, a lot of CSM’s say, “I don’t… that’s not me. I’m not a salesperson. I don’t want to be, I don’t wanna be salesy, I don’t want to feel pushy.” There’s a little bit of getting them out of their comfort zone. You don’t have to… if you have been doing your job, and if you have a very good product, the idea of selling someone, a customer, something else. It’s not about “Oh here’s a new feature. How about this?” It’s, “We see how you’re doing. I know you’re trying to do X. This new feature will really help you with your goal to improve X or whatever it may be.” So it becomes less of a, “I’m going to go through a menu. I’m supposed to check these things off to see if you want to buy them because it’s new” to “Here’s something you haven’t used yet. I’ve been listening to you and it seems like this is something that would be important to you”. So, we’ve done training with our CSM team. There’s an organization out there that helps our sales team use the same one, right? And this organization, it’s interesting too, they now have a track or a course just for CSMs, because they’re seeing this coming out, where the CSMs really want to have those conversations to ask for money, but they don’t want to feel like they’re being a salesperson. And so it’s a balance that they need to do but if they can do it well, I think it pays off for an organization.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, I would, I would think that folks that are in a customer success role – maybe this is an assumption – but they’re more likely to have those EQ skills. They’re able to empathize with the customer a little bit more than perhaps your typical salesperson. But that soft skill set would make for a good salesperson. So I can see how, you know, they might be ominous to step outside of your comfort zone but if those folks can do that I can see how that could be a pretty powerful sales organization.

Hunter Montgomery:  Yeah, yeah, I mean,about 15 years ago, I worked for a professional services company and we were all about being the trusted advisor right? Because you’re dealing all the time and to upsell additional services is kind of part of the discussion, right? Because of that trusted advisor. And I think if you can do that same thing as a SaaS organization, is being that trusted advisor because you’re just here to provide more solutions to help them get their job done and they’ll do it right? If they think… and if it works, right? It helps you. Because if it doesn’t work, then you may churn, and so it’s sort of in the best interest of everybody to bring the right solution to the table.

John Tyreman:  Yeah that’s a really interesting point because packaging those advisory services with software, that can be a powerful combination too, because then goes beyond the technology, and it then becomes a matter of your subject matter expertise, and then applying that expertise to your customers. Well, Hunter I’m, I’m curious, you know, you alluded to it earlier but, and you gave shades of it, but I’m curious, can you give our listeners a glimpse, kind of behind the scenes, how have you leveraged these insights in your own marketing with Churn Zero?

Hunter Montgomery:  So, obviously, identifying people that will be good, the classic marketing case studies, references. We can use the data to see that. Even if I hear a name on a call, a weekly call or I hear the CS team talking about things, I can look up a customer really quickly and see what their churn score is. Like, “Oh it said three!” Right? Three being lower, being better. That may be a good one. Like, I can use that data to kind of prioritize who we talk to. And then we also use it for things like the companies like G2 and TrustRadius, there’s a lot of value for organizations that are evaluating software companies and services. And so we have programs that work through that. Like, I’ve gone in… our team goes in and  creates a playbook, by which… take somebody who’s given us a nine or a 10 on NPS, and ask them to do a G2 survey. And those are the people, and it’s automated right kind of goes through, and then if people do that, we say, “Thank you. How about a Trust Radius?” And kind of goes through that, because there’s a lot of value in those, and having to go and manually ask somebody to do that every time, takes time. So there’s ways to use the data to pull that stuff out. We also use it for identifying speakers for our conferences. We did a call for speakers. And then as we started to evaluate them, we wanted to see if their customers were successful. We’ve added a customer community. It’s another great place to listen to customers as they’re just sort of talking to each other, asking questions. You see the questions that they’re asking like, “Oh this is something that’s important to them”. And on the reverse side, you see who’s answering them. So now you have somebody who’s answered this question, you can go to them and say, “How would you like to share those thoughts in a blog post or, you know, a webinar or any sort of content”. But there’s lots of signals we are getting from our customers. So I’m not flying blind or having to send an email to sales, well you know or CS,  “We need a customer who’s in this industry doing these things and successful”. I can just query the system, I can find them. I get my shortlist. Then I reach out to the CSM and say, “Hey XYZ company looks like they’re doing really well, we’d love to talk about them because they’re in healthcare”. And they’ll say, Yeah , they’re awesome. Here’s the contact, I’ll make the introduction”. So it’s a lot of ways it’s helping us get to our customers so we can then elevate them.

John Tyreman:  Wow. Yeah, it sounds like that could be a boon for some marketing operations streamlining a lot of those processes. But then, uncovering the topics and the questions that clients and customers really care about, and that’s – right there, that’s the origin of great marketing. Well, Hunter, thank you so much for taking the time to be on our podcast today. If our listeners wanted to connect with you and learn more about customer success or Churn Zero, where can they find you?

Hunter Montgomery:  Happy to connect on LinkedIn, just search Hunter Montgomery I think there’s one other Hunter Montgomery in marketing. I’m the older one, not the younger one. And then happy to have conversations. And then if you just want to check us out, is our website, and I think you’ll find a lot of great information on there. But, love to talk to anybody who wants to learn more about customer success.