The practice of Customer-Led Growth has been gaining momentum recently, with businesses working to create an organization-wide understanding of where, when, and how to deliver value to customers.
But what is Customer-Led Growth and how can organizations achieve this?
Forget the Funnel defines Customer-Led Growth as a strategic approach that leverages customer insights to qualify and quantify customer value, then operationalize and optimize the end-to-end customer experience.
It’s about embracing and prioritizing KPIs tied to customer value across the entire customer experience.
When we talk about Customer-Led Growth, we’re really focused on centralizing teams around the customer. This means working together to help maximize both customer value and business revenue. Thinking of it in this way, there are a lot of similarities between what we’re trying to achieve with Customer-Led Growth and Revenue Operations.
We interviewed Megan Heure, Principal at HeuerB2B, to get her perspective on the ways teams can apply learnings from Rev Ops to adopt a more customer-centered approach.
This post will dive into three key components of a successful Customer-Led Growth strategy that we covered in our conversation with Megan:
Successful revenue operations programs require the entire revenue engine to work together. From Sales and Marketing to Customer Success. When all of these functions come together, you’re not just limiting it to what happens when people buy — you’re able to gather an understanding of planning, process, and data.
This shared view makes it easier to do the right thing for your customers – and to know what that right thing is – and to continue building on this over time. It’s not about the loudest voice in the room, but about giving all of the components of the circuit what they need to thrive.
To get to this point, organizations have to move away from an ownership mentality, especially when it comes to customer feedback. If we’re all responsible for the customer’s experience, the feedback has to be everyone’s.
It goes back to understanding why you might want to hold onto feedback. For example, why did we want to say that Marketing or Sales have to claim ownership of the lead? These goals require claiming victory in order to be seen as bringing value to the business. – Megan Heuer
Customer feedback across every touchpoint, just like what happens with the buyer’s journey, is so integrated across the business and there are so many different sources. Whether it’s online behavior, customer support, customer success, or the finance team. Anybody who’s interacting with that customer is both contributing to the experience and gathering information. All of this feedback — surveys to usage data — has to be brought together to truly understand the complete experience that you’re delivering to all the different customer personas that you engage with.
This centralized understanding and analysis of customer feedback provides a richer picture that will enable all of the different functions in the revenue team that need to be able to take action on it.
Shared insight, specific accountability, and transparency, actually takes away that instinct to hoard. It says I need to share this, I need to surface these challenges, and I also need to be enabled to take action on them. – Megan Heuer
Organizations aim to create incredible customer experiences. But what so many fail to do is ensure that these experiences encompass the entire lifecycle. We’re focused on shiny pre-sale promises yet fail to deliver after purchase.
Megan conducted research while at SirusDecisions that underscored the disconnect between what customers said they were using post-sale, and what they wished they had.
Not understanding what’s happening after people buy from you is basically the silent killer of your pipeline. – Megan Heuer
To start building for the entire journey, first and foremost, we have to address the fear of being blamed for bad customer feedback. Instead of hearing feedback and focusing on how to fix it, teams are programmed to explain it away or justify it.
This instinct of feeling like customer feedback is used for blaming rather than growing is what prevents us from taking meaningful action. We have to move from thinking that it is a person or a team’s fault and instead focus on understanding why customers feel the way that they do and then work together to fix it. Here are ways Marketing and Sales can collaborate for Customer-Led Growth.
According to Megan, the big cultural hurdle that organizations have to overcome is stopping the blaming and stopping the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. Start focusing on hearing customer feedback and prioritizing how to fix it, even if that means bringing someone in from outside the organization to offer a fresh perspective.
If you ask any CFO what a one percent reduction in churn would yield in revenue and in profitability, it will be a big number. For every percent you gain in retention, you make more money, and it is more profitable.
If we’re not focused on filling a leaky bucket, how much easier is it to hit our growth numbers?
But too often, the way we award teams makes it easy for them to ignore the reality of retention. If comp plans are focused on rewarding new business at a higher level, where do we expect priorities to lie?
There needs to be a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities across account teams, and then a clear system of rewards that keeps everybody focused on the things that they can do to reach that retention and growth outcome. Then, it becomes a shared outcome. – Megan Heuer
Rewarding team members based on the behaviors that lead to positive growth outcomes, and ensuring transparency into what teams are doing and how they’re doing it, leads to trust. And that trust leads to consistent experiences. When we are able to provide consistent experiences, we’re able to ensure outcomes for customers and drive retention. That makes your growth engine.
And this type of focus frees everyone up on the team to focus on the things that they’re best at.
Lauren: Hey everyone, thanks for joining us. I’m Lauren Culbertson, co-founder and CEO at LoopVOC and I have here with me today, Megan Heuer who is an independent Customer Strategy Consultant and formerly was the head of Research and Founder of the ABM Practice at SiriusDecisions. Thank’s so much for chatting with me today Megan.
Megan: Hi, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Lauren: Yes, we’re gonna have fun. So of course, you have really this deep experience in ABM and marketing operations and I’ve really loved our conversations about how applicable those practices are to this really growing economy of being very focused on the customer and something we’re calling customer led growth. So today I’d love to just dive in with you on some of the major takeaways from your experience and how you’ve kind of learned lessons that can apply to how we can manage change and what many are calling the customer economy. So we’ll dive right in. So when we talk about customer led growth, you know we’ve hit on this before, it’s really a extension of product led growth right? So product led growth is all around removing friction from the customer so they can get to value as quickly as possible. But in order to do that there really needs to be more of a focus on how we define that value that we’re trying to direct them into the first place and really also being more clear about how all the people that support the operations behind that experience can work together to really drive that value revenue. I think in that way there’s a lot of similarities to what you have kind of really paved the path for with making a defined field of revenue operations. So I’d love to just start off and talk more about you know, for teams that are trying to really adopt more customer centered approach, what are some lessons learned from really creating the category of revenue operations that could apply here?
Megan: Yeah, a couple of things. I think, you know first it, the really interesting thing about the idea of customer led growth versus product led growth is that essentially they’re two sides of a coin, right? Product led growth comes from having this incredibly deep understanding of your customer and it starts with understanding what their needs are, what their challenges are, what are their alternatives in the market are and then creating an experience, and it’s so interconnected, the product is the experience in many cases in a product led growth company, creating an experience that makes it so easy for that customer to solve their problem or get to the value as you said, that they can’t help but use whatever it is that they’re being offered. And then over time that makes it really easy to grow that business because more and more people are attracted to it. More and more people, because it solve their problems so effectively, are happy to replace whatever they’ve been doing in the past. And the thing about revenue operations that helps that kind of virtuous cycle of customer and prospect understanding and product and experience value is that with revenue you really got all the components of that revenue engine working together. You’ve got sales, marketing, and customer success. And when you essentially complete the circuit of those three parts of the business, you aren’t limiting your really great operations focus, which means, an understanding of planning, an understanding of process, and most importantly, a shared data and technology to do something about those things and make it easier. When you bring those together, you’re not just limiting it to what happens when people buy. And a lot of times in the past, if you had sales and marketing operations, that behave sort of separately and in silos, there are reasons for that. They need to do different thing, and they still do. But when you bring them together with customer operations, and then you have that sort of shared data and technology foundation, it’s so much easier to do the right thing, and to know what the right thing to do is. And then to sort of build on that over time. And I think that sort of shared view is really important. I think that the trick is not kind of, whoever the sort of loudest voice in the room is, whether it’s sales, marketing or customer, not letting that function sort of dominate what the team does. Just, really and truly giving all of the components of that circuit what they need to thrive.
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so easy to try to almost play the hero, because we’re so used to thinking functionally, right? And so, every leader of the function wants to do a great job and really drive the bottom line impacts that will make them the hero. But for things like revenue operations, or even, you know, customer feedback, it really has to move away from this ownership mentality, right? I know you’ve mentioned that for Redbox to succeed, the battle over who claims ownership of the lead really has to stop. And I think about that a lot, too, for who owns the feedback. Because a lot of times, receiving the right piece of feedback, or unveiling insights data, it can be pretty powerful. And I think human nature is to want to be the one that exposes the insights. But that can also often lead to hoarding data, or, you know, not being up front with everyone to allow them to discover insights and make their own assessments of what the insights mean. So I’m curious how you think about this notion of moving away from claiming ownership, really applying customer feedback. If we’re all responsible for the customer’s experience, does feedback have to be everyone’s? How can companies, or really, individuals, start to embrace more of that shared culture.
Megan: Yeah, I think it goes back to understanding why you might want to hold on to feedback, right, or kinda goes back to why did we want to say, marketing has to be able to claim ownership, or sales has to be able to claim ownership of the lead. It’s if you are given goals that say, if I don’t claim victory on this specific thing, I won’t be seen as bringing value to the business. Then, you know, you’re gonna get into trouble. And I think with customer feedback, just like what happens with the buyer’s journey, pre and post-sale, let’s call it. Any feedback at any point. All of that is so integrated across the business. And especially in a post-sale. You’ve got so many different sources. Whether it’s online behavior, or whether it’s customer support, customer success. Whether it’s the finance team. Anybody who’s interacting with that customer. Formal surveys, whatever else provides you with information, product information, product usage information, all of those things have to come together if you are going to truly understand the complete experience that you’re delivering to all the different customer personas that you engage with. You know, just like we think about okay, what are all of our buyer personas, well we have customer personas. And all of that information enriches our understanding of what’s happening with them. So, unless you can bring those sources together, you will never have the full picture. And really then, that says that customer insights will naturally come from different places. That’s a given, right? You’re gonna have all those different touch points within your organization, or those points where you’re gathering that information. But if you bring them together, and then have some centralized understanding and analysis of them, and then send that back out into the organization, you’ve got a much richer picture that’s going to enable all of the different functions in the revenue team that need to be able to take action on it. The one thing I would say, though, is that while absolutely we have to be comfortable sharing all of that great feedback, at a certain point, there does need to be some independent responsibility of those teams for doing something about it. So I think that’s the key, and that kind of goes back to the revenue operations idea. Data is everyone’s. But, the responsibility to take action on it, and the type of action or the requirements the different functions have is going to look different depending on what function it is. So as long as you’ve got both shared insight, but also specific accountability and responsibility, and transparency as to what needs to happen and who needs to take action, and when that needs to be done, it actually takes away sort of that instinct to hoard, and it says, I need to share this, I need to surface these challenges, but I also need to be enabled him to take action on them.
Lauren: Yep, it makes so much sense. I mean, if we don’t have that complete view across the customer journey, it’s impossible to make the best decisions. And I think those are some great ideas for how to really break that mode and just move toward a culture of shared data visibility. And you bring up a really good point too, about not, that doesn’t mean that no one has ownership of anything, it just means, you know, the common goal and the collaboration shifts what our individual responsibilities need to be. So that’s great. So, I know you focus a lot on really delivering exceptional customer experience in both the pre and post-sale, which is great. Because just personally, talking to a lot of leaders in B2B-SaaS. When I talk to heads of customer experience, almost always they come from a post-sale background. So, came up through support, which, you know, they took over customer success, maybe some professional services. And now they are irrelevant and they’re thinking of that as a customer experience. And almost thinking about pre-sale as a phase two. Which, I find really challenging, because expectations are set in a pre-sale. So, if they’re not at least thinking about that, it almost seems like they’re in this sick cycle that can’t be broken. They’re just chasing their tail, almost. What do you think the biggest barriers are to really creating an experience across the whole entire journey, from the moment you first learn about a problem, to understanding how a company can solve it, to actually signing up, experiencing, and then coming back, referring customers. What should we start and stop doing today to get to that holy grail?
Megan: Yeah, oh my gosh. This has been the mantra of our company for as long as I’ve been doing this, which is longer than I care to admit. I remember years ago, I did a survey at Serious Decisions, where we went out and asked B2B customers about their post-sale experience, and we said, “Tell us what teams you interact with, “so what functions and people you interact with “within the selling organization, and tell us “what resource you use today, “so what do you actually do.” And then we ask the question, “What do you wish you had “in each of those stages, post-sale?” And there was a pretty big disconnect, between what customers said they were using, and what they wished they had. And it kinda led me to pull up this really silly picture in front of a large number of people, which probably they were like, wow, why did you put that up there? But it was a picture of a guy who was visiting an aquarium, and he was standing in front of the shark tank just smiling and waving, and he’s all happy, and behind him is this massive Great White Shark, with all these big giant teeth. And you know, if he was actually in the water, that would be a really unfortunate ending to that scene. But what I wanted to get across to people is, not understanding what’s happening after people buy from you, is basically the silent killer of your pipeline. And that’s because there’s 100% transparency, to your point Lauren, exactly, right? What I promised during the pre-sale, I darn well better deliver after that purchase. Because really ugly things start to happen really quickly, if companies don’t make good on those promises. And so, therefore, some of the things that really need to change within organizations to make sure you get rid of that giant shark coming for you, of a CX that doesn’t live up to your pre-sale promises, is I think, first and foremost, stopping this kind of fear of being blamed for bad customer feedback. I mean, now and again, you’re going to have an individual who does something that’s a big mistake. And that happens, we’ve all made them. But, what you wanna get away from is making people feel like instead of taking in the feedback and listening and understanding, and saying, “How do I fix this?” They feel like they have to explain it away or justify it and say, “Well, yeah, but we have to do it “that way because we have this system problem, “or this other team didn’t do what they were supposed to do, “or whatever,” but feeling like I can’t explain away what went wrong and why that customer had a bad experience, I’m gonna get in trouble. And I think that sort of basic instinct of feeling like customer feedback is there to blame you for something, prevents people from taking the right action on it, and saying, this customer feedback is telling us something’s not working. It’s not a person’s fault, it’s not a team’s fault. Together we have to fix it. So then you say, okay, what do we need to do, and what has to change. And you really have to look at that with the fresh eyes of the customer, and say, why did this person feel this way? Why did they have this experience? What went wrong for them and what can we do to make that not happen again? And reward the change part, not punish the, you got a bad report card, kind of thing. This is saying, reward change. In fact, consider even bringing in someone from outside to help with that, because they didn’t create it, so they can look very clearly, even if it’s just someone from a different team, right, to come in and say, “Okay, let’s really break this down and understand “why this happened, so that we can fix it “and take a fresh view of, well we’ve always done it “that way so how could we possibly fix that?” You want to get rid of that mindset. So, stop the blame, stop the we’ve always done it that way, and then really help take that customer’s point of view, hear what they’re saying, and say, how do I fix it? You know, I think that’s the big cultural hurdle that people can begin to overcome.
Lauren: Yeah, that is super relevant I think too, for frontline employees especially.
Megan: Oh, yeah.
Lauren: It’s like, it starts with them, right? So, it’s, a customer brings up bad feedback, or you know, negative feedback, constructive criticism, really, we should call it. And the frontline teams want to explain away, versus, admitting, taking blame, and then, you know, finding the solution. And so, then they hide it from their higher ups, and problems are never solved. And I see this a lot too, it’s interesting because when you think about the customer experience breaking between sales, let’s just say even sales and onboarding. Right next to each other to hand off. It’s like, sales I see, get my team really angry when companies dismiss feedback that sales is bringing up, as if they’re like, incompetent. And it’s, like really the only one that looks bad when leaders say that, is them. Because why would they hire incompetent people to be literally finding customers and bringing them in to set the expectations for their entire customer experience. So, there’s that. But then, that often leaves sales people to not bring up the challenges, and when they do, they’re dismissed as anecdotal. But then when they don’t bring up these challenges, customer success or onboarding has to deal with them, and it’s like, you know, what sales has to sell around because the company’s not making the changes that could actually result in a better customer experience. oSales is having to push the deal through when it might not be the best fit, and then customer success has to be the one picking up the pieces there, and I think they’re the ones, that it’s like the classic, don’t want to get a bad report card, so it’s like, try to solve it n the frontline. But I’m curious like, your thoughts on the sales side of the house. With how to create that system of feedback, listening to the people that, yes they’re trying to close deals, but they’re also smart people that are hearing a lot from customers every day.
Megan: Yeah, a matter of fact, I think sales is possibly the most honest function in any business, right?
Lauren: Yeah, yeah.
Megan: Because they have to be. If stuff isn’t working, they’re gonna feel it in their paycheck. You know, a sales person once said to me, “You need to understand that every single person in sales “is on a 30 day performance plan.” And I think when you really understand that, like, no other function in the organization is so tied to making and keeping customer promises as our sellers are in many ways, right? Other people aren’t gonna not get a paycheck if they can’t live up to those customer promises. So, or most people aren’t. So anyway, that leads them to be very honest, and the best ones are incredibly customer-centric. Because they know if they’re incredibly focused on getting that customer anything they need. That they don’t win, they won’t exceed. Maybe make your target, if you’re not super customer-centric and you just try to get to the number at all costs, including maybe some bad choices about who to sell to, things like that. But you won’t consistently exceed it unless you really, really, really put that customer’s hat on. And that’s what I’ve seen. The best sellers I’ve ever worked with will do anything to get what their customers need, and they will explain in unvarnished terms what’s happening that’s not working.
Megan: Because they are their customer’s strongest advocate. And I think it’s really not a great thing in a business if they’re trying to tell sales, stop complaining. It’s like, if I feel like I have to complain and I’m in sales, it’s because something’s wrong.
Lauren: Yes, yes.
Megan: And that, you know, it’s a super, super important avenue, and opportunity too, right? So respect that. And to listen to those voices and then say, “How do we make this easier? “How do we make this better? “How do we fix this?” But one thing I would want to stay away from, though, kind of the flip side of this, or the dark side, if you will, is kind of promoting a hero culture. Where people who do the crazy 11th hour hail Mary, whatever your favorite cliche is, thing, are the ones that always get the mention at the company meeting, or always get the award, because they had to do some crazy, heroic, over-the-top thing to fix a problem for a customer. Your goal should be a really, really boring but excellent operation, right? You want things to just work. You don’t want to have to have heroes. Now and again, yes, you know, somebody’s gonna have to do something exceptional, but if you find yourself having to depend on, and often it is a seller who ends up in that role, and depend on those folks as heroes, or depend on your customer onboarding or customer success person to come and be the hero. It means your operation isn’t working, right? You don’t want insanity, you want consistency. So, listen to your sellers, but with the goal of not having to have them complain very much, because you fixed it and you made it easy for them to exceed their number.
Lauren: Yes, I love that. And really hoping that feedback they give back is all the positive things that are working so well. Because that’s, when you bring up an issue and you see it solved, human nature is to want to say thank you, and I think the best sales reps are also quick to say hey, this is working. We’re seeing this change, right?
Megan: Absolutely, I love companies that put in place, they make it super easy to people to thank one another, right?
Megan: And customers to, right, for customers to have that sort of virtual high five for the people that have made their experiences better. And I think companies who make it easy, both to point out things that are not so good, but also to reward and encourage peers, to thank one another, that goes a long way. You know, we all just want that thank you, especially these days, right?
Lauren: Yes, and especially right now too, where the days are long . Well great, so, last question for you. So obviously, right now, businesses everywhere are really hyper-focused on preventing churn. And you’ve said that retention is the best growth strategy, which couldn’t be more true right now. And one of the ways to address this is to be more connected with account teams. So, really making sure there’s a lot of listening and understanding and empowering accountings to practically listen and support customers. What advice do you have for cross-functional leaders on really how to drive this, and what roles do these teams play in really serving as those frontline researchers, and taking the insights they gather to product teams, and across company?
Megan: It’s a great question, you know, and I think it’s interesting to me that a lot of companies, a lot of people in companies, I should say, don’t understand the actual math problem behind why retention is a growth strategy. And if I you ask any CFO to say, what would a one percent reduction in churn yield in revenue and in profitability, it’ll be a big number. For every percent you gain in retention, you make more money, and it is more profitable. And that also then, makes it so you don’t have to continuously fill a leaky bucket to grow. So if you can be assured of a foundation, then your growth number, how much easier is that gonna be to hit, right? So it’s like, the math problem there is really, really important. I think very often, the way we award account teams makes it easy for them to ignore the reality of that math problem and say, it’s more valuable for me to close new business and reward it at a higher level, potentially, with their comp plans. To go after the new business than it is to make sure that there’s a great experience and that my existing customers stay. And so that means that the, but then, the account team part becomes really important. Because if you’ve got say, a senior account executive, who’s really, really good at engaging new business and closing deals, that person should not be the same person that is helping to support and deliver on the experience of an existing customer, right? Or, even in some cases, helping to grow that existing customer, right, you wanna have clear delineation of roles and responsibilities on that account team, and then a clear system of rewards that keeps everybody focused on the things that they can do to reach that retention and growth outcome. They become a shared outcome. The AE hits the growth number faster because that person’s book of business is pretty sure that they’re gonna hold on to a good percentage of the companies that they have. Because if there’s an account manager or a customer success person, customer support, and product right? The products team is delivering whatever it is that that person bought, or the service team that’s delivering whatever that person bought, is making good on the promise that was originally made. So if you got all those people, plus your friends in marketing, right, to come in and make sure that they are providing the content, the online experience, and you know, sort of the ongoing information cycle, that marketing’s really, really good at doing at scale? If you’ve got each person on that team doing those things, then you’ve got really, really efficient delivery of a customer experience that will lead to retention, and free everyone up on that team to focus on the thing that they’re best at. And I think that’s where, you know, if companies can really focus on who should be doing what on the team, and then, the system of rewards, so whatever their comp plan is, it ties to that. So if I’m the customer success person, you know, and we all want to get to a renewal number, I’m gonna be rewarded for providing support for the behaviors that lead to that positive outcome, and my account team is going to know, because there’s this really transparent view into what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and successful tracking of that customer to those metrics, right, and their feedback that says, I’m doing my part and that team. If everyone on that team has metrics that do that, and you can have that great transparency, then that’s going to lead to trust, that’s going to lead to consistency of experience, that’s going to lead to great outcomes for your customers and it’s going to get you easily to those retention improvements, and that makes your growth engine, you know, every part of that engine’s really optimized for it’s own function in it, if that makes sense.
Lauren: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. Wow, that is such actionable advice, too, that so many companies I think, regardless of your size, can really benefit from, so that’s great.
Megan: It worked, I’ve done it, we did it in serious.
Lauren: Yeah, . Well, thank you so much for your time again, Megan, I would love to continue this conversation. Everybody, for those who are watching. So please feel free to ask Megan any questions you have in the comments, or shoot us an e-mail. I’m at Lauren@loopvoc.com and Megan, do you want to give your e-mail out for anyone who has questions?
Megan: Absolutely, but I’d probably say easiest way to get me is LinkedIn. Just go ahead and find my profile there, send me a message, I’m always happy to connect.
Lauren: Awesome, great. Well, it was great chatting with you, and let’s do it again soon.
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