Marketing and sales operations can improve the buyer experience to increase revenue. When sales and marketing alignment around the entire buyer experience cycle exists, then revenue will naturally grow. Of course, the entire marketing and sales funnel benefits when the organization connects revenue ops with a deep commitment to customer experience.

That's our topic on this episode of CxOTalk, with guest Karen Steele, the Chief Marketing Officer at LeanData.

Karen is responsible for all aspects of product marketing, brand strategy, demand generation, customer and employee advocacy, and the customer journey. Prior to LeanData, Karen was Group Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Marketo, where she led the pioneering marketing automation company through its transformation from a public to private company and successfully introduced the new Marketo internally and externally.

 

Transcript

Tell us about LeanData?

Karen Steele: LeanData is in the business of revenue and accelerating revenue for the fastest growing companies in the world. We offer a revenue operations platform that helps companies through the planning, execution, and measurement of all of their revenue processes and go to market motions.

What is customer experience?

Karen Steele: It's everything. If you think about the revenue as the lifeblood of fueling a company, the customer experience is the outcome, it's the angle, and it's what every single company in the world, whether you're B2C or B2B, should be focused on. The customer experience, in my mind, is a cumulative effect of all of the touch points, interactions, engagements of every single person inside your company that connects with the customer and the way, ultimately, that the customer thinks about your brand at the end of the day.

There is a whole bunch of talk about the customer journey, buying experience, et cetera. If you as a corporation, again, whether you're in the B2C world or the B2B world, aren't thinking about the customer first, you're missing the mark. We all are driven by revenue, but it's all about the customer and the customer experience.

What is the CMO role in driving customer experience?

Karen Steele: It's a company initiative. Obviously, I have a lot of great members of our management team that I partner with, including our chief customer officer, our head of product, our CTO, and our head of sales. All of us, collectively, have to have an understanding and appreciation for, at the end of the day, what is our commitment to our customer. What are we trying to achieve? What do we want the customer to feel about us as a company, as a brand? What do we want that experience to be?

Oftentimes, companies measure outcomes, which is great, and outcomes are important in terms of customer experience, but you also want that emotional connection with the customer. For us, at LeanData, the way we describe it is it starts with a commitment to our customer or brand promise. Based on that brand promise that the entire company stands behind, it's our commitment to what we deliver, what our value is, we have a whole set of things that we look at.

It starts with expectations. If I'm going to make a commitment to a customer, all of my teams have to be organized around a set of expectations to deliver for that brand promise. Based on those expectations, the delivery of those expectations, and our execution, there creates an experience. That experience could be very positive, very negative, or neutral depending on exactly how we execute across all the teams.

Based on that, that matters because it means that a company is either going to evaluate us to buy more product, renew from us, or not. That whole cycle is really important and, at LeanData, we are 100% focused on, it starts with vision, mission, brand strategy, brand promise, and then we look at the entire execution cycle around that.

What is the connection between customer experience and revenue operations?

Karen Steele: One of the flaws of B2B companies today is that we're so focused on automation because many of us are technology providers and our buyers are not consumers; they're business-to-business people that have titles in different business units and corporations that move the business forward. At the end of the day, they're all human beings. As human beings, we have to create personal connections with individuals from our brand back to them and back to their company.

It's really important when you think about charting the journey. A lot of people talk about the buyer's journey, and a lot of people compare B2B marketing and B2B selling to what people love in a consumer-based world, so if every B2B software company could make me feel like the experience I get when I buy from Amazon. It's easy to use. It's fast. It's ubiquitous. I go online. I get exactly what I want. They know how I think. They know what I want next. Imagine what that would be in a B2B software selling world.

At LeanData, this is the business we're in. We're in the business of helping companies generate revenue and perfecting the buying experience. We look at those journeys because, if you as a business don't understand the journey your customer is going through, how could your customer go through a positive journey with you?

It's a really big focus for us. We have an awesome chief marketing officer. Her passion is about articulating those journeys and getting everybody in the company connected to those.

What are the customer experience and revenue challenges facing B2B companies? 

Karen Steele: Well, it's super hard because, in a B2B world, we're doing mass marketing to a pretty big target audience that, in our universe, is anybody in sales and marketing that has a revenue challenge. Imagine how many companies that is. Imagine how many titles that is. How do you target effectively? How do you get above the noise?

I think the thing that differentiates most companies today is exactly how they architect those strategies around touchpoints. There are so many channels to reach out to people. What you don't want to do is overexpose yourself or get into channels that complicate things and conflict with other channels.

Some of the examples that we talk about and some of the things that our technology actually helps prohibit are things like, "I'm already a customer of yours, but you're sending me emails to buy your product. How do you not know I'm already a customer?" That's just a huge failing. It's a red flag from a credibility standpoint. I get an email from you, a text from you, or a social message from you that thanks me for attending your booth at a tradeshow. I never went to that tradeshow.

Understanding the underlying data of how you reach these individuals and these companies and target them appropriately makes a huge difference in how people perceive you as a brand and how that customer experience will ultimately carry through that journey. If you believe that the beginning of that journey starts with, you're talking to a rep or an AE and you're talking to a customer success person, you're kind of moving through that journey, you want to make sure that those customers and those companies understand what the buying cycle is.

Is data the foundation of brand perception?

Karen Steele: It is, 100%. Now, with technologies like LeanData, but also AI technologies and really good analytics, you can measure that; you can track it; and you can understand, through every single channel and every single touchpoint, exactly the impact you've made. You can understand where there's duplication, where there are errors, and you can course-correct and make sure that the right people get the right data at the right time to interact with the right buyer so you create a positive experience.

If you compare that to a B2C world, it's sort of like Amazon understanding, okay, if you bought this, you might want that, and serving up those offers to you. I think, as B2B marketers and sellers today, we have a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility to have a positive impact on the buying experience.

You have to ask whether are you a customer-first organization? I know that sounds like a cliché, but you have to be to succeed today. The companies that are really propelling in the industry are customer first.

All the conversations at an executive team meeting, at a board meeting, start with, how do we do better by the customer? That's rule number one. Then, your go-to-market team inside your company has to be super connected and synergized.

For us, our core go-to-market team is me, our CRO, and our chief customer officer. If the three of us aren't aligned, I guarantee you there will be customers and prospects that have a bad buying experience because it's the three of us and our teams that sit together and architect what is our plan. How are we going to go about reaching these customers, people that have already bought our products that we want to move to new products, net new customers that we've never ever sold to, and breaking into new markets, new regions, and new territories?

It starts with a core team. It starts with a fundamental philosophy that the customer is always first and that your job, as a marketer, a seller, or customer success or customer officer for the company, is to make great outcomes happen for the customer and make their life better.

How does empathy for the customer relate to revenue in the business-to-business world?

Karen Steele: Gosh, what a great question. Thank you for that. I don't draw the line between them. I started my career at Apple in the early days. Arguably, Apple was a very different company back then, but we were selling more to consumer buyers. If you think about consumer buyers, the way we define consumer buyers, we talk about an age demographic. We talk about families with children.

In the case I did at Apple, I was selling to kids graduating from high school going into college, the higher education market, and that was the persona we understood. We understood them as people, as human beings, where they were in their life and their position in their universe.

In the B2B world today, we look at titles, we look at company sizes, and we look at target accounts. We take a little bit of humanity away, which I think is a really tough thing for B2B marketers and sellers today.

We are still marketing to humans. We are still having conversations with people. We're having conversations with people that are part of teams and people that, within teams, have to go back and sell the great stuff that we just told them about.

I think that the revenue journey today, for any marketer or seller, we can learn a lot and a lot of lessons from the B2C world if we connect better, if we connect our people, everybody in the revenue team to our business and to our buyer better. The journey and the buyer experience and all the elements of it are so important to get to revenue faster. That's what LeanData is all about. We really try hard to help companies get there faster with a solution that helps move the data connections along the way, but it's really, really critical.

Dave Winer on Twitter says he has been trying to “pry open that door for journalists” for years?

Karen Steele: Sometimes marketers who are very brand focused get dinged a little bit, but what they're trying to do and the most important thing we can do is connect our brand to the buyer and make that emotional connection, make somebody care. If this company went away, I'm going to feel pain. If you have that kind of value in the market and your offering, that kind of empathy and connection, the kind of stewardship and advocacy you get from that is something you cannot put a dollar value against.

It's super important, I think, anything we can do inside of companies to create that experience, to take our employees through the journey. Even inside of LeanData, we're doing this. I applaud our Chief Customer Officer Rachel for this.

We are walking our employees through the journey of an enterprise buyer. Why are we doing that? We're trying to understand not just what it's like for us and all the pitfalls, learnings, and things we can take away from that, but the experience for the buyer, how we can improve that, be better, and make it faster, better, easier and, ultimately, create more value for them.

I think that companies have to pay a lot of attention to this. They have to do internal simulations. You've got to measure stuff, obviously, but connecting employees to the brand and the business, having those outcomes be exposed to employees so they know what they're accountable for.

Today, I hold not just pipeline numbers, but I am attached to a net retention number. My entire team has to care about the lifecycle of the customer and the longevity of that customer. I think every company needs to think that way.

What does your CEO expect of you as the Chief Marketing Officer?

Karen Steele: There are many but, I think, first and foremost, he expects that I will be a leader of our go-to-market team. It's a three-headed team, as I mentioned. It's our CRO, our chief customer officer, and myself.

We are chartered with architecting everything it's going to take to get to our revenue number, both new business and upsell, for the coming year and everything it's going to take to keep our customers happy for upsell, cross-sell, and renewals, of course, for the coming year. We're a SaaS company, so renewals and upsell, cross-sell is critical.

Obviously, driving the go-to-market effort is probably job number one, and that's an expectation. He also expects that I'm going to carry the flag. I am the ambassador of our brand. I am going to help educate the market on the category that we exist in so that buyers will understand who we are and what we do. Obviously, I'm going to create messaging that resonates and is powerful in the market. Probably most importantly too, I am going to be a force inside the company to connect our people to who we are and what we do.

At LeanData, culture is really important to our CEO. He founded the company. He's one of two founders. He cares a lot about the company we're building, the workplace, and everything we're creating as a company. I have to help build things around that that support our vision, mission, and brand strategy. That's job number one.

There are a million other things my team does all day long but I think, at the end of the day, it's go-to-market and driving our revenue plan. It's culture and empowering our employees and connecting them to our brand and to our business. Then it's also controlling the external message, positioning, and evangelism of the category that we exist in, which is, for us, revenue operations.

What are your marketing metrics as CMO?

Karen Steele: There are, indeed. We, as a marketing team, own a pipeline influence number. I've, by the way, never been in a marketing organization where I didn't own a pipeline number, so we are in direct partnership with sales on that. We have a big pipeline number for both new business and upsell. We have many, many other metrics around other parts of the equation I just described.

How can marketers use data to create an emotional connection with buyers?

Karen Steele: Data is the process after you connect your employees to the personas, the value, and the outcome. I think every company today is on a revenue journey, and I think that's pretty much every company. Even if you're a not-for-profit, you're probably trying to raise funds for your organization. It starts with understanding who the buyer is, what the pain points are in that buyer's journey, and really creating value along that path.

You can collect a lot of very valuable data.

You can collect demographic and firmographic and understand, if you're selling into target accounts, who those buyers are, titles, et cetera. But you also have to understand the kind of people that are these buyers and make sure that, when you're doing sales enablement and training, and I'm talking in a B2B setting where you're talking to AEs and sales development reps, that you are absolutely giving them the landscape of what these people deal with every day, the kinds of things that they're dealing with, not just in the journey of the product you're selling to them, but all the other influences and things that they have around them.

In our universe, we're selling to sales and marketing buyers, leaders, operations teams. They are riddled with technology choices. They typically have 50, 60, or 70 applications in their tech stack, which is just staggering. All the messages that come at them are about technology.

The real messages should be about outcomes. How do I get to revenue faster? How am I more productive for my business? How can I help my customer be more successful? I think, making those connections with the data process and how you get to those outcomes is ultimately the powerhouse.

Is data is a proxy, a symbol, or a pointer to the emotional connection?

Karen Steele: I think that's one way to look at it. Certainly, in the case of what we do, we orchestrate. We often talk about LeanData as sort of the data thread in the revenue chain. It would be fine just to be a thread in a revenue chain, but if you don't understand the value that crosses that chain, all the decision points, and all the people that are involved, the data is irrelevant. You have to make the data valuable through that flow so that people understand that you're going to help them through their journey.

In our world, the measurement is really about different go-to-market plays. How am I helping an inside selling team get more appointments? How am I helping an ABM team penetrate more target accounts?

All of these are going to manufacture themselves at the end of the day in terms of revenue production, but how am I helping the entire process of how sales and marketing work together, how sales and CS work together (customer success)? Yes, we are a thread and we are a data foundation, but how do those connections happen and how does the value happen so that, at the end of the day, the company is producing what is ultimately the goldmine, which is revenue?

What about companies that do not understand their customers?

Karen Steele: Those are ultimately the companies that probably aren't succeeding. The companies that we deal with today are the fastest-growing companies around and so they have cracked this code. They have figured this out.

Even if they don't have a chief customer officer onboard, they have a customer success team that understands that those relationships and understanding the customer's point of view and understanding what the customers want out of the technology is paramount to anything. The customer has to be at the center point of any conversation you have.

Again, I will tell you, and I don't think we're necessarily unique. I'm very proud that LeanData is very customer first. I think the most successful brands today in the software business are and that's where it starts. If you don't start there, I don't think you're going to have a long trajectory.

Shelly Lucas on Twitter says that faster revenue faster doesn't necessarily indicate an emotional connection with the customer?

Karen Steele: You're right. Every single interaction along the way matters. I don't think I've used the word "engagement" yet, but that's sort of a buzzword these days. If you think about every single touchpoint of any customer interaction, whether it be with a salesperson, with a support person, with an implementation person, a partner, or a marketer, all of those touchpoints are really important and they're all engagement moments that you can have either a positive or a negative experience with the brand. All of those accrue to an ultimate experience, which leads to revenue, if this is a selling process.

I think that's 100% accurate that you've got to create a relationship. You've got to create a set of engagements that move you forward depending on what your outcome is, depending on how the customer looks at that outcome. If a customer wants an ROI metric, if the customer wants a dashboard that they can show at a board meeting, or if a customer wants just a happy internal client, there are all kinds of measures that can be used, but engagements matter and they do lead to every single interaction accumulating in a positive experience which ultimately should and can lead to revenue.

How can marketers link data to empathy for the customer?

Karen Steele: I think it's really helpful to map out, to truly, internally, before you execute anything externally, map out the journey with your internal team. Sit in a room with your product team, your marketers, your sellers, your implementation team, your consultants, and start from the beginning.

If we're at the top of the funnel and somebody is just becoming aware of us, and they have a pain point--maybe we haven't completely discovered what that is--what does that journey look like? What is the journey as we take them through the education phase? What is the journey as we take them through the consideration phase? What are the proof points we have to consider? How do we get them to do a proof of concept or whatever is required to actually buy us and then, ultimately, become an advocate of us?

I think, start internally to kind of map that out and understand the expectations because, again, it goes back to, as a company, you have a promise or a commitment to a customer. That's your brand strategy. Based on that, you execute and you create a set of expectations based on that execution. Based on that, it equals an experience and people will either evaluate you to buy you again or not buy you again or refer you to somebody or not refer you to somebody.

If you focus internally first to map out that journey, you look at all the roles, interactions, and touchpoints, and realize what's both good and bad about the way you're proposing to execute that, it has a huge impact before you take it to market and actually go through the motions of creating that set of touchpoints because it's really hard.

If you do something poorly and you send an email out to somebody that's already your customer asking them to buy your product, I can't even tell you the credibility that you will lose. That's a simple data problem that companies do over and over again.

To get very technical and tactical, a lead gets routed to the wrong rep and the rep is an enterprise person who is now reaching out to a low-level SMB account. It's just the wrong conversation to be having. These sound like really trivial things but, when you have a moment to capture somebody's attention, it matters a lot.

Mapping those journeys, starting internally to do that, then taking them out to the market, testing, refining, and making sure that, at the end of the day, all of your go-to-market teams are involved. I can't stress enough it's not just sales and marketing anymore. It's sales. It's marketing. It's customer success. If you have a channel or a partner strategy, bring your partner team into it too because they touch customers and have an influence on customers in the same way that your sales and marketing teams do.

What about customer experience and chatbots?

Karen Steele: It's a great, great question, and I think many marketers that I know, including some of my team here at LeanData, are experimenting right now. I think it's a different channel to communicate through. I think that use cases matter, so chatbots are not for every single use case. You certainly don't want to automate your entire website to go through that faculty to answer questions or take demo requests, et cetera.

I think that, as we learn from some of the new technology, we're going to all get smarter about what we do. I liken it back to, there used to be a time in marketing 15 years ago when, really, all you could do were webinars and email. Look at our options today. We're still testing social and we're still testing different online and offline methods.

Chatbots, I think, serve certain use cases really, really well. I also think they serve certain personas better than others. I think they can be utilized in different parts of your business. Certainly, support is a great opportunity for a chatbot.

On the marketing side, you can set it up. What we've done at LeanData and we use Drift, by the way, and we have set up a particular chat scenario where we've limited it to a couple of our account development reps. We're getting a couple of people comfortable with it and we're testing what comes in and what the conversations look like. I believe wholeheartedly in conversational marketing, but we're still learning and I think it's a new technology.

The simple answer is, it's use case driven. I think we're in an experimental time, which is fantastic. AI is going to help us a lot. But I think it's going to be use case driven for the long-term and we're super excited about it.

Michael Krigsman: Again, on the point that you made earlier that every single touchpoint is so crucially important in the B2B context where the buying process can easily take three months, six months, nine months, a year or longer if it's an expensive product. The buyer knows that there's going to be this kind of twisty journey, and so there is a lot of room to actually have fluff. If some of those customer interactions are not what you want, eh, so be it. Tell me. Agree. Disagree. Tell me I'm horribly wrong.

Karen Steele: I disagree. I don't think you can discount any of that. I think it's good news today for marketers with all the phenomenal technology we have. I'm not just speaking about it as I'm representing a technology vendor, but there are awesome marketing automation engagement platforms like Marketo, Salesforce, and Eloqua. There are all kinds of tools I mentioned, Drift and everything else.

We have the means today to track things and, in the analytics world and with AI, we can look at multitouch, everything that comes in, whether it's from sales, marketing, or however you attribute it. All of those things are important and all of them should be dissected and understood so that you can figure out how you perfect that journey and how you want to improve and, ultimately, speed that process from getting somebody top of the funnel all the way through.

I think that multiple interactions are great and we learn from them. We can track them today. We have tons of great analytics. It's up to the marketers. I think, in B2B, we're very, very sophisticated these days and we can do that.

We can look at the buyer journey. We can track it back to what happened before an opportunity got created. What made sense? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How could we speed up the process?

Similarly, you can do that after the opportunity is created, it's actually in the pipeline, and your sales team is moving it ahead. There are just tons of great tools today to do that and I think marketers and sellers today are more empowered than ever. It's a super exciting time to be in the B2B software world.

Improving the customer journey is essential to driving revenue?

Karen Steele: Absolutely, 100%. We have definitely studied different patterns of different programs that we've run, looked at ways to short circuit certain things, and skip steps in the process where we might have started with email, but these people were already sort of warm leads. Now we can actually just go at them from a first appointment setting call. Yes, you can. I think the more data you have and you can understand those sort of journeys and buyer patterns, you can absolutely fast track and speed that process.

Michael Krigsman: Again, I find that very fascinating. You're selling software. What about somebody that is selling products that are not exclusively purchased online? It could be anything. It could be physical products. It could be professional services. How does the refinement of customer journey impact revenue in those cases?

Karen Steele: Today, to buy our software, we don't have an e-commerce site. You don't download our software. Certainly, there are plenty of software systems out there that are open source that you download, et cetera. Today, you have to go through a professional kind of enterprise buying cycle with us and many, many software companies like us.

Part of the challenge is, you're engaged with a whole bunch of people. You're going to start off probably with a sales development rep who is going to kind of warm you up, open up the conversation, and get you qualified. Then you're going to be passed over to an account executive and so on and so forth. You're going to move down the chain to implementation or consultant and then eventually land, in the world of B2B, a very common phrase, as CSM, which is a customer success manager.

You have not just the touch points. You have a whole bunch of people that are involved in the selling process.

I think that smart companies today, and there are many of them, are perfecting this journey. They're perfecting all of the people that play a role in that process so they all look to have a single objective to get you to your outcome as fast as possible and to make that experience really, really positive and to give you all of the things that you need to succeed. Those are the companies.

When I started out at the beginning saying we help the fastest growing companies get to revenue faster, that's a pretty audacious thing to say, I suppose, but that is the reality. Companies come to us because they want to grow. They believe we have a solution for them. But the solution alone wouldn't do it. Unless we had the team standing behind it, we had the process to get people there, and there was credibility and belief that we understood what we were doing, we wouldn't be successful.

I think it takes all of the people. It takes the process. It takes whether you have an online or offline product. Then you've got to prove yourself and do it over and over and over again and have those advocates talking on your behalf and writing reviews on things like G2 Crowd, these peer-to-peer review systems.

Companies today do 90% of their research online before they come to your site and look at getting a demo with you. Then even when they do that, they talk to their peers. They look at the app exchange if you're a Salesforce solution. They look at G2 Crowd or Trust Radius. They care more about what their peers say than they do about what the company says, and so that's a really important factor as well.

Michael Krigsman: The refinement of that customer journey ultimately has an impact on peer-to-peer reviews. Really, it's the combination of all of these things taken together that create that confidence and that trust that you're describing.

Karen Steele: Absolutely. Every single employee in your company, whether they're a receptionist, an accounts payable person, a salesperson, a marketer, or a CEO, every single person touches a potential buyer. Every single touch creates an impression of who you are as a company, your brand, what you stand for, your reputation, and your credibility.

Every single company has all these individuals that are responsible for all these relationships. I think more companies connect with that and the way we control the buying experience.

Ultimately, the buyers today are in charge. In the B2B world, they choose. They go do all the research. They come to us. But, when they come to us, let's be prepared. Let's have the right team on board. Let's have a consistent message. Let's make sure we understand their outcome and the value they want from us.

Let's understand that, at the end of the day, particularly in the B2B world, most of these companies are coming to you because they're trying to accelerate revenue or some kind of an outcome that's important to their business. Know their business. You have to know their business. It's a really fun time to be thinking about CX and the buying experience along with brand strategy and, ultimately, getting revenue faster.

Share your advice for B2B sellers in connecting customer experience to revenue?

Karen Steele: First of all, I'll kind of go back to a theme I said at the onset, which is, know your customer. Do everything you can, regardless of where you are in the organization, to understand your buyer. This is not just print out the personas and you know the titles and the demographics of the individual.

Really dig down and understand who is your customer. What kind of issues do they have? What kind of challenges are they facing? Typically, what kind of teams do they sit within? What kind of committees might they participate in? What is their journey inside their company?

Ultimately, your customer has to go sell on your behalf. Any customer making a decision today in, I think, most B2B software companies are asking companies to commit a lot of money. They need to understand who you are and what you do, but you also need to understand their journey and what it's going to take for them to bring you in-house.

Know your customer. Absolutely understand what your company stands for and what the value of your brand and your contribution to the outcome of what they're trying to achieve will mean for their long-term success. Make sure that, all the way up the food chain through the journey, be it sales, marketing, support, services, your executive relationships, that everybody is talking from the same hymnal.

I think that consistency in the story is going to lead to great advocacy which, at the end of the day, selling never stops. You've got to get a customer for life and then that customer becomes your customer that's going to tell your story and help you bring the next customer on.

Make every customer an advocate. Start with the customer first and understand the journey and how to help companies get to the outcomes that they want to achieve.

Tell us about LeanData?

Karen Steele: LeanData is in the business of revenue and accelerating revenue for the fastest growing companies in the world. We offer a revenue operations platform that helps companies through the planning, execution, and measurement of all of their revenue processes and go to market motions.

What is customer experience?

Karen Steele: It's everything. If you think about the revenue as the lifeblood of fueling a company, the customer experience is the outcome, it's the angle, and it's what every single company in the world, whether you're B2C or B2B, should be focused on. The customer experience, in my mind, is a cumulative effect of all of the touch points, interactions, engagements of every single person inside your company that connects with the customer and the way, ultimately, that the customer thinks about your brand at the end of the day.

There is a whole bunch of talk about the customer journey, buying experience, et cetera. If you as a corporation, again, whether you're in the B2C world or the B2B world, aren't thinking about the customer first, you're missing the mark. We all are driven by revenue, but it's all about the customer and the customer experience.

What is the CMO role in driving customer experience?

Karen Steele: It's a company initiative. Obviously, I have a lot of great members of our management team that I partner with, including our chief customer officer, our head of product, our CTO, and our head of sales. All of us, collectively, have to have an understanding and appreciation for, at the end of the day, what is our commitment to our customer. What are we trying to achieve? What do we want the customer to feel about us as a company, as a brand? What do we want that experience to be?

Oftentimes, companies measure outcomes, which is great, and outcomes are important in terms of customer experience, but you also want that emotional connection with the customer. For us, at LeanData, the way we describe it is it starts with a commitment to our customer or brand promise. Based on that brand promise that the entire company stands behind, it's our commitment to what we deliver, what our value is, we have a whole set of things that we look at.

It starts with expectations. If I'm going to make a commitment to a customer, all of my teams have to be organized around a set of expectations to deliver for that brand promise. Based on those expectations, the delivery of those expectations, and our execution, there creates an experience. That experience could be very positive, very negative, or neutral depending on exactly how we execute across all the teams.

Based on that, that matters because it means that a company is either going to evaluate us to buy more product, renew from us, or not. That whole cycle is really important and, at LeanData, we are 100% focused on, it starts with vision, mission, brand strategy, brand promise, and then we look at the entire execution cycle around that.

What is the connection between customer experience and revenue operations?

Karen Steele: One of the flaws of B2B companies today is that we're so focused on automation because many of us are technology providers and our buyers are not consumers; they're business-to-business people that have titles in different business units and corporations that move the business forward. At the end of the day, they're all human beings. As human beings, we have to create personal connections with individuals from our brand back to them and back to their company.

It's really important when you think about charting the journey. A lot of people talk about the buyer's journey, and a lot of people compare B2B marketing and B2B selling to what people love in a consumer-based world, so if every B2B software company could make me feel like the experience I get when I buy from Amazon. It's easy to use. It's fast. It's ubiquitous. I go online. I get exactly what I want. They know how I think. They know what I want next. Imagine what that would be in a B2B software selling world.

At LeanData, this is the business we're in. We're in the business of helping companies generate revenue and perfecting the buying experience. We look at those journeys because, if you as a business don't understand the journey your customer is going through, how could your customer go through a positive journey with you?

It's a really big focus for us. We have an awesome chief marketing officer. Her passion is about articulating those journeys and getting everybody in the company connected to those.

What are the customer experience and revenue challenges facing B2B companies? 

Karen Steele: Well, it's super hard because, in a B2B world, we're doing mass marketing to a pretty big target audience that, in our universe, is anybody in sales and marketing that has a revenue challenge. Imagine how many companies that is. Imagine how many titles that is. How do you target effectively? How do you get above the noise?

I think the thing that differentiates most companies today is exactly how they architect those strategies around touchpoints. There are so many channels to reach out to people. What you don't want to do is overexpose yourself or get into channels that complicate things and conflict with other channels.

Some of the examples that we talk about and some of the things that our technology actually helps prohibit are things like, "I'm already a customer of yours, but you're sending me emails to buy your product. How do you not know I'm already a customer?" That's just a huge failing. It's a red flag from a credibility standpoint. I get an email from you, a text from you, or a social message from you that thanks me for attending your booth at a tradeshow. I never went to that tradeshow.

Understanding the underlying data of how you reach these individuals and these companies and target them appropriately makes a huge difference in how people perceive you as a brand and how that customer experience will ultimately carry through that journey. If you believe that the beginning of that journey starts with, you're talking to a rep or an AE and you're talking to a customer success person, you're kind of moving through that journey, you want to make sure that those customers and those companies understand what the buying cycle is.

Is data the foundation of brand perception?

Karen Steele: It is, 100%. Now, with technologies like LeanData, but also AI technologies and really good analytics, you can measure that; you can track it; and you can understand, through every single channel and every single touchpoint, exactly the impact you've made. You can understand where there's duplication, where there are errors, and you can course-correct and make sure that the right people get the right data at the right time to interact with the right buyer so you create a positive experience.

If you compare that to a B2C world, it's sort of like Amazon understanding, okay, if you bought this, you might want that, and serving up those offers to you. I think, as B2B marketers and sellers today, we have a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility to have a positive impact on the buying experience.

You have to ask whether are you a customer-first organization? I know that sounds like a cliché, but you have to be to succeed today. The companies that are really propelling in the industry are customer first.

All the conversations at an executive team meeting, at a board meeting, start with, how do we do better by the customer? That's rule number one. Then, your go-to-market team inside your company has to be super connected and synergized.

For us, our core go-to-market team is me, our CRO, and our chief customer officer. If the three of us aren't aligned, I guarantee you there will be customers and prospects that have a bad buying experience because it's the three of us and our teams that sit together and architect what is our plan. How are we going to go about reaching these customers, people that have already bought our products that we want to move to new products, net new customers that we've never ever sold to, and breaking into new markets, new regions, and new territories?

It starts with a core team. It starts with a fundamental philosophy that the customer is always first and that your job, as a marketer, a seller, or customer success or customer officer for the company, is to make great outcomes happen for the customer and make their life better.

How does empathy for the customer relate to revenue in the business-to-business world?

Karen Steele: Gosh, what a great question. Thank you for that. I don't draw the line between them. I started my career at Apple in the early days. Arguably, Apple was a very different company back then, but we were selling more to consumer buyers. If you think about consumer buyers, the way we define consumer buyers, we talk about an age demographic. We talk about families with children.

In the case I did at Apple, I was selling to kids graduating from high school going into college, the higher education market, and that was the persona we understood. We understood them as people, as human beings, where they were in their life and their position in their universe.

In the B2B world today, we look at titles, we look at company sizes, and we look at target accounts. We take a little bit of humanity away, which I think is a really tough thing for B2B marketers and sellers today.

We are still marketing to humans. We are still having conversations with people. We're having conversations with people that are part of teams and people that, within teams, have to go back and sell the great stuff that we just told them about.

I think that the revenue journey today, for any marketer or seller, we can learn a lot and a lot of lessons from the B2C world if we connect better, if we connect our people, everybody in the revenue team to our business and to our buyer better. The journey and the buyer experience and all the elements of it are so important to get to revenue faster. That's what LeanData is all about. We really try hard to help companies get there faster with a solution that helps move the data connections along the way, but it's really, really critical.

Dave Winer on Twitter says he has been trying to “pry open that door for journalists” for years?

Karen Steele: Sometimes marketers who are very brand focused get dinged a little bit, but what they're trying to do and the most important thing we can do is connect our brand to the buyer and make that emotional connection, make somebody care. If this company went away, I'm going to feel pain. If you have that kind of value in the market and your offering, that kind of empathy and connection, the kind of stewardship and advocacy you get from that is something you cannot put a dollar value against.

It's super important, I think, anything we can do inside of companies to create that experience, to take our employees through the journey. Even inside of LeanData, we're doing this. I applaud our Chief Customer Officer Rachel for this.

We are walking our employees through the journey of an enterprise buyer. Why are we doing that? We're trying to understand not just what it's like for us and all the pitfalls, learnings, and things we can take away from that, but the experience for the buyer, how we can improve that, be better, and make it faster, better, easier and, ultimately, create more value for them.

I think that companies have to pay a lot of attention to this. They have to do internal simulations. You've got to measure stuff, obviously, but connecting employees to the brand and the business, having those outcomes be exposed to employees so they know what they're accountable for.

Today, I hold not just pipeline numbers, but I am attached to a net retention number. My entire team has to care about the lifecycle of the customer and the longevity of that customer. I think every company needs to think that way.

What does your CEO expect of you as the Chief Marketing Officer?

Karen Steele: There are many but, I think, first and foremost, he expects that I will be a leader of our go-to-market team. It's a three-headed team, as I mentioned. It's our CRO, our chief customer officer, and myself.

We are chartered with architecting everything it's going to take to get to our revenue number, both new business and upsell, for the coming year and everything it's going to take to keep our customers happy for upsell, cross-sell, and renewals, of course, for the coming year. We're a SaaS company, so renewals and upsell, cross-sell is critical.

Obviously, driving the go-to-market effort is probably job number one, and that's an expectation. He also expects that I'm going to carry the flag. I am the ambassador of our brand. I am going to help educate the market on the category that we exist in so that buyers will understand who we are and what we do. Obviously, I'm going to create messaging that resonates and is powerful in the market. Probably most importantly too, I am going to be a force inside the company to connect our people to who we are and what we do.

At LeanData, culture is really important to our CEO. He founded the company. He's one of two founders. He cares a lot about the company we're building, the workplace, and everything we're creating as a company. I have to help build things around that that support our vision, mission, and brand strategy. That's job number one.

There are a million other things my team does all day long but I think, at the end of the day, it's go-to-market and driving our revenue plan. It's culture and empowering our employees and connecting them to our brand and to our business. Then it's also controlling the external message, positioning, and evangelism of the category that we exist in, which is, for us, revenue operations.

What are your marketing metrics as CMO?

Karen Steele: There are, indeed. We, as a marketing team, own a pipeline influence number. I've, by the way, never been in a marketing organization where I didn't own a pipeline number, so we are in direct partnership with sales on that. We have a big pipeline number for both new business and upsell. We have many, many other metrics around other parts of the equation I just described.

How can marketers use data to create an emotional connection with buyers?

Karen Steele: Data is the process after you connect your employees to the personas, the value, and the outcome. I think every company today is on a revenue journey, and I think that's pretty much every company. Even if you're a not-for-profit, you're probably trying to raise funds for your organization. It starts with understanding who the buyer is, what the pain points are in that buyer's journey, and really creating value along that path.

You can collect a lot of very valuable data.

You can collect demographic and firmographic and understand, if you're selling into target accounts, who those buyers are, titles, et cetera. But you also have to understand the kind of people that are these buyers and make sure that, when you're doing sales enablement and training, and I'm talking in a B2B setting where you're talking to AEs and sales development reps, that you are absolutely giving them the landscape of what these people deal with every day, the kinds of things that they're dealing with, not just in the journey of the product you're selling to them, but all the other influences and things that they have around them.

In our universe, we're selling to sales and marketing buyers, leaders, operations teams. They are riddled with technology choices. They typically have 50, 60, or 70 applications in their tech stack, which is just staggering. All the messages that come at them are about technology.

The real messages should be about outcomes. How do I get to revenue faster? How am I more productive for my business? How can I help my customer be more successful? I think, making those connections with the data process and how you get to those outcomes is ultimately the powerhouse.

Is data is a proxy, a symbol, or a pointer to the emotional connection?

Karen Steele: I think that's one way to look at it. Certainly, in the case of what we do, we orchestrate. We often talk about LeanData as sort of the data thread in the revenue chain. It would be fine just to be a thread in a revenue chain, but if you don't understand the value that crosses that chain, all the decision points, and all the people that are involved, the data is irrelevant. You have to make the data valuable through that flow so that people understand that you're going to help them through their journey.

In our world, the measurement is really about different go-to-market plays. How am I helping an inside selling team get more appointments? How am I helping an ABM team penetrate more target accounts?

All of these are going to manufacture themselves at the end of the day in terms of revenue production, but how am I helping the entire process of how sales and marketing work together, how sales and CS work together (customer success)? Yes, we are a thread and we are a data foundation, but how do those connections happen and how does the value happen so that, at the end of the day, the company is producing what is ultimately the goldmine, which is revenue?

What about companies that do not understand their customers?

Karen Steele: Those are ultimately the companies that probably aren't succeeding. The companies that we deal with today are the fastest-growing companies around and so they have cracked this code. They have figured this out.

Even if they don't have a chief customer officer onboard, they have a customer success team that understands that those relationships and understanding the customer's point of view and understanding what the customers want out of the technology is paramount to anything. The customer has to be at the center point of any conversation you have.

Again, I will tell you, and I don't think we're necessarily unique. I'm very proud that LeanData is very customer first. I think the most successful brands today in the software business are and that's where it starts. If you don't start there, I don't think you're going to have a long trajectory.

Shelly Lucas on Twitter says that faster revenue faster doesn't necessarily indicate an emotional connection with the customer?

Karen Steele: You're right. Every single interaction along the way matters. I don't think I've used the word "engagement" yet, but that's sort of a buzzword these days. If you think about every single touchpoint of any customer interaction, whether it be with a salesperson, with a support person, with an implementation person, a partner, or a marketer, all of those touchpoints are really important and they're all engagement moments that you can have either a positive or a negative experience with the brand. All of those accrue to an ultimate experience, which leads to revenue, if this is a selling process.

I think that's 100% accurate that you've got to create a relationship. You've got to create a set of engagements that move you forward depending on what your outcome is, depending on how the customer looks at that outcome. If a customer wants an ROI metric, if the customer wants a dashboard that they can show at a board meeting, or if a customer wants just a happy internal client, there are all kinds of measures that can be used, but engagements matter and they do lead to every single interaction accumulating in a positive experience which ultimately should and can lead to revenue.

How can marketers link data to empathy for the customer?

Karen Steele: I think it's really helpful to map out, to truly, internally, before you execute anything externally, map out the journey with your internal team. Sit in a room with your product team, your marketers, your sellers, your implementation team, your consultants, and start from the beginning.

If we're at the top of the funnel and somebody is just becoming aware of us, and they have a pain point--maybe we haven't completely discovered what that is--what does that journey look like? What is the journey as we take them through the education phase? What is the journey as we take them through the consideration phase? What are the proof points we have to consider? How do we get them to do a proof of concept or whatever is required to actually buy us and then, ultimately, become an advocate of us?

I think, start internally to kind of map that out and understand the expectations because, again, it goes back to, as a company, you have a promise or a commitment to a customer. That's your brand strategy. Based on that, you execute and you create a set of expectations based on that execution. Based on that, it equals an experience and people will either evaluate you to buy you again or not buy you again or refer you to somebody or not refer you to somebody.

If you focus internally first to map out that journey, you look at all the roles, interactions, and touchpoints, and realize what's both good and bad about the way you're proposing to execute that, it has a huge impact before you take it to market and actually go through the motions of creating that set of touchpoints because it's really hard.

If you do something poorly and you send an email out to somebody that's already your customer asking them to buy your product, I can't even tell you the credibility that you will lose. That's a simple data problem that companies do over and over again.

To get very technical and tactical, a lead gets routed to the wrong rep and the rep is an enterprise person who is now reaching out to a low-level SMB account. It's just the wrong conversation to be having. These sound like really trivial things but, when you have a moment to capture somebody's attention, it matters a lot.

Mapping those journeys, starting internally to do that, then taking them out to the market, testing, refining, and making sure that, at the end of the day, all of your go-to-market teams are involved. I can't stress enough it's not just sales and marketing anymore. It's sales. It's marketing. It's customer success. If you have a channel or a partner strategy, bring your partner team into it too because they touch customers and have an influence on customers in the same way that your sales and marketing teams do.

What about customer experience and chatbots?

Karen Steele: It's a great, great question, and I think many marketers that I know, including some of my team here at LeanData, are experimenting right now. I think it's a different channel to communicate through. I think that use cases matter, so chatbots are not for every single use case. You certainly don't want to automate your entire website to go through that faculty to answer questions or take demo requests, et cetera.

I think that, as we learn from some of the new technology, we're going to all get smarter about what we do. I liken it back to, there used to be a time in marketing 15 years ago when, really, all you could do were webinars and email. Look at our options today. We're still testing social and we're still testing different online and offline methods.

Chatbots, I think, serve certain use cases really, really well. I also think they serve certain personas better than others. I think they can be utilized in different parts of your business. Certainly, support is a great opportunity for a chatbot.

On the marketing side, you can set it up. What we've done at LeanData and we use Drift, by the way, and we have set up a particular chat scenario where we've limited it to a couple of our account development reps. We're getting a couple of people comfortable with it and we're testing what comes in and what the conversations look like. I believe wholeheartedly in conversational marketing, but we're still learning and I think it's a new technology.

The simple answer is, it's use case driven. I think we're in an experimental time, which is fantastic. AI is going to help us a lot. But I think it's going to be use case driven for the long-term and we're super excited about it.

Michael Krigsman: Again, on the point that you made earlier that every single touchpoint is so crucially important in the B2B context where the buying process can easily take three months, six months, nine months, a year or longer if it's an expensive product. The buyer knows that there's going to be this kind of twisty journey, and so there is a lot of room to actually have fluff. If some of those customer interactions are not what you want, eh, so be it. Tell me. Agree. Disagree. Tell me I'm horribly wrong.

Karen Steele: I disagree. I don't think you can discount any of that. I think it's good news today for marketers with all the phenomenal technology we have. I'm not just speaking about it as I'm representing a technology vendor, but there are awesome marketing automation engagement platforms like Marketo, Salesforce, and Eloqua. There are all kinds of tools I mentioned, Drift and everything else.

We have the means today to track things and, in the analytics world and with AI, we can look at multitouch, everything that comes in, whether it's from sales, marketing, or however you attribute it. All of those things are important and all of them should be dissected and understood so that you can figure out how you perfect that journey and how you want to improve and, ultimately, speed that process from getting somebody top of the funnel all the way through.

I think that multiple interactions are great and we learn from them. We can track them today. We have tons of great analytics. It's up to the marketers. I think, in B2B, we're very, very sophisticated these days and we can do that.

We can look at the buyer journey. We can track it back to what happened before an opportunity got created. What made sense? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How could we speed up the process?

Similarly, you can do that after the opportunity is created, it's actually in the pipeline, and your sales team is moving it ahead. There are just tons of great tools today to do that and I think marketers and sellers today are more empowered than ever. It's a super exciting time to be in the B2B software world.

Improving the customer journey is essential to driving revenue?

Karen Steele: Absolutely, 100%. We have definitely studied different patterns of different programs that we've run, looked at ways to short circuit certain things, and skip steps in the process where we might have started with email, but these people were already sort of warm leads. Now we can actually just go at them from a first appointment setting call. Yes, you can. I think the more data you have and you can understand those sort of journeys and buyer patterns, you can absolutely fast track and speed that process.

Michael Krigsman: Again, I find that very fascinating. You're selling software. What about somebody that is selling products that are not exclusively purchased online? It could be anything. It could be physical products. It could be professional services. How does the refinement of customer journey impact revenue in those cases?

Karen Steele: Today, to buy our software, we don't have an e-commerce site. You don't download our software. Certainly, there are plenty of software systems out there that are open source that you download, et cetera. Today, you have to go through a professional kind of enterprise buying cycle with us and many, many software companies like us.

Part of the challenge is, you're engaged with a whole bunch of people. You're going to start off probably with a sales development rep who is going to kind of warm you up, open up the conversation, and get you qualified. Then you're going to be passed over to an account executive and so on and so forth. You're going to move down the chain to implementation or consultant and then eventually land, in the world of B2B, a very common phrase, as CSM, which is a customer success manager.

You have not just the touch points. You have a whole bunch of people that are involved in the selling process.

I think that smart companies today, and there are many of them, are perfecting this journey. They're perfecting all of the people that play a role in that process so they all look to have a single objective to get you to your outcome as fast as possible and to make that experience really, really positive and to give you all of the things that you need to succeed. Those are the companies.

When I started out at the beginning saying we help the fastest growing companies get to revenue faster, that's a pretty audacious thing to say, I suppose, but that is the reality. Companies come to us because they want to grow. They believe we have a solution for them. But the solution alone wouldn't do it. Unless we had the team standing behind it, we had the process to get people there, and there was credibility and belief that we understood what we were doing, we wouldn't be successful.

I think it takes all of the people. It takes the process. It takes whether you have an online or offline product. Then you've got to prove yourself and do it over and over and over again and have those advocates talking on your behalf and writing reviews on things like G2 Crowd, these peer-to-peer review systems.

Companies today do 90% of their research online before they come to your site and look at getting a demo with you. Then even when they do that, they talk to their peers. They look at the app exchange if you're a Salesforce solution. They look at G2 Crowd or Trust Radius. They care more about what their peers say than they do about what the company says, and so that's a really important factor as well.

Michael Krigsman: The refinement of that customer journey ultimately has an impact on peer-to-peer reviews. Really, it's the combination of all of these things taken together that create that confidence and that trust that you're describing.

Karen Steele: Absolutely. Every single employee in your company, whether they're a receptionist, an accounts payable person, a salesperson, a marketer, or a CEO, every single person touches a potential buyer. Every single touch creates an impression of who you are as a company, your brand, what you stand for, your reputation, and your credibility.

Every single company has all these individuals that are responsible for all these relationships. I think more companies connect with that and the way we control the buying experience.

Ultimately, the buyers today are in charge. In the B2B world, they choose. They go do all the research. They come to us. But, when they come to us, let's be prepared. Let's have the right team on board. Let's have a consistent message. Let's make sure we understand their outcome and the value they want from us.

Let's understand that, at the end of the day, particularly in the B2B world, most of these companies are coming to you because they're trying to accelerate revenue or some kind of an outcome that's important to their business. Know their business. You have to know their business. It's a really fun time to be thinking about CX and the buying experience along with brand strategy and, ultimately, getting revenue faster.

Share your advice for B2B sellers in connecting customer experience to revenue?

Karen Steele: First of all, I'll kind of go back to a theme I said at the onset, which is, know your customer. Do everything you can, regardless of where you are in the organization, to understand your buyer. This is not just print out the personas and you know the titles and the demographics of the individual.

Really dig down and understand who is your customer. What kind of issues do they have? What kind of challenges are they facing? Typically, what kind of teams do they sit within? What kind of committees might they participate in? What is their journey inside their company?

Ultimately, your customer has to go sell on your behalf. Any customer making a decision today in, I think, most B2B software companies are asking companies to commit a lot of money. They need to understand who you are and what you do, but you also need to understand their journey and what it's going to take for them to bring you in-house.

Know your customer. Absolutely understand what your company stands for and what the value of your brand and your contribution to the outcome of what they're trying to achieve will mean for their long-term success. Make sure that, all the way up the food chain through the journey, be it sales, marketing, support, services, your executive relationships, that everybody is talking from the same hymnal.

I think that consistency in the story is going to lead to great advocacy which, at the end of the day, selling never stops. You've got to get a customer for life and then that customer becomes your customer that's going to tell your story and help you bring the next customer on.

Make every customer an advocate. Start with the customer first and understand the journey and how to help companies get to the outcomes that they want to achieve.