Why your customers are your best marketers with Amanda Malko, CMO at G2
With category overload and heated competition in B2B tech, marketers are finding customer retention more difficult than ever before. However, by helping customers triumph, B2B marketers are on the road to victory.
This episode covers:
- How does marketing work at G2?
- Where do marketing ops stand in a marketing team?
- What is customer-led growth?
- Is customer-led growth a new concept?
- Has COVID accelerated the sales cycle?
- What are the challenges that B2B marketers are facing at the moment?
- Is customer growth a key strategy?
- How can marketing teams implement this strategy?
- Tips on encouraging customers to give feedback
- Why is building trust so difficult?
- Is the B2B decision-making process nonemotional?
- How does customer growth feed retention in the long term?
Listen to the full episode here:
And check out more of the FINITE B2B marketing podcast here!
Welcome back to the FINITE podcast. And another episode today with Amanda Malko, who is currently chief marketing officer at G2.
I'm sure you'll know G2 as the go-to review site and marketplace for software products. And that's why Amanda is the perfect person to talk to you about customer-led growth and how your existing customers can be an incredible source of value in any B2B or SaaS marketing strategy.
Amanda has experience in B2B tech marketing at MailChimp, frequently speaks on marketing in the digital age and has a lot of great insights to share, not just from her experience, but also some recent research that G2 have undertaken. I hope you enjoy.
The FINITE community is kindly supported by The Marketing Practice, a global integrated B2B marketing agency that brings together all the skills you need to design and run account-based marketing, demand generation channel and customer marketing programs. Head to themarketingpractice.com to learn more.
Hello, Amanda, and welcome to the FINITE podcast.
Good to be here.
About Amanda and her role at G2
Thank you for your time. Thank you for joining. We have a very interesting discussion coming up. One that's based on some really interesting research you've been doing. We're talking all about customer-led growth for B2B tech companies.
Before we do that, I'll let you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you, your background and your current role at G2.
Sure. Yeah, I'm Amanda Malko. I'm the CMO of G2. We are the world's largest software marketplace and review site. We serve 60 million software buyers every year. I've been at G2 for seven months. So I am now a veteran of the company.
We're growing quickly and I'm no longer able to say I'm new. And before that, I was at MailChimp where I led the partner program and marketplace business. And before that I had a variety of roles at both startups and actually on the agency side for quite a stint.
Cool. Do you feel like agency life has set you up well for client side work and the role now?
I really do. I get that question a lot. Should I look for an agency or should I go in-house? And I don't think it's one or the other. I think agencies are a boot camp, especially if you're going into any digitally led marketing efforts.
Agencies give you such a purview into what works for different types of businesses. And so it's great training, both for strategy, but also to really get hands-on experience with digital marketing and what types of tactics can really perform well for different marketing goals or business challenges.
How does marketing work at G2?
Yeah. I guess there's such a diversity of different clients that you've got to see and different challenges and connect the dots, but just a real mix. So, that makes sense.
And tell us a bit about the team at G2. You'd been there seven months, so I'm sure you're still, as you say a veteran now, but tell us a bit about the team and how marketing works generally.
So marketing in G2. It's such a privilege and something I've done throughout my career. One of the commonalities in all of my roles and experiences, I've always sold and marketed to marketers, which is really meta. When my parents asked me what I do. I'm like: “I'm a marketer who markets marketing solutions to other marketers.”
And so I'm very honored and fortunate that I have a fantastic team of marketers who both market G2, but also help our customers understand how they can better build their brand reputations on the platform and also leverage G2 to help them grow.
So we've structured the team into a couple of different groups, but we all have very shared goals to grow the brand and the business. We have brand and communications as a function, really helping elevate our thought leadership.
And some of this research that we're talking about today, as well as just getting the brand out there through campaigns and creatively out in the world. Product marketing is very much a partner to both our product and our sales team to position our marketing solutions and our value proposition across all of our offerings.
Revenue marketing is what we call or what might be otherwise called a demand gen function and really focused on both acquisition and nurture and expansion for our customers. We have marketing operations, which is really, I think the backbone of any great marketing team has great marketing operations.
And we also have buyer acquisition and life cycle marketing. So one of the things that's unique to G2 is we are a marketplace. So we have both the customers, who we partner with and are really driving the value and revenue of the business. But our buyers, the 60 million buyers who come to our site are really priority number one for us. And the thing that makes our marketplace so vibrant and dynamic and growing. And so we have a whole team that focuses on the buyer as well.
Where do marketing ops stand in a marketing team?
Cool. I've spoken to multiple CMOs that have said if they were building a team from scratch again, now they would start with marketing ops. I don't know whether you share that view, but to your point of the backbone.
If you don't have great marketing operations in the right tech stack. Everything else is just not going to work today. And so, I can't overstate enough how important that is. And if you have the luxury of building it yourself from scratch, start on day one. Yeah, absolutely.
And then interestingly, I didn't say SEO and content because our product is our site. And so our SEO and content teams are absolutely critical to the organisation and they actually sit within our product organisation because so much of our content is our product. And SEO is a big component of the value that we provide both to our sellers and to the buyers.
The definition of revenue marketing
Interesting. And before we dive into the topic, one last question on that you mentioned revenue marketing. I see revenue marketing term used more and more. I don't know whether that's a trend or it's something that's on the rise. Was it previously not called revenue marketing? I'm just interested. I'm always interested when I hear it.
I didn't make that change. And it was called growth marketing team. I do think it's a trend for particular types of businesses. And I did some homework on this to sort of align on the name and also the type of person I hired as a revenue marketing leader. Her name is Robin. She's fantastic and spends a lot of time talking to other marketing leaders about how they were thinking about that role.
And I think it's evidence of the shift in marketing teams and for CMOs to really be drivers, not even a pipeline, but the revenue for the business. And so I think that the change in the name is meaningful, both from a perception standpoint, but also because at least for our teams, we're not measured on MQLs, we're measured on the value of the pipeline opportunities.
We create and how much of that converts to revenue. And then we also are increasingly focused on supporting expansion targets. And so it really helps set us up to be true revenue partners, to our revenue organisation, and our sales and CS teams.
What is customer-led growth?
Let's dive into the subject itself. We're talking about customer-led growth. I think it's one of those things where it always helps to start with a definition almost, and really just start at the top from your perspective, what is customer-led growth?
I'll first start with a more common term, which is product-led growth. So a product-led growth is all about enabling the product to be a vehicle for acquisition and growth. Customer-led growth is all about enabling customers to also be a key lever for the growth of your business.
Cool. That makes sense, nice and clear.
I didn't keep it succinct.
Is customer-led growth a new concept?
Do you think it's obvious a lot has happened in the last 18 months, a couple of years. Do you think that the buying process and that focus on the customer as a lever for growth has become more obvious as a result of the last couple of years? Or is this something that's kind of been building naturally over time as people become more aware of the focus there.
Yeah, it's a great question. Customer-led growth is not a new term per se, but I have seen that more and more companies are talking about the importance of customer success and customer retention. And I think there's a couple of things driving that.
One, especially in software, but really, I think across B2B decision-making is happening faster than ever. It seems kind of counter intuitive because we've been working from home for the last bulk of two years. And you might think that makes collaboration harder and maybe it slows down decision-making, but we're actually seeing the opposite.
So in some recent research we did, with 800 software buyers across different segments from small businesses to enterprise companies. 85% of them stated that they made software decisions in under six months. And over half said, I actually only need three months or less. And this is for software purchases of $20,000 more. And so what's happening there is decision-making happening faster.
And buyers are also self-educating and feeling that they can do more of it on their own. So I think that that's led businesses to really think about how do we lean into our customers to help evangelise and advocate on our behalf and recognising that retaining them is critical, but also happy customers are often the best channel to get more happy customers
How many companies are listed on G2?
Makes sense. I was going to ask about that shift and early-stage research. Because I think there was some research I keep referring back to and I should refer now to your research because there was some research by Google. I think it was like in either 2013 or 2015. It was a long time ago and already something like 72% of B2B purchase journeys start with a Google for a non-branded term, for example.
So like even back then the amount of early-stage kind of research that was non-branded and beginning with a Google. I was thinking recently, post COVID now or in the midst of that number must be insanely high if it was like 60, 70%, five, six years ago. What is it now? But I think you've obviously touched on it and uncovered that it's increasing, and how many companies are listed on G2 roughly?
So we have over a hundred thousand.
Has COVID accelerated the sales cycle?
So you've got a lot of data and a lot of insight as to how people purchase software. I think the overall speed thing is interesting too. Do you think particularly in the enterprise tech space, there's a lot of face-to-face conferences or meeting people, meeting salespeople in real life. Those things can actually add value, and maybe to slow purchase journeys down to some extent as you wait for weeks to find slots in calendars. These things just take time to unravel.
Do you think now because everything's being forced online and a lot of communication is asynchronous and everybody's just kind of pinging each other messages all day that decisions just get moving quicker. Is that kind of what the research points to?
It does, but I also think you're pointing out to something that's also been happening for some time, but I think was accelerated through COVID, which is, it's not just faster, but it's happening in a more frictionless way.
And you pointed to this like, am I going to wait to schedule time with a salesperson? You know, I may not. And I think there's a couple of reasons for this one. I think B2B companies are starting to leverage more of a B2C playbook, especially as we think like an e-commerce.
So how can a B2B company reduce friction to try and hire products? And that can happen in all kinds of ways. At G2, we have chat on our site and we're working towards 24/7. So anytime you want to talk with someone about our marketing solutions. You can either get a real-time response or a calendar invitation and you can just see someone's schedule and set it up.
So you're not waiting and doing the back and forth. That's a small example. Another great example is like we have a free trial. A lot of companies have adopted a free trial model. And then some companies go a step further and say, how can we actually get you using the product?
Pendo has a great example where you just go to their website and you can either sign up for a free trial or actually just test a fully featured version of their enterprise edition directly on the homepage of their site. And it sort of feels like you're in the product, it's kind of a mock experience and it's fantastic.
And so I think B2B companies are adopting that playbook, but also in our personal lives, we've just spent the last two years being like I'm going to get groceries delivered. And anything I need on Amazon is delivered and I don't ever have to talk to anyone. And so that feels very jarring to them.
When putting on our business hats and yet we're the same person and say: “Okay, let me go ahead and schedule a demo call for two weeks from now.” So I think there's a lot of that blending of our personal and professional lives that makes that shift more meaningful right now.
How has the sales role changed due to the transition of purchase decision?
And I think in the research, we saw that 67% of companies said that they usually engage a salesperson at a software company only once they've already made a purchase decision, which is interesting. I guess that statistic really backs us up. It shows that people are often researching and going further along the purchase journey than people might think before they actually get in touch.
And actually the sales role is maybe not what people think it is. Because I think if you work from the basis that you've already made a decision before jumping on that call with a salesperson, it kind of really shifts the role of the salesperson at that point, and the conversations they need to have and how they frame things and they almost become more like customer success. Is there almost like a different way of looking at that role at that point?
Yeah. I think it's actually setting up sales to be such great partners to the customer. So it becomes about how do I get you closer or certainly to a close, but also set you up for success in that relationship because it really is a more advanced conversation at that stage, oftentimes because they've done so much homework in advance.
So I definitely don't think it eliminates the need for sales. If anything, I think it elevates the role to something that is more consultative and helps set the customer up for success. Well, ahead of even closing the deal.
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How has the buyer behaviour changed?
And I think we've already been seeing a lot of companies shifting towards just very content, rich digital experiences, investing more in websites, resource hubs, and personalised kind of content, all of those kinds of things. Do you think that's a kind of continuing trend, just giving people as much as possible without them having to go in and schedule a call and wait a certain amount of time before they get to what they need.
I do. I think there's two elements to that. I think customer education has become more critical for prospecting interestingly than ever. People are more willing to engage in showing what it's like to be a user, but then maybe they were even two or three years ago.
I think the other thing is you can't just rely on your website. So as marketers, we're like “the website is the gold standard and everyone's going to come here and they're going to love it. And I'm going to look at my time on site and really be excited by that.” But the reality is buyers are going to be looking in a lot of different places and they're using more places to sort of triangulate decisions.
And so it's not the website or something else. It's not the analyst or the review site. It's sort of all of the above. And so I think one takeaway for marketers is to think about how you bring more of that goodness, that customer education, testimonials, case studies and bring it to where your customers are spending more of their time. Because if you're only putting it on your website, you're reaching a very small percentage of your actual buyers,
What are the challenges that B2B marketers are facing at the moment?
Right. And platforms at G2 are everywhere at a certain size and time. You mentioned that SEO is kind of part of your product. You have a hundred thousand more software companies listed. You obviously built a great kind of domain authority and lots of content. So I think if you Google pretty much any software category, pretty sure you guys appear in some form or another.
If you're looking for a defined category or some kind of comparison. So from that perspective, you're kind of saying the website's important, but you've got to be everywhere. Do you think you're talking to marketers all the time? As you said, you're marketing to marketers. Do you think that adds to the challenge of kind of like the ever-growing list of priorities for marketers? Just not another channel, but like the balance. There's only so many hours in the day and marketers are already pretty busy with juggling so many things.
Oh yes, it absolutely does add to the complexity. In our research, we found that only 4% of buyers trust analysts the most, but it doesn't mean they're not looking to the analyst. And 30% rely on the website for the bulk of their information. So that means 70% don't, but that 30% is still really important. And how do you know 80%, 86% are using review sites. So it's good news, bad news.
The good news is you have more places that you can engage a buyer than ever before. Then maybe I don't want to say bad news, but challenging for marketers, as you said, is we have to show up in more places than ever to meet the buyer where they are.
Is customer growth a key strategy?
I think it makes a lot of sense that from a kind of authority perspective, seeing existing customers talking about your product feels much more authoritative, authentic, and powerful than a website, which the company has made themselves. And then they pick and choose it's an owned property and there's a degree of control over review platforms and who you funnel towards a G2 or anything else, but so much more powerful. Then just something that's owned outright by yourself. Do you think that's why customer growth is such a key strategy?
Yeah. I think absolutely. Yes. And I think if you do it well, it creates a fantastic flywheel for business. So if you can figure out how to make happy and successful customers, well then you're going to retain more of your base.
So we all know you can grow faster if you keep more of your revenue year over year. And so it seems very obvious, but a lot of times software companies and B2B companies in particular are very focused on new user acquisition, critical, but so much of your growth as you grow is actually in the base. So if you can get them to be successful, you'll be able to grow faster.
Then if you can move to that next stage where you get them to actually advocate on your behalf, they're going to be your best marketing partners, because to your point, I will see your website and be informed, but I will be inspired and trust the perspective of somebody who else that has actually used the product.
How can marketing teams implement this strategy?
And how do you think marketing teams can go about implementing this kind of strategy? I mean the obvious answer is sign up and make sure you have your strong profile on G2, but I know there's much more to it than that.
Well, I think there's kind of two, in terms of customer life growth, obviously starting with ensuring you as a marketing team, you're focused on what we are doing to help our customers be successful. That could be training education events. There's a lot of ways to kind of lean into that based on what you think your customer needs to be successful.
And then once you've felt you've done that, and you're seeing a lot of happy customers, how do you think about starting to generate that flywheel? And so I would lean into things like incentivising advocacy and thinking about how are we getting our customers to advocate on our behalf in both small ways and maybe big ones, and advocacy programs are great.
And then I think in the third phase, you can start to actually co-market with your customers and make your customers the hero of your marketing and let them tell the story of the value of your product. I think that's sort of the ultimate in customer-led growth is heroing and making your successful customers, the readers of your own success. And yes, that is the core to what we do at G2.
So I would say reviews can be sort of the foundation for a lot of us because you can really tap into your customer voice and use G2 to gain a lot of great feedback and testimonials that you can leverage in many other ways throughout your business.
Tips on encouraging customers to give feedback
I have an aside question, but I should just think you're hearing me speak one that comes into mind is that quite often we hear particularly in enterprise, maybe the higher value deal sizes or more kind of a certain industry, a certain niche, customers are not always willing to give a testimonial and they might be willing to give a review through G2, but maybe not appear on a video testimonial or something, or there's varying degrees to what they're willing to do.
Any tips or things that you've seen work well in kind of making sure that that is as frictionless as possible?
It's such a great question. Yes. I actually was just talking to a group of CMOs about this exact topic earlier this week and got even some new ideas from some of them. So I think the first one is how you position the ask.
And I think it's just, we kind of get down on ourselves as marketers sometimes that we just think it's a favor. It's sort of starting with what is the value to the customer and sharing the testimonial. And if there isn't value, how can we make value? And so an example of that could look like, is this a customer that you think is really going to care about awards or sort of outward perception of success? And can you actually position them for an award? And so instead of it being, just give me your feedback, it's, “Hey, I want to actually celebrate your success.”
And here's an example of how I'd like to do that. I'd like to submit for this award. And would you do that? Another marketer, speaking of video to CMO this week that I mentioned. She loves video testimonials. And so when they do their customer event, she will intentionally set aside and they'll have someone who will film testimonials, and she'll set them up in advance with her best customers on the enterprise side, but say: "Hey, you know what? I've got the crew for another two hours. If there's anything that you want to film, in addition to giving the testimonial, I'll let you just sort of prepare to film anything else and we'll give you the footage.”
And I just thought that was brilliant. So she said: "What's the value proposition I can provide for them giving me both their time and their feedback?"
Nice. I liked that. There was one that came to mind. I think it was April Dunford on Twitter. I saw her talking about if you're struggling, run your own award series, so do an award for your clients and make your client the winner of X award or something. And then they pick up the award and you naturally end up with some kind of testimonial review, something kind of natural co-marketing that comes out with awards.
So that was also a good tip, but I liked the idea of some free production.
I love customer awards like that because it's also a way of helping them be able to evangelise the success they're having with you. Anytime in software, whoever signed the contractor was your champion, they took a risk.
There is no de-risk software decision. And so they took a risk of the time, money implementation. And so if you can give them something that helps them showcase that success there, that's going to make them look really great as well.
Why is building trust so difficult?
Which segues us nicely into this topic of trust. And we've kind of touched on it, but there's always a risk, as you said, with any software purchase. I guess there's all these expressions from maybe years ago now, like nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, right. Or those kinds of sayings, but generally there's risk.
And particularly in B2B tech where it's quite innovative forward thinking, maybe even a new category is going into legacy industries in financial services or insurance or security, trying to persuade people to open up platforms and give away data. And there's a lot of challenges in implementing these kinds of solutions. We talked about that. I think we did it. We've done a few episodes in our podcast genuinely around trust, but why do you think it's harder than ever to build that trust?
Do you see just the landscape, competition and so many companies competing in categories to stand out? I felt like people are becoming more gradually used to purchasing software and more comfortable with the rest to some extent, but it still feels like trust is a challenge.
It is. And I think you've hit on two of the core reasons.
One is there's more choice than ever before. And so it's sort of like, well, who do I trust more? There's sort of that game. I need to make a really good and informed choice. And I've got a lot of options and that can be overwhelming.
I think the second is a more discerning buyer. We're all used to buying software now. Most of us have bought software, whether you're in marketing, accounting, everybody's had to make software choices. And so I think we're more discerning and smarter about it as a result.
And I think that leads to the third one, which is that we've had more time now that software has matured as an industry and across all categories to be burned. So if you've bought software for long enough, eventually you make a choice that you regret. It just happens to all of us, that's true in the services world as well. And I think as a result, we have lots of choices. We don't want to make the wrong one. It can be overwhelming and we kind of know what we're doing. So we're going to be pretty discerning and savvy about how we go about that evaluation
Is the B2B decision-making process nonemotional?
Makes sense. And I think we so often put B2B as a non-emotional decision-making process. I don't know whether, you know, Rory Sutherland, but he's a great marketing speaker in the UK. We had him speak at our FINITE conference last year, FINITE fest. And he was talking about how actually kind of commented on which emotion it was. He described it as either kind of fair or embarrassment, or actually the emotions are so much stronger.
If you make a bad decision in a business environment, your peers, your colleagues. Everyone's looking at you. If you make a bad decision as a consumer and buy a pair of shoes, which you decide later up it's ugly, then you can deal with that internally and personally. But if you're making one on a business level, all the eyes can be on you. And there's a lot more, it feels like there's a lot more on the line. Therefore actually it's more emotional, and trust is more important.
First of all, Rory is brilliant. And so, yes, I'm very familiar with him. And I agree completely with that. I also agree that B2B buying is more emotional than most consumer buying. I completely agree with that because in consumer buying it's emotional and oftentimes more so than it is rational, but it's also fleeting.
A lot of consumer choices are not that expensive, right? So to your point, the risk is not that high and the reward is sometimes not as high either. So you have more time to have highs and lows when you're both taking longer to make the choice, it's more expensive. And when you make the choice, it's going to be with you for a lot longer. It's not a candy bar. It's like I'm going to use the software for years.
And I think one of the most primary emotions in B2B is fear of missing out. So we talked a lot about this. Like what is the FOMO that you're getting? And a lot of times I think we make software choices because of who we, again, it goes back to our peers. We see that other people are using it and being successful. And we're like: "Oh, if I'm the last one to get on this CRM bandwagon, I'm just using Salesforce as an example, who did this extremely well, I'm going to really be behind."
It's a fact that I think about when some companies gain that kind of sudden. Hopin is kind of the one that jumps out to me at the moment with just like the extreme growth and you just see this kind of snowball going down the hill, it's just building and building. And it almost like the momentum becomes almost unstoppable and it just keeps, they keep bringing more customers on board. So it's an interesting tipping point when you gain that. You tip into that level of traction.
Yes. And it does become emotional when you see that. At least you know what this is and have an opinion because otherwise my CEO is going to come to me and say, why aren't we using Hopin? And I should have a good answer for that.
How does customer growth feed retention in the long term?
You touched a little bit on retention and how in the B2B SaaS world, like churn and retention and all of those metrics are so key. From company to company, sometimes that's a marketing problem, sometimes that sets elsewhere.
But I guess one of the marketing's we're thinking about. You talked a bit on customer growth, kind of helping with retention and maybe you can go into a bit more detail on how you see that kind of advocacy and customer growth feeding longer term retention.
I think there's a couple of things. I think there's both real and perceived successes in customer retention. And so I think sometimes the ROI of software isn't tangible. So I think if you lean into thinking about customer-led growth which is going back to the original definition. How do I enable customers to be successful? And then advocates.
A lot of times it has a residual benefit on retention because sometimes if they didn't get the award, do they know how successful they are with the platform? What are you doing to make sure that they don't just focus on utilisation, that they truly feel and believe that they are successful.
So I think that sort of first step in a customer-led growth is certainly getting them using the product successfully. The second step is getting them to realise it. And that may seem obvious, but software, the nice thing about great technology is it sort of invisible.
Which is a quote, and I'm forgetting to attribute it to. But it's sort of like the magic of software is that it can be invisible. That's not a good thing for retention or it can be hard. So how do you not stay top of mind all the time, but to stay top of mind at the right times and make them feel like they're really successful. And so it really does start with that.
And it's surprising to me how often we don't celebrate success. We might have an ROI calculator. And like: “here you go, and you could use that.” But are we really celebrating success for our customers? I think we missed the celebration part.
Absolutely. It's easy to do. I think particularly we've all got targets and a focus on growth. and Focusing on new accounts and new logos and new everything. And we forget about the existing. So it's a good point. We're pretty much out of time. I think the research that we've kind of been touching on is online somewhere. I didn't know whether you can easily point it out to people so that we can get a link to it.
Yeah. research.g2.com. You'll see it right there.
Perfect. I think it's great. And it's fascinating that you've got all of this data at your fingertips. I'm sure you'll continue to use it for lots more insights, but thank you so much for joining the podcast and talking us through everything and showing your thoughts. And I will hopefully have you involved in some other FINITE stuff in the future.
It was great to be on. Thanks for having me.
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