Why customer marketing is one of the fastest-growing titles in SaaS | Katie Meeker @ iCIMS

Katie Meeker @ iCIMS

February 2, 2023

Episode Description

In the newest episode of Demand Gen Chat, I spoke with Katie Meeker, the Director of Customer Marketing at iCIMS. Katie has been at iCIMS for over 13 years, originally joining the marketing team as an events coordinator, and now leading customer marketing. Customer marketing is a relatively new function that is growing quickly so I was very excited to learn from Katie. Listen to this episode to hear why customer marketers should report into marketing, the martech stack iCIMS uses to power their customer marketing programs, and Katie’s predictions for the future of the role.

Show Notes

Follow Tara: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taraarobertson

Follow Katie: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katiemeeker/

Check out the Customer Marketing Certification by Product Marketing Alliance: https://certified.productmarketingalliance.com/p/customer-marketing-certified

Subscribe to DGC

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About DGC

Demand Gen Chat is a Chili Piper podcast hosted by Tara Robertson. Join us as we sit down with B2B marketing leaders to hear about the latest tactics and campaigns that are driving pipeline and revenue. If you’re looking for tactical ways to improve your marketing, this podcast is for you!

Episode Transcript

 Welcome back to another episode of Demand Gen Chat. I'm your host, Tara Robertson, and I have a fun topic for you today. Customer marketing, something we haven't covered yet on the podcast. Today I'm joined by Katie Meeker. Katie is the director of customer marketing at iCIMS. iCIMS is an all-in-one hiring platform. The iCIMS talent cloud delivers enterprise hiring solutions across every stage of the talent journey. Katie, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Hey, Tara. Thanks so much for having me.

Of course. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your background as a marketer?

Yeah, absolutely. I've been with iCIMS for just over 13 years. I was initially hired as an events coordinator, but I mean, back then everyone was really a jack of all trades, so I had a lot of opportunity to try a lot of different things within the marketing department. Um, and I saw an opportunity for us to really do more for our existing customers beyond, uh, like the regional ev- customer events that we were planning at the time.

And because demand generation has always really been the heartbeat of our marketing department at iCIMS, I first started in building out, um, cross-sell and upsell campaigns, and after we're able to, you know, prove our worth, um, I was able to hire another marketer, and eventually build out a small time with, again, primary focus on, um-


... customer cross-sell. And at one point, I was also responsible for building out an inside sales function solely for existing customers, great experience. Definitely not my passion area, or not my long-term career path. And I always appreciated demand generation and the measurable impact that demand generation has on an organization.

But I did want to do more around, um, customer experience and customer engagement. So over the years, um, added new responsibilities like building and launching a voice of the customer, or, um, NPS program. Customer advisory boards, advocacy programs, lifecycle nurture campaigns, retention campaigns. Um, I could probably keep going. [laughs]

But now the team is really divided into, um, two distinct areas. There are a r- references in our customer stories, and then community, which is really an overarching umbrella for things like our customer programs, um, engagement within our online forums and our lifecycle communications. Sorry, that was a lot. [laughs]

[laughs] No, I mean, 13 years is a long time to be on a marketing team, and as you said, things have really changed from us kinda being expected to be that generalist who does have a lot of balls in the air to being a little bit more specialized, so really cool to-


... hear about that journey. I think it makes a ton of sense, too, the way your team has been divided. Because obviously getting those references and customer stories is, in a lotta ways, the backbone of just what customer marketing is to other teams on marketing and kind of what we see, but obviously you still need to engage with customers and having that community angle just makes a ton of sense. Um-


... if you're able to share, what are the main KPIs that your team is responsible for? I'm assuming they fall down those two tracks.

Yeah, yeah. On the, on the references and customer story side of the house, um, we're focused on a few different KPIs. Um, building out our reference pool quarter over quarter, um, is an obvious one. And then keeping our time to fill to about three days or so. And then also we measure the percentage of, um, revenue that our references have contributed to.

For customer stories, um, we look to add two to three new stories per month, and those can be typical customer case studies, they can be video testimonials, or, um, more, I'll call them bite-sized stories that we've repurposed from other content, like speaking engagements.

On the community side of the house, um, some of the KPIs include, um, increasing engagement within our online forums, increasing site traffic to our customer community site. Um, deflecting help desk tickets, um, by hosting ask me anythings or AMAs-


... or office hours within the community. Um, growing enrollment in our two main, um, customer programs quarter over quarter, and then also adding, um, new lifecycle campaigns each quarter as well.

Mm. That's interesting, the support ticket cutdown metric, I think that's so smart. Because a lot of the time, to your point earlier, demand gen is seen as kinda the backbone of marketing, so it's very focused on ... At least for us when we rolled out customer marketing, the focus was, "Let's start a CAB, and then let's start getting referrals and get some kind of upsell program going." But to see where you can help out other teams across the business and kind of cut down on costs and what resources are required over there. That's really, makes a ton of sense.

We're always working to kind of uplevel what the KPIs are for the team, especially coming from a, a, a DG background. Um, so we are going to start benchmarking NPS and customer health scores to see if customers that participate-


... in our programs, attend our events, um, you know, participate in our forums and groups, um, if they have a higher health score, or if we could move the needle. If they were, let's say, a yellow, can we move them to a green health score? And then same thing with NPS. Anecdotally, over the years we were able to say, "Okay, here are all of our customers that attended our regional customer event series, and then here's our general population of customers." And we would tend to see that our customers that attended our events had about 13 point higher NPS score than our customers that didn't. So that told us these events are working, they're a great engagement tool, even if we don't get something as concrete as, let's say, 20 leads came from, you know, this customer event, or, you know-


... n- name your, your KPI for your events. Um, and then everyone on the team, um, reports on their KPIs within a monthly dashboard, and then each quarter we present them within, um, QBRs. And the QBRs all follow the same format. Um, those are, you know, two by twos with, um, highlights, lowlights, results, and forward-looking priorities so that we can always keep a pulse on what's working, what's not working. And if something's not working, what are we gonna do to improve it, um, you know, by the next QBR?

I love the idea of internal QBRs. I'm not super familiar with that, I think it makes so much sense to do internally what you're doing for your own customers, 'cause a lot of teams focus obviously on that external QBR. But I'm curious, do you share those with just the market team, the whole company? How kind of widespread does that work get shared?

Yeah, it depends on the QBR. They are always stronger when we include outside groups. And whether or not that's the same QBR that we-


... present within our own team, or it's a snippet of it, where we might go present to leadership of, let's say, our CSM organization or our account management organization. But those QBRs are so much more powerful when you do share them cross-functionally, because it just helps spark new ideas around how we could be working more efficiently, or maybe they had no idea that this is something that we were working on, and now they have that vis and they can help support it as well.

And on that note of kinda supporting other teams, working cross-functionally, where does customer marketing fit in to the broader marketing team, and kinda what does that structure look like?

Yeah, we've t- [laughs] we've been all over the place, to be honest. Um-


... we originally, like I mentioned before, um, reported under demand generation, because, you know, that was really the primary focus of our marketing department. Um, but as we started to do more and more activations that didn't really align with demand generation goals, we actually moved, um, over to account management, um, where I led our customer marketing team, and a very-


... very early prototype of our, um, customer success managers. I learned a heck of a lot, um, but it really wasn't the right, I'll say reporting structure for me or for the team. Um, when I came back to marketing, I began reporting under product marketing, and had been there every since. And, um, I will say every once in a while the conversation comes back up, um, about whether or not-


... um, you know, we're in the right home [laughs] within, within marketing. Um, I could honestly see a world where we reported in to let's say like a communications team, because we work so closely with them on, um, speaking engagements and quotes. But I do think product marketing is the, the proper home for customer marketing. You,, I've also put other business cases together around, um, why customer marketing belongs in marketing versus, say, um, a customer service or customer success. Um, because I do feel really passionately that at the end of the day, we're marketers and, and we belong in the marketing department, so ...

Yeah, I think I could definitely see why you would prefer to be in the marketing department. Maybe I'm biased, but, um, but having that experience with working so closely with CSMs and account teams must be really helpful, too, because you know exactly how their team is structured, who to go to for what. Where if you had always been in the marketing team, sometimes that can be a bit tricky is figuring out, like who is the champion on the AM team that I could really work with best, and kind of-


... bring programs to life that way.

Absolutely. 100%.

Um, it's pretty rare that I speak with a marketer who's been at the same company for 13 plus years. I'm sure that's, has its ups and downs. Um, I would love to say that I [inaudible 00:09:00] been at the same place for that long, but I've been a little bit of a rollercoaster [laughs] um, myself, so I'd love to hear just a little bit about what you've learned through your different roles. I know you have bounced around a lot and learned a ton of different things, and how has the market team changed in that time as well?

Yeah, um, that's a really, really great question. Um, I definitely reiterate that customer marketing belongs in marketing. That's something that I, I learned [laughs] firsthand, and so I agree with your, with your bias. [laughs] Um, a few years back, I did, I created a business case to move the customer cross-sell components out of customer marketing, um, and into demand generation, the thought process being that, you know, these marketers are, are really experts in, um, managing budgets, lead flows, SDR followups, and so on in our business, which is growing so rapidly and things were changing so quickly that it really helped to have all of the growth, whether it was prospect or customer, um, centralized within demand generation. It's not something I'd recommend necessarily for every organization or an organization that's just starting and building their customer marketing program, but as we kind of evolved all those other engagement pieces, it, it really did make more sense to carve out the DG piece and have that live in its proper home.

Um, and then most recently I put together, um, a business case for scaling company marketing. Um, Forrester, whom I love, has some really great research on customer marketing, and, um, they recommend that head count should be similar in size to a demand generation team, and that about 30% or so of the marketing dudg- uh, budget should really be dedicated to customer growth and, and customer retention.

Um, I'd also say that I learned a lot, um, you know, in building out customer marketing. It really is something that should be iterative, um, and dependent on, on what the goals of your business are. You can't necessarily start with an advisory board if your business isn't interested in customer feedback. So aligning the customer marketing department with the goals of your organization is huge, and, and honestly probably the biggest key to success.

Yeah, I can imagine if you set up a CAB, or a customer advisory board, and then you take their feedback and do nothing with it, that would be a very frustrating experience [laughs] to be in- involved in, so-


... you really have to have buy-in across the org, which makes a ton of sense. Um, going back to that stat on-

Yes, that is my biggest pet peeve.

... Forrester saying around 30% of your budget.


Yeah, then you just have to be the bearer of bad news when you go back next month and meet with them, right? [laughs]


That's no fun. Um, going back to that stat on, from Forrester on 30% of the marketing budget being focused or dedicated to customer growth and retention, I'm really interested just in general in how the customer marketing role is growing, and just evolving so quickly. I don't think this role existed around 10 years ago, at least not from what I saw. So curious what your predictions are for the future of the role and where you see it evolving.

Yeah, I saw a stat, I th- think on LinkedIn, um, last week [laughs] that customer marketers were the third-fastest-growing job title on the site, and that was so exciting, um, to me. Because, you know, to your point before, I may have been doing customer marketing for just about 13 years, but I didn't always have the title of customer marketer, or at the very least, there weren't other organizations or there, Forrester wasn't doing a ton of research on customer marketing. So the fact that Forrester is publishing research on customer marketing is really exciting. And the fact that this is the third-fastest-growing job title on LinkedIn is just, is huge. Um, so, you know, I think we're gonna start seeing customer marketing becoming more and more established at organizations, especially B2B, especially SaaS organizations, where engagement really is, is key to, to keeping your customers.

Um, I also think that customer marketing is gonna start, um, you know, reaching new levels, having a vice-president of customer marketing, something that we really haven't seen in years past, but as the function, um, you know, continues to grow and continues to, um, showcase value back to the business, I think we'll start to see a more elevated leader- layer of leyer- leadership. Um, and then also, you know, more and more technology that's catered to customer marketers, which is so super exciting. I love, um, looking at tech stacks now that include customer marketing-specific technology, that's certainly something that was unheard of, uh, honestly, even just five, six years ago.

Um, and then I, one thing that I, I think is a little bit less of a prediction and, and maybe more of a current challenge, um, is the Great Reshuffle. Um, so many organizations are experiencing, um, you know, turnover and, and are adding new folks onto the business, people are getting new jobs in, in, in the space, and, um, it makes it really difficult to manage things like reference programs and advocacy programs. So I'm hoping that this kinda Great Reshuffle starts to stabilize in the coming months, uh, because we're constantly on the defense trying to identify new advocates, new references. Otherwise, I think we're gonna have to think a little bit more creatively around what success looks like and how we engage folks.

That's a really good point to end on. I feel like a lot of the times I think about turnover and retention as more of like an internal problem, but I can imagine it causes a lot of extra work when you've identified those advocates and then two months later, they're off [laughs] to a new role, they might not be a customer-


... of yours anymore. And that could benefit you, 'cause they could be a great new customer [laughs] at their new role, or they could go into a total different industry, and it almost is kinda starting from scratch again to build out that advisory board. Um, I did mention earlier, and you mentioned tech stacks, I have to ask. Since you're the first customer marketer I've had on the podcast, what does your tech stack look like today on the customer marketing team? I'm sure it's a lot of overlap with the overall marketing team, but just kind of what are you implementing and what does your tech stack look like overall?

Yeah. Um, right now, we're in the process of implementing, um, reference software, RO Innovation. Um, over the years, we've had reference software, we didn't have reference software. Now we're scaling enough where, where we're bringing it back, we're adding, um, dedicated headcount to help manage the program. So I'm hiring, if anyone has [laughs] experience in reference management, come talk to me.

Um, and then last year we had added Influitive, um, to help manage our advocacy program, which if you're not familiar with Influitive, it's kind of, um, a gamified experience where you can have your advocates or your customers access this hub, they complete challenges, they earn points for those challenges, and then they can redeem those points for, for swag, um, licensed swag and the like.

Um, for our community, we leverage Salesforce Communities, um, and then, you know, our MOPS team uses Marketo for email communications, our CSM team uses, um, Gainsight for customer health, and then, you know, we do drink a little bit of our own champagne. Um, we have a tool called video studio. Um, it's, it was created for really talent teams, HR departments, um, for employees to create, um, like brand videos, like a, a day in the life of a customer marketer type video, that they could then showcase on their career page. Um, we use it to record video testimonials as well as u- um, user-generated content for our customers.

I think that, I could see that being very handy for, you mentioned the short-form content that you're always looking to create. We started calling that micro-content internally [laughs] but, um, it's always great to have those for social and even e- some nice-


... short clips to put in an email, so great to always be creating that video content.


Um, you touched on events earlier and I kinda skipped over it, but I know you recently hosted a customer appreciation day, and I'm curious kind of how does that fit in with your overall strategy through the years, that kind of one big thing that you build towards, or just where does that fit in your overall team strategy?

Yeah, um, it was a lot of planning, a lotta fun. Um, we basically created a strategy that ensured that every customer felt the love on customer appreciation day. But kind of much like our, our strategy and our KPIs within customer marketing, as we moved upmarket, um, or considered customers who are, let's say, up for renewal or what we would consider, um, a customer that's more likely to purchase, um, from us in the future, we did add some, um, personalization and some budget to the, to the mix. Um, every customer of ours receives a thank you email from our chief customer officer. We also announced, um, new customer programs. And we recorded a really ... I'm biased for sure, um, but a really [laughs] cool video for our customers that featured our CEO, um, and our employees thanking various customer industries for really just keeping the world moving, especially, you know, during these, these past couple of years.

Um, and we also work with our account management and our CSM organization on templates, um, that they could personalize and send to their customers. Um, and then for our strategic customers or our, our largest customers, um, that were up for renewal, that were most likely to purchase, we did do, um, surprise and delight moments for them, where we sent out some goodies, um, and encouraged the team, um, the account managers of those team to create those videos using our Video Studio project really just thinking them, um, for all that they do and they could then send those, um, via email or add them to their LinkedIn page and tag their customers, um, which was so cool to see. A lot of fun, definitely a differentiator for us, I was following the hashtag all day, and, um, I didn't see too many of our competitors doing anything. So it was, um, it was, it was a good day.

That's really cool. I love to hear that you're working with the AM so closely and getting them active on social to invite people. We're actually kind of dipping our toes in that now, we just hosted a webinar for customers last week for the first time that was very customer- or this week, I should say, that was very customer-focused. And working with the AMs, getting their feedback on messaging has just been really impactful, versus us just kind of rating marketing messaging and putting it out there, when they just know the type of customer that wants to attend these things, that's eager to learn.

Um, on that note, I'm curious. Obviously you work very cross-functionally with the AMs specifically, but if there's any other experiences you've had that maybe didn't go so well that you'd be comfortable sharing on working with a different team outside of marketing, and kind of what did you learn from that not-so-positive [laughs] experience that you could bring back and share with the team?

Yeah, I mean, of course, uh, kind of, it ha- you know, it happens all the time. We do h- we do say fail fast here at iCIMS, so if you're gonna try something, let's try it, and if it's not gonna work out, let's figure that out quickly. [laughs] So I've definitely failed fast before. [laughs] Um, I definitely say getting buy-in from sales leadership and service leadership early and often on new initiatives. Um, sometimes we would hold ourselves accountable to a very specific launch deadline and we'd skip over some of the internal enablement. That has definitely been a mistake. Um, this was the case with our Influitive launch. We really wanted to get a pilot going in time for our marquee event, and we skipped over enablement for our CSM organization in order to hit that deadline. You know, we did call it a pilot, so it wasn't the official launch. But at the end of the day it left the CSM team confused, um, and even worse they were unaware of how to promote the new program.

Um, and so now when we have a new initiative or technology, we work really closely with enablement and with team leadership to get their buy-in before, um, rolling it out to customers. It sounds obvious and simple, but sometimes you forget about, um, the world [laughs] beyond marketing, and we shouldn't, because they are the key to our customers.

Yeah, I think it's easy to say that it's easy, but [laughs] it's alwa- there's so many other moving parts when you're rolling out especially a new tool like Influitive, you probably had checklists running of things you have to get done on the op side, messaging you have to write, and thinking of internal enablement is just usually not top of mind, so ...


Often goes by the wayside, which is a shame. [laughs] But it's one of those things that hopefully it's just one thing that you do once, and then you learn from it. Cool, well thank you so much, Katie. It's been a really fun chat. I do have a couple quick questions just to leave off for our quick fire round, so I'll run through those. Um, first, is there another marketer that you follow that we should go check out? Doesn't have to be customer marketing specifically, but just anyone interested in the marketing space.

Um, good question. I'm kind of going to evade it a little bit. [laughs] Um, instead of naming one specific person, I wanna give a shout-out to some of the customer marketing-specific communities, um, that have been popping up. Because like I said before, this didn't exist just five years ago, so the fact that there's more and more customer marketing communities is exciting. Um, so shout-out to Product Marketing Alliance. Um, they recently launched customer marketing-specific community certification. But almost more valuable, they, um, launched a Slack community that they helped curate. So I love the Slack community, I check in there to help answer other customer marketers' questions or to, um, bounce ideas around. I think these Slack communities are so powerful and so helpful, um, so definitely recommend finding and following them.

That's a really good one. I know our audience loves communities, and I, I love sl- Slack communities, I'm probably in too many, but [laughs] I'll add that one ...


To the list. Um, and what's an under the radar channel, or could be a tactic, that your team is really loving right now?

I think if you are a customer marketer or you wanna start dabbling [laughs] in customer marketing, um, thinking about where your customers are, where your customers live, um, is a tactic that I l- I love to, um, consider. So over the years we've worked really closely with our, um, development teams, and we've built out in platform messaging, we've built out in platform advertising, um, real estate on our customers' login pages that we can leverage for messaging and, and the like. Um, the outlets, after the [inaudible 00:22:40] work, are-


... are free for us to advertise on, and we're able to hit a really large population, um, of our customers with our messages. So home-grown real estate, where your customers are, is definitely one of my favorite tactics, especially for customer marketers. Oh, and, um, also awards programs. So a few years back we launched our Innovator Awards program, which highlights about, um, 25 leaders within the talent acquisition space. And as a part of that nomination process, we're basically using a survey that helps us replicate questions that we would normally ask in a customer case study.

So after we read through all the submissions, we select our winners, we then take those stories and we turn them into an ebook, which our demand generation teams use. Um, our customers get the recognition that they deserve, and we've captured between 20 or so case studies that can be showcased in, um, demand generation campaigns, and we also have a really solid pool of great stories, um, to engage as speakers for our, um, our annual, you know, marquee event. So that's been, um, kind of a no-brainer, but y- we did have to put some thought into it to, to make it successful.

I love that, yeah. S- I often see people doing award programs as kind of a one-off. They kind of do it once a year then don't really revisit it. But I'm all about recycling content where you can, so-


... that's a really great way to do it.


Great. And last question, where can we go to find more about you and follow any of your content that you are putting out into the world?

Yeah, I mean, I am kind of a bad marketer in that I'm a little bit more of a lurker than, um, let's say an influencer. [laughs] Um, but I'm on LinkedIn, um, for sure, and, um, that Customer Marketing Alliance slack channel, um, I'm sure, Tara, I can, I can send that to you and you can include it in the notes if, if folks wanna join.

Great, we'll definitely include that link, and I'm sure a lot of people will be interested in checking that out. Like we've been saying this whole time, customer marketing is just growing, building up a lotta momentum, so that's been really exciting to see, so I'll link that community if anyone wants to check that out. Great, thank you so much Katie for your time, really appreciate you joining us today.

Thanks, Tara. Thank you so much for having me, it was great talking about customer marketing.

Great. And thank you everyone for listening. We'll be back in two weeks with our next episode. 

Tara Robertson
Katie Meeker
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Demand Gen Chat is a Chili Piper podcast hosted by Tara Robertson. Join us as we sit down with B2B marketing leaders to hear about the latest tactics and campaigns that are driving pipeline and revenue.
If you’re looking for tactical ways to improve your marketing, this podcast is for you!
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