Leela Srinivasan is the CMO at SurveyMonkey, a Forbes Top 50 CMO, and previously spent time at Lever, OpenTable, LinkedIn, and Bain. She sat down with DG live at SaaStr Annual 2019 to talk about her career and her seven tips for using customer feedback to build rapid fans and make more money.
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Dave Gerhardt: Hey everybody, it’s DG back for another episode of the Swipe File, this time live from SaaStr 2019. We went there. It was amazing. And, this is my interview with the CMO of SurveyMonkey, Leela Srinivasan.
Leela, thank you for doing this. By the way, I did an interview earlier. We interview with Dan Rogers. He’s the CMO of ServiceNow, and Gonzalo told me that I called him Todd. I didn’t call him Todd. So, did I? Did you find it?
Gonzalo Veloz: Not Todd. Tad.
DG: I didn’t call him-
Leela Srinivasan: You know we’ll be able to watch [crosstalk 00:00:37].
DG: So, if I start calling you like Lola or Lauren, just let it slide.
Leela: I answer to many things.
DG: Oh, my daughter must be going to bed. I’ll call her back in two minutes. Yeah, it’s best sign. Okay, so we’re here at SaaStr. Fun fact, you haven’t actually given your talk yet.
Leela: No, I’ve not.
DG: I’m good friends with your PR team. That’s not true at all. I emailed them, I said, can I have the seven things that you’re going to talk about because I want to talk about them. So first, quick background on you, by the way. You’re a Forbes Top 50 CMO. That’s pretty cool.
Leela: Thank you.
DG: It’s pretty cool. You can be humble, but I’ll just say it. Okay. Previously at Lever. Sarah Nahm was on this podcast.
Leela: Love Sarah.
DG: Sarah is amazing.
Leela: She is awesome.
DG: Blew us away. I’m sure we have other stories. OpenTable, LinkedIn, Bain and Business Wire. I’m only saying Business Wire because shout out all my PR people out there. I started off in PR, and have put endless amounts of money into Business Wire.
Leela: Very good. I’m glad to hear that.
DG: It has nothing to do-
Leela: PR is super important.
DG: It is super important. Okay. So, your talk at SaaStr is Lessons from SurveyMonkey: Seven Tips for Using Customer Feedback to Build Rabid Fans and Make More Money. And, I thought it’d be fun to talk about that because you described yourself as a shameless customer groupie.
Leela: It’s true. I cannot lie.
DG: I think it’s such a cliche thing for a marketer to be like, I love customers, but feels like you really live this, in going through your talk and just hearing some other stuff you said. Customer marketing is actually your best demand gen channel?
Leela: Absolutely. I don’t know when this started, possibly it’s LinkedIn. I find myself getting really wrapped up in the customer, their journey, their pain points, their challenges. And, I was in the position when I first arrived there, this was back in 2010, so Linkedin was about 500 people. I worked for the talent solutions business, which was like the rocket ship, and had the responsibility of building out our first customer advisory councils, which really were about listening to customers, understanding their feedback, figuring out what to do with that, taking action. Also, running our NPS surveys, that sort of thing.
And so, I find myself readily empathizing with the customer, and the more I could understand their world, the more I could actually also take data back to the rest of the management team and say, hey, here’s what’s going on in our customer base, the more value I produced in both directions. And, my role there also put me in a position to run our global talent connect conference, which really was the showcase of customers and all the great things they were doing with our technology, and outside side of it as well. But, it became this sort of festival for recruiters.
DG: Can you dive into the customer advisory board thing? Because it’s something that I’ve heard a lot of companies talk about. We’re starting to form one now. I would love to know when’s the right time to do it? How do you do it? Because I’ve seen it get done, and then it just becomes kind of like this token group of five customers that you send early stuff to. How should it actually play out?
Leela: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, I’ve set up or run advisory council type things both at LinkedIn, OpenTable, Lever. And, we’re actually about to spin some up at at SurveyMonkey. And, in each case it’s been a little bit different. So, when I go back to LinkedIn days, we were hungry for more feedback from customers to feed into the product roadmap basically. And, I approached that one hand in hand with my director of product, and product was equally involved I would say in making that happen because it was as much about getting that feedback to influence the roadmap, as it was about building advocates and champions and so forth. When I was at OpenTable, we were in a very different situation. We were polarizing, I would say, in the restaurant industry for a variety of reasons. I was brought in to run restaurant marketing, and we thought about the advisory groups as a way to bring us closer to customers and get them on site so that we could help understand them, but also help position ourselves successfully given pricing moves that we’re making and a few other things.
DG: Because they felt like they had to use OpenTable? Because if it was polarizing, why would a customer want to go hang out with you?
Leela: So, OpenTable had a long sort of history of … their business model is that restaurants pay a certain fee per se to diner. The pricing had been the same for years, and in that period of course, they were founded in 98, and this is 2014, 2015. The way that the world makes restaurant reservations had transformed and everybody was doing it online. So, restaurants were not at peace with what they saw as OpenTable, sort of monetizing their diners. But, it was really the way of the world. Individuals were more and more saying, you know what, I only want to book what I can book easily online. So, it was a little bit of tension and we used the advisory councils to diffuse that tension.
At Lever, so I joined Lever Series A, and about 40 employees. When I left, we were Series C and about 117. When we started advisory councils, it was less about customer feedback to influence product, although of course we did take that feedback for that reason. Lever, I don’t know how much you know about Lever, but very design thinking driven. And so, our product and design teams spent huge amounts of time with customers already. We already had that input. And so, I’d say that the advisory councils were more about fine tuning the ideas, but really it was about helping understand how [inaudible] to market effectively. And, what I was fortunate to do there was build a couple of couple of legions of really fierce champions for us who felt very invested in our success. And so, it’s really about the marketing partnership, was the chief benefit.
DG: It’s almost like if you go to a new company, it’s almost like you assess how close a marketing org is to their customers. In the case of Lever, oh, the product team is very close to them so is there stuff we can get from them? In the case of OpenTable, we’re not. So, we need to create a new group and-
Leela: Yeah. I mean, it really is about proximity to customer, and if customer feedback is already coursing through the veins of your organization, then there are different reasons to bring them in aside from product [crosstalk 00:06:16].
DG: Do you have an opinion on the role of customer marketing? In the sense of I’ve seen some orgs where customer marketing is just advocates, influencers, where some other roles it’s about upgrades and cross sell. Does a customer marketing team need to have a revenue goal?
Leela: I think it depends on the business model. Certain organizations where I’ve worked, over time, there was more revenue potential in the existing base then there is potentially outside of that. And so, I do think that revenue goals are important in that situation. But, to me, if you don’t have that drum beat of advocacy, and if you aren’t really building win-win relationships with customers, if all you’re doing is hawking product or hawking the next thing, I think it falls pretty flat.
DG: Yeah. I could talk to you about marketing forever. I want to get your seven things. If you hear puppies in the background, they do have puppies at SaaStr.
DG: So yeah.
Leela: I’m a cat person.
DG: That is not … you’re a cat person.
DG: Interesting. My throat is a little itchy. I could tell. I’m just kidding.
Leela: I’ll sit over here.
DG: This is a huge rip. I’m a dog person. My wife and my daughter are obsessed with kittens, and so my wife, she looks at me and she’s like, “We’re getting kittens, aren’t we?” And, I’m like-
Leela: Well, you there’s Zyrtec and things like that.
DG: Yeah. I know, I understand. I understand. Okay. So, I’m gonna read you the seven. I picked out three that were my favorite, and I want to dive in on those. Okay. So, number one, use feedback to inform your biggest messaging decisions. Number two, think of customer feedback as the ultimate in data enrichment. Number three, leverage customer feedback for surprise and delight. Four, turn feedback into attention getting lead generating content. Five, inform pricing and packaging. Six, use feedback to create a virtuous customer acquisition cycle. And seven, use feedback to create devoted internal fans. Okay. I picked three. Let’s dive into them. The first one, my favorite, use feedback to inform your biggest messaging decisions.
Leela: It seems so obvious, and yet, so often marketers don’t pause and do this, so there’s no excuse in this day and age for launching a campaign, or launching a product with a new name, and finding that it falls flat or it backfires.
DG: Oftentimes, you don’t even have to do the research. Those things are already out there via social media, via Amazon reviews, via [inaudible] via Quora. I bet you could go find a million questions people have asked on Quora about how to use SurveyMonkey to blah. We at Drift, we call it, this is not a real scientific name. We say, Their Words, which is like, did you use their words? Either you had somebody tell you that, or you went out and saw it. All of the best messaging, any good line of copy we’ve written, has not come from us. A customer has said it.
Leela: That’s great. So, I think where I’ve seen kind of the surveying and the research piece come in handy is, first of all, for the fine tuning of the words, right? So, I agree you want to be getting customer feedback qualitatively to feed into the potential messaging. And then, I think secondly, making sure you land with confidence.
DG: So, your approach might be like marketing team works on messaging, positioning. You whittle it down to, okay, we think it’s going to be these five things. Then you go survey.
Leela: Yes. Actually, so a couple of things. So yes, the first of all there’s the brainstorm with the marketing team, product might be in there, whoever it is. The way we’ve done it before is you get to your, it could be four to eight different options, and then you take those selectively to qualitative research. So, do conversations with customers. So, get the quality to feed back. To your point, you want customers reacting to the statement on the slide and going, oh, that word is weird, or what do you mean by that? Or, ew, don’t say scalable. That was actually a real story from back in the LinkedIn days.
DG: Love that.
Leela: And then, you whittle it down to your three or four, and you can run quant research against that to have real confidence that the words are going to resonate by different segments as well. So, that’s the other thing is the qualitative input is important, but you can’t over index on it.
DG: So, whether you have lots of customers and no data, there’s always a way to start this, to figure it out.
Leela: Yeah, absolutely.
DG: Go talk to three people.
Leela: For what it’s worth, we offer a little known service called SurveyMonkey Audience-
Leela: … which is basically you can buy panel relatively inexpensively and run research in hours.
DG: Amazing. SurveyMonkey Audience, is that what it’s called?
DG: Audience. Okay. Other one I loved out of this was leverage customer feedback for surprise and delight.
Leela: Oh yes.
DG: Yes. How do you do this? Because I think surprise and delight, everybody talks about it. I want to know what’s the engine, what’s the machine inside of the SurveyMonkey marketing team where you actually act on it?
Leela: Well, the engine literally is your ear because we talk about B2B marketing. But really, it’s B2H.
Leela: It’s business to human.
DG: There is no B2C, there is no B2P.
Leela: No. So, if you embrace the fact that you are literally building relationships and conversations with humans, what I find to be successful in all the places I’ve worked is listening with a keen ear to the nuggets or the specific detail that, well, I’m putting that in my back pocket or somewhere in my memory recesses so I can surprise and delight later. One company I worked for, so we actually used SurveyMonkey for our NPS surveys, and we would use the integration with Slack to pump them into a private channel that I monitored with our head of success and customer ops team.
DG: We did that exact thing. Early days of Drift. And, what we would do is, this is the system for it, pump the NPS responses into Slack. And then, if it was a promoter, somebody would mark it with an emoji reaction, and that meant that they sent them a hat and a tee shirt in the mail.
Leela: Yes. Okay. So, that’s exactly the kind of thinking. What we would do in this channel though is we would look at those nines and tens, or any sort of color commentary that we could do something interesting with. So, literally, one time a customer give us a nine or a ten, we had the question of what else can we do? Anything else we can do? And, the answer was, nah, unless you want to send me ice cream.
Leela: So, you know what we did, right?
DG: Send him ice cream.
Leela: We sent ice cream to Toronto.
DG: Of course.
Leela: And, it was the summertime and they blew up on Twitter. And, they were already a fan, but it took that relationship to the next level, and we knew we had sort of a fan for life at that point.
DG: And, you have a fan for life. And, that’s the stuff you can’t put a price on, is that person then on Instagram and Twitter taking a picture. Thank you so much, at SurveyMonkey. How do you quantify that? You can’t. Love that. Surprise and delight. A good surprise and delight is always good. Right?
Leela: I hadn’t thought of a bad surprise.
DG: So, I’ll show you this.
Leela: Surprise and dismay.
DG: So David, who’s the CEO of Drift, and he’s not here at SaaStr this year. Somebody made a bobblehead of him-
Leela: That’s so cool.
DG: … and hand delivered it to me. So, we’ll see if I get stopped at security.
Leela: That is special. He’s watching me now.
DG: We’ll turn it this way. We’re going to turn it this way. Okay. One of the other things I liked from this list, I liked them all because it’s great. Turn feedback into attention getting lead generating content.
Leela: Oh, yes.
DG: How does that play out? Give me some examples.
Leela: Oh, my goodness. Right, so this one, again, I think every company I’ve worked at, including SurveyMonkey, what is the angle that you can take to the outside world in your content that combines something unique about you, and something that’s relevant and timely and everything else. And so, generally speaking, I think people care about two types of content. So, customers care about, number one, content that reflects feedback. Their peers. What their peers are thinking. The second type of sort of feedback driven content is, what their end user is thinking.
So, on the first category of customers and what other customers are thinking, we’re constantly running survey on what marketers think at SurveyMonkey, of course. When I was at LinkedIn, we used to run something called global recruiting trends. And, this started back in 2009 or `10. They’re still running it today, albeit with mixing up the formula a little bit. And, people would love that content because they wanted to know if they were thinking about the right things as they looked ahead and to the future of the profession, right? So, that was kind of the flavor on number one.
DG: And, then that becomes something that you could run every quarter. Every year. It’s a benchmark. Then you build up this demand for it. People want it. They know every June you’re going to publish the blah, right?
Leela: That’s right. And, it feeds all of your channels, right? So, you’ve got the data downloadable content, you run it in webinars, it makes its way on stage at presentations, et cetera, et cetera. Right? The other flavor, as a said, is sort of end user feedback. So, an example, from this week actually, HackerRank who have used SurveyMonkey to run this developer skills report a couple of years running, just published their 2019 version, and its feedback from 71,000 developers globally about the skills that they have and the skills they’re looking to build. So, for any organization that is recruiting tech talent, or for the developers themselves, really, I mean, it’s just essential reading.
Is that through them or is that through SurveyMonkey Audience, or they have an audience of developers.
Leela: They have an audience of developers.
Leela: Right? So, they didn’t need us to find the panel-
DG: So, you’re just tapping into people you already have-
Leela: That’s right.
DG: … saying, hey, want to be a part of this? And, of course. I’m a marketer. If you reached out to me about the future of marketing, I want to tell you my opinion.
Leela: Right. And then, you want to know whether your opinion lines up with other people’s.
DG: See where that ranks.
Leela: Yeah, exactly.
DG: Any of these from this list that you liked that I didn’t call out?
Leela: I have stories for all of them, of course. I think one I’ll call it because I’ve seen marketers that think about pricing too late, let’s just say, or the pricing test. And, I’m good friends with some of the folks that Simon Kucher and Partners, who I think are the preeminent pricing firm out there. And, their contention is that we just think about that too late.
And so, in a couple of places, I’ve used customer feedback basically as a really important input into how we’re thinking about packaging and pricing. So, designing packages from scratch based on individual’s willingness to pay for certain features, to running qualitative research with decision makers and having them react in real time to different price points using Van Westendorp and all these other conventions to just try and make sure we have as much input as possible on that final price. Because you can really kind of shoot yourself in the foot if you go to market with something that doesn’t have quite the right feature set in place that people will pay for, or that it’s just priced incorrectly.
DG: You have to work with somebody who really knows how to run those things. Right?
Leela: Ideally. I mean, I will say I’ve done it the paying for the consultant way.
Leela: And, I’ve done it the scrappy way. So, the paying for consultants way, and I really do think if you think about pricing and the lever it offers on your business, it is worth doing if you can afford it. Haven’t always been able to afford it. So, the shortcut is to buy the book Monetizing Innovation by Madhavan, who actually works at SKP. And, at a prior company, I literally bought that book and then implemented, I think it was chapter four, I forget-
DG: It’s great. It’s good when a book is actually tactical and you can say-
Leela: It’s like, here are the seven things you need to do. Right? And, we did them and we actually landed in a great spot, pricing standpoint.
DG: Okay. I want to shift over this, a couple more questions before you wrap up. You got to get ready for the big stage.
Leela: I do.
DG: This is the smallish stage. Shifting to enterprise.
DG: So, this something that you’ve been working on and have done recently. SurveyMonkey, strong brand, lot of awareness among, what we would call the SMB, very small businesses, whatever. How did you shift marketing to make the shift to enterprise? Unpack that a little bit.
Leela: Well, it’s very much a shift that’s in motion and it was one of the things that drew me to the company 10 months ago. So, I had used SurveyMonkey in numerous ways for customer research, for CSAT and NPS surveys, for competitive intel, for internal surveys, you name it. And, despite having this affinity for the product, I had no idea just how deep the product portfolio ran, and all the ways in which we were actually solving business challenges for large companies at scale in a way that I think aligns with what people want from technology today, which is the combination of consumer grade tech, which is secure, which has the right access controls in place, which makes sure the data is shared with the people who should have access to it, that makes sure that your data doesn’t leave the building when your employees do sort of thing.
DG: It’s an interesting challenge from a marketing perspective though, because I get why SurveyMonkey didn’t focus on enterprise. Because if you have this amazingly flexible product, it can be really hard to say, well, what is your value? What is your value prop? Right? You can’t be everything to everyone. So, it seems like it just is the right time in the company to do that.
Leela: Yeah, I mean a couple of things. Number one, the solutions that we developed and we have, for example, a solution called SurveyMonkey CX, which helps organizations really run a tight NPS program, SurveyMonkey Engage for employee engagement, and so forth. These are purpose built solutions that we basically arrived at through customer feedback. So, you can think of usage of the platform as a form of feedback, right? People are voting with the templates that they’re choosing, as it were. And so, we find ourselves being pushed by our customers in the direction of more robust solutions that really cater to their enterprise needs. So, it’s a combination of right time for us, but also demand from the market for us to cater to that.
DG: Everybody listening to this is mostly in marketing, right? Everybody, mostly. Classic. Take me into the SurveyMonkey marketing team. How do you actually go and make this shift? Is there an enterprise lead funnel that’s different than the main site? You have a enterprise website, other enterprise reps. What was all this stuff that you needed to build out to support this?
Leela: Yes, yes, and yes. So, my hiring was preceded by the hiring of our phenomenal Chief Sales Officer, John Schoenstein and-
DG: Hi John.
Leela: … he’s my guy. He’s amazing. So, and by the way, we could also have another podcast on sales and marketing because-
DG: Oh, totally.
Leela: … at SurveyMonkey we’re like this. So, we’re very serious about building out the team to support this motion, right? So, it is about having the right sales organization in place. I hired a Senior Director of Demand Gen, Jack Foster, last summer. Hi Jack. And, she’s really been instrumental in making sure we put all of the right infrastructure in place
DG: But, her mission is to generate leads for this enterprise business. There’s another funnel where people are going to the website signing up, and she’s not touching those leads or seeing those leads-
Leela: So, what’s interesting, and this is one of the things that I think gives us an interesting advantage in the market. You think about the SurveyMonkey user base, right? We have 16 million active users in 190 countries and territories, 600,000 paying customers from 300,000 organizational domains. And, of those, only about 3,200 today are on an enterprise agreement. So, clearly there’s a lot of potential in our base for companies that are using SurveyMonkey in kind of a self serve way to be exposed to and understand how it can benefit them.
DG: Got it.
Leela: So, there’s a lot to be done. We have a system that we call Customer 360 which is about looking across that base and understanding who might be in the right time, right need and so forth to a have a conversation.
DG: Totally. So, it’s a different marketing challenge. Her mission is not necessarily to generate net new leads, but it’s existing base people who already know you. How can you service-
Leela: Yeah, it’s a combination of both. I mean, it’s very rare that we’ll walk into an enterprise discussion at an organization that doesn’t use SurveyMonkey at all, right? I mean, typically there are hundreds, if not thousands, of users.
DG: Somebody in the company is using it.
Leela: That’s right. But, they haven’t knitted that together in a way that really unlocks the power of feedback, and that’s where we come in.
DG: Have you had to fight any cultural battles on enterprise because it’s definitely a different motion, different sales and marketing motion?
Leela: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think the tension for us, and this is part of what we’re working on this year, right? We really need to get that message out there that, yes, we have this really elegant, easy to use, and powerful self serve tool, but we are so much more than that. And so, it’s about extending this popular brand into this kind of enterprise direction. And, it does throw up some interesting challenges because if you think about the average enterprise brand, right, stuffy, boring. Trying to figure out how to be more approachable, or more consumer like, right-
DG: That’s why I’m asking because it’s like SurveyMonkey, cool hip brand. I think the mistake a lot of people make is now we have to be enterprise SurveyMonkey. Where it’s like I’m an enterprise buyer, you’re an enterprise, like we’re all people.
Leela: We’re back to that B2H thing, yeah. That’s exactly right. So, we are going to have to strike the right balance and make sure that we don’t lose that goodness, but we help people understand the growth and the innovation that companies are driving by using SurveyMonkey. The difference that we make, basically like the ROI that they can see and how it’s really helping transform organizations. So, it’s really more about making sure we get the message out about the impact that customers are able to drive.
DG: Okay. Let’s wrap up with this. I wanted to talk to you about eating your own dog food, but you-
Leela: Shh. No, no, no.
DG: … told me before that it’s eating from your own restaurant, which sounds much better.
Leela: Wouldn’t you rather?
DG: That is a marketer’s answer, which I love right there.
Leela: Well, I think that the thing is … I don’t know where dog [crosstalk]
DG: I don’t want to eat dog food. I don’t want to eat my own dog food. No way.
Leela: And then, the other end of the spectrum is drinking your own champagne, which sounds a bit opulent. My CFO-
Leela: … wouldn’t like that.
DG: No, not during the day. No.
Leela: Anytime it gets me.
Leela: But so, the middle ground for me is eating in your own restaurant because hopefully-
DG: That’s good.
Leela: … are building products and services and bringing those to market that are actually appetizing.
DG: We felt this firsthand at Drift is using our own product to run our own business means you go to talk to customers and you actually have … I guess the definition of the word empathy is, it’s not fake. It’s real. We’re real empathy. Right. Which is like, oh my God-
Leela: First person empathy.
DG: First person. I’ve had that bug too. Oh, I wonder why I couldn’t do that. Oh, it is amazing when you do that. If all your customers went away tomorrow, which wouldn’t be great obviously, but you could go and create content and create your own stuff because you’re feeling it. You’re learning it firsthand. I’ve had this thought a bunch recently which is I would be no good at a company in a marketing role if I couldn’t actually touch and use the product. I’m talking about if I’m at Tesla, I better own a Tesla and drive one. If I’m at SurveyMonkey, I better have a side project where I’m using the service.
Leela: And, that’s actually my dirty little secret in terms of marketing success, right? So, at LinkedIn-
Leela: … we’ve all been a candidate. I was a huge LinkedIn user before I joined the organization.
DG: OpenTable, you’re a consumer.
Leela: Diner. Right. Lever, hiring manager, and Sarah was on talking about collaborative hiring, and it’s really important for hiring managers to be involved in the process. And now, here we are at SurveyMonkey and it’s like the ultimate meta job because, when you look at tech validate SurveyMonkey Audience, or it’s an enterprise service platform, right? I mean, these are all tools that I can use on a daily basis to add value to my organization.
DG: Totally. And, there’s a million things I could talk to you about. Thank you for doing this-
Leela: Thank you so much for having me.
DG: … on a busy day. Good luck with your SaaStr talk it. This will go out after, so hopefully there will be lots of love for you on, on Twitter. Cool.
Leela: Thank you, Dave.
DG: All right. Thank you.
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