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Customer Marketing In The Subscription Economy
January 7, 2016
Customer Marketing In The Subscription Economy

The rise of the subscription economy has disrupted some of the most traditional B2B markets and will continue to do so in 2016.

Marketers, who are often credited for the disruption they create, are also experiencing an impact. As a career marketer who joined a software start-up in 2015 as the head of Customer Success, I’m acutely aware of how the shift to the cloud has impacted the way companies need to be marketing to their partners and end-customers. OpenView Labs, the content hub for OpenView Venture Partners, did a tremendous job of explaining the impact on customer marketing. They describe it as the shrinking role of SaaS marketing.

While the article focuses on the SaaS sector, the disruption it mentions will begin to change how marketers of any subscription-based product or service communicate with their customers. No longer can marketing simply focus on generating demand, nurturing prospects and handing off marketing qualified leads to their sales counterparts.

Customer Marketing For SaaS

In SaaS, the type of subscription offering will influence the role marketing takes in continuing to engage prospects vs. leads vs. freemium users vs. paid users. For example, customers of an enterprise SaaS offering that has no freemium product, longer implementation cycles and longer time-to-value (TtV) will still benefit from thought-leadership and other content that speaks to the benefits they will eventually derive from the software.

A user of a lighter SaaS application with a free-trial or freemium version of the product would probably benefit more from nurture campaigns with “Did you know?” or “How to” communications which help guide them on more successful use of the product.

Customer Marketing For Traditional Products

Compared to SaaS models, more traditional markets have a much bigger challenge ahead. Careful attention needs to be given to the communications customers receive. Too often, I’ve seen B2B companies communicate to their customers the same way they communicate to prospects. The information is highly promotional and definitely doesn’t account for the recipients’ shift in status from buyer to owner.

Some companies make modest attempts to set their customer communications apart by sending out periodic company newsletters. Their goal is to maintain relationships between purchases, but the marketing is typically full of ‘nice to know’ information instead of ‘need to know’ information.

Who Owns Customer Marketing?

Another question that I’ve found being raised by the emerging customer success sector is regarding ownership of those post-sale ‘customer marketing’ responsibilities. Some organizations are putting the strategy and execution in the hands of customer success, while others keep it with marketing. Still others have dedicated customer success marketers within their marketing departments.

My view is that companies should definitely leverage the in-depth customer understanding that customer success teams possess in order to enhance communications for SaaS and traditional markets alike. However, I do not believe teams outside of marketing should directly own and operate the marketing tools that deliver those communications. I also don’t think new systems should be put in place exclusively for customer marketing. There is already too much fragmentation of technology and systems in sales and marketing departments.

The best approach is for product and customer success teams to help develop and direct customer marketing strategies. The execution should still be centralized within the marketing department to help maintain and control marketing touch points from one place. Accountability to results can be shared by both groups.

Regardless of the type of product, or where the marketing originates, effective customer marketing needs to continue to drive those owners of your solutions back to the product so that they can achieve the desired outcome that drove the original purchase.

Ali Spiric