Managing Customer Engagement Marketing

Lisa Pratt is the Vice President of Customer Engagement Marketing at UKG where she leads a team responsible for customer marketing, customer intelligence, advocacy, and community for more than 20,000 customers. In this guide, she explains how customer marketing can make customer retention and expansion efforts more effective at scale, and describes how to manage the function.

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Questions covered in this guide

What is customer engagement marketing?

Post-sale activities to engage customers – marketing activities meant to make sure customers are getting the most value they can from the solution they purchased. This leads to happy customers that remain customers for a long time. This includes things like: ensuring customers take advantage of tools and resources, are prepared for new product releases and enhancement, are aware of webinars and learning opportunities, and make connections to other customers. 

It’s not about new leads – customer engagement is about revenue protection. Customer engagement should do everything it can from a digital perspective to protect revenue by helping customers to be successful with their solution, as well as enabling the high-touch folks so they can focus on taking care of the customers and the issues that truly need that extra attention. A lot of the things we do are trying to drive ease and value for our existing customers because we know that those are the kinds of things that create a happy customer, and happy customers are more likely to stay, they’re more likely to buy more, and they’re more likely to be less price-sensitive.

Why is it worth investing in customer engagement marketing?

With a subscription model, customers expect you to drive value – software used to be purchased as a product, but now it’s a service. The financial model changes – it used to be you’d get all your money upfront, but now it dribbles in overtime. That means that you need to do more to ensure retention. You’ve got to do whatever you can to make your product and service invaluable to the customer.

Save costs by serving customers digitally – drive customers to the community instead of starting a support case, offer tips and tricks webinars, make it easy for them to get a knowledge base and blog access. It’s expensive if your customers always have to call support for help and customers would prefer that their provider empowers them with options for how to get help.

Scale the high-touch customer success experience – automate and digitize the easy stuff so that you can optimize the time spent on higher-value customers. Let’s use release readiness as an example. Your product is coming out with a whole bunch of new features and functions. There’s a certain amount of, “let’s generate excitement for everybody, let’s make sure that everybody’s pointed to the resources that everybody’s going to need.” It’s too expensive for our CS team to call every customer, so if we can kind of be the first line of defense to make sure that all customers have access to these helpful materials, then our customer success managers can just follow up with the customers that we know need more hand-holding or on anything that’s more complex. 

What are the different pieces that make up a customer engagement capability?

Voice of the customer – listen to the customer in a combination of qualitative and more quantitative ways (e.g. surveys), then take action and report back to the customer on the changes that were implemented. It can be helpful to let your customers know what changes were implemented once a quarter.  Share the Voice of Customer results across the organization so everyone knows where the customer experience is good or not so good.

Customer intelligence or customer insight – you can’t only depend on our customers to tell you about their experience, so you should be mining your own data and seeing what you know about your customers. Generate your own customer insight based on analyzing operational and usage data and noticing trends. Also, keep an eye on where your customers are growing and which ones are churning. For the ones that are churning, you’ll want to be able to dive in and see some of the reasons for that. 

Helping customers make connections – this includes building community on and offline, including conducting user groups (live events). Make their lives easier by building a robust community, facilitating discussion in private and public groups, and answering their questions and making announcements there. 

Customer marketing and communication – focus on “what is the content that our customers need and how do we want to say it creatively?” This can include launch announcements, release readiness, checklists, tips and tricks, milestone celebration, but also unsexy stuff, like compliance announcements.  We use email, podcasts, blogs, Community, and in product communication techniques to reach customers where they are. Also, we remind customers that we are thinking about them all the time – not just when we want to sell them something.  Creating Wow moments at scale is a key part of Customer Marketing.  Customer engagement is also in charge of figuring out how to tailor the messages to different personas.

Enabling customer success – we’re constantly in touch with our customer success managers and support team members. We ask them, “what are you hearing and seeing? What can we do to help deflect some of this for you? What can we do to provide additional materials so that you can have a more successful interaction?” When we put together an engagement marketing campaign, we’ll give a version to customer success so they can use it differently with their customers. Customer Success to take the general content and pull out the pieces that are specific to a particular customer or group of customers so they can have a more detailed conversation on the most relevant parts. 

Advocacy – create a pool of fans and happy customers by driving ease and value. This includes referral program management, but can be much more than that such as submitting reviews on peer to peer review sites, doing case studies and speaking engagements. Vocally happy customers are valuable, so create extra experiences for them through member-only events and meetings so they are more likely to want to help you. 

Where does customer engagement sit within the organization? 

Marketing – If you want more creativity and more “delighter” customer experiences for customers and if you want more focus on engaging at scale, it makes sense to have customer engagement in Marketing. If it sits in marketing, marketing is much more likely to hold customer events and do advocacy. 

Customer success – Another option in organizations with strong customer success leadership, customer engagement might be a tool to scale the reach of CSMs. Under that setup, it might do more digital optimization and CS enablement.

It can work equally well sitting in either function – it depends on which items on the list of capabilities are most important to you and how established the different functions are. It also depends on how much clout either of the departments have, especially if one is much established than the other. 

How does customer engagement look different for self-serve products vs. enterprise products? 

If you have a self-serve product, invest in engagement earlier and be more creative – you have to meet customers where they are, and that could mean in the product, in the community, or through beefing up your learning center. At this price point, you’ll likely utilize more marketing techniques, and the function might report to marketing. 

If you sell a  “personal touch” CS experience, give leverage to CSMs – customers should be paying more for the product, and part of what they’re paying for is service experience. So you can have a bigger CS team and customer engagement can provide more customer enablement.

When does it make sense to build out a customer engagement marketing function? 

When you move from 1:1 to 1:many customer communication – you need someone to come in and look at the situation programmatically and at scale. You need to take advantage of whatever system that you’re using for your marketing automation.

What are the most important pieces to start early (even before you hire a full-time person)? 

Whoever is owning it needs to have a “customer hat” on, especially if they’re a marketer – and they need to be thinking of the customer experience. You need to have somebody who is willing to say, “we’re doing this for the sake of the customer experience, not for the sake of generating a lead.” Someone’s going to have to understand the value of doing both because they’re both important. Marketing has traditionally been about generating leads for sales, so when you’re developing customer engagement marketing, you need to put on your long-term thinking hat and know that success looks very different than it does for the rest of Marketing.

When you make your first dedicated customer engagement hire, what should you look for (qualities, backgrounds)? 

There is such a thing now as a customer experience marketer – this field wasn’t a “thing” for a long time. Ideally, you’d hire a marketing employee with customer communications experience.

Look at other campaign-based marketing functions – someone who has done demand generation programs in the past and is able to think about the customer experience.

As the team scales, what type of sub-specialties do you hire for within customer engagement? 

Start with communications people – the bulk of the work initially will be in generating content pieces and running scalable campaigns to help customers be successful with their purchased solutions. 

Take over advocacy (might have started organically in sales) – references and customer stories are so important. Getting customer stories can happen early, but getting customers to turn into “raving fans” happens much later; it’s an evolution. Sometimes sales will send over the information for happy customers for your team to talk to and get their story from. 

Later on, consider user group coordinators – true user group events come later because they take a lot of work. You need someone to event plan (get a venue, organize pertinent speakers, coordinate attendees and logistics).

What tech tools make customer engagement easier? 

Campaign Management tool – likely whatever marketing automation tool your marketing team uses.

User community tool – something with a search application for forums, Q&A, announcements, links to blogs, access to the training portal. This is also where our trust site is, so if there’s an outage, it’s coming out of the trust site in the community. It’s also where you log a case and access knowledge base articles, so it’s a real hub. 

A survey tool – for voice of the customer, e.g Qualtrics.

An advocacy tool – to track advocates and what they are willing to do for the company. Keep track of what each is willing to say (in what forum) and what their recent experience has been. There are a lot of notes in this tool about what advocates are willing to do. If you document your advocates well, sales can filter them to make sure you’re supplying the right reference based on what vertical they’re in or version they’re on.

How do you measure success? 

Net revenue retention – customers that are happy stay, and then buy more.

Amount of ARR influenced by advocacy – if references are helping sales close a deal. If our references aren’t helping us close any deals, we need to reevaluate our references. So we need to know how much business our advocates are actually helping us close. 

Community activity metrics – are we driving activity there? Make sure we’re answering questions in a timely manner. What are we doing for case deflection?

Open rates and click-through rates – make sure people are reading the emails that are sent out. Look at unique open rates and unique click-through rates. 

Customer engagement index – this is a custom score to rank each customer based on all the major avenues where you engage them. You can compare each customer to others and ask if they’re engaged enough. If you have a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the best and a customer ranks at a 20, you need to figure out a way to help them raise their score.

What are the most important pieces to get right? 

Have a variety of tools in your toolbox – balance all the different ways to help customers (campaigns, community, via CSMs etc.). If you over-index in any direction, it’s probably not good for the company or for the customer. 

Make a case that resource allocation should match where revenue comes from – gather internal support that customer engagement is worth it. The reality is, software companies spend 80% of our resources getting the revenue, and only 20% keeping the revenue, but that’s the flip from how the revenue actually happens. Customer engagement needs to make that point to get the resources it needs.

What are the common pitfalls? 

Over-doing one engagement medium – e.g. sending too many emails. There are a variety of ways to engage customers, and you have to be willing to pursue a number of different avenues if you really want to make sure that your message is getting out there.

Don’t guess about the product – have a tight connection with the people who have the subject matter expertise, so they can feed you information about the product and you can then translate it into the language where the customer can absorb it.

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