Feedback Is Marketing's Secret Sauce with Leela Srinivasan (CMO at SurveyMonkey)

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This is a podcast episode titled, Feedback Is Marketing's Secret Sauce with Leela Srinivasan (CMO at SurveyMonkey). The summary for this episode is: 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.

DG: 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 interviewed with Dan Rogers. He's a CMO of ServiceNow, and Gonzalo told me that I called him Todd. I didn't call him Todd. Did I? Did you find it?

Gonzalo: Not Todd. Ed.

DG: So if I start calling you Lola or Lauren, just let it slide. Oh, my daughter must be going to bed. I'll call her back in two minutes. Yeah, it's the best time. Okay. So we're here at SaaStr. Fun fact, you haven't actually given your talk yet.

Leela Srinivasan: No, I've not.

DG: I am 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 to you about them. So first, quick background on you, by the way, you're a Forbes Top 50 CMO. That's pretty cool.

Leela Srinivasan: Thank you.

DG: It's pretty cool. You can be humbled, but I'll just say it. Okay? Previously at Lever, Sarah Nahm was on this podcast.

Leela Srinivasan: Love Sarah.

DG: Sarah is amazing.

Leela Srinivasan: She's awesome.

DG: Blew us away. I'm sure we have other stories. Open table, LinkedIn, Bain and Business Wire. I'm only saying Business Wire because shout out to all my PR people out there. I started off in PR and have put endless amounts of money into Business Wire.

Leela Srinivasan: Very good. I'm glad to hear that. PR is super important, so.

DG: It is. It is 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 describe yourself as a" shameless customer groupie".

Leela Srinivasan: It's true. I cannot lie.

DG: So why, 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 Srinivasan: Absolutely. So I think, 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 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 found 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 of it as well. But it became this 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 this token group of five customers that you send early stuff to. How should it actually play out?

Leela Srinivasan: Yeah, that's a good question. So I've set up or run advisory council type things in both at LinkedIn, OpenTable, Lever. And we're actually about to spin some up 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 an OpenTable, we were in a very different situation. We were not, 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 onsite so that we could help understand them, but also help position ourselves successfully, given pricing moves that we're making as a few other things.

DG: Because they felt like they had to use OpenTable, why was it, because if it was polarizing, why would a customer want to go hang out with you?

Leela Srinivasan: So OpenTable had a long 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 books restaurant, makes restaurant reservations had transformed and everybody was doing it online. So restaurants were not at peace with what they saw as OpenTable 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 of a 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 170. 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 a 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 could we go to market effectively? And what I was fortunate to do there was build couple of legions of really fierce champions for us who felt very invested in our success. And so it was really about the marketing partnership was a chief benefit.

DG: It's almost like if you go to a new company, it's almost like you assess how close at marketing org is to their customers. In the case of Lever, oh, the product team is very close with 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 Srinivasan: 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

DG: Do you have an opinion on the role of customer marketing? In the sense of I've seen some origins 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 Srinivasan: 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 than 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 drumbeat of advocacy, and if you weren't really building win- win relationships with customers, then if all you're doing is hawking product or hawking the next thing I think it falls pretty flat.

DG: Yeah. I can talk to you about marketing forever. I want to get to your seven things. If you hear puppies in the background that they do have puppies at SaaStr. So yeah, so that is not... You're a cat person?

Leela Srinivasan: Yes.

DG: Interesting. My throat is a little itchy. I could tell. I'm just kidding.

Leela Srinivasan: I'll sit over here.

DG: This is a huge rip. I am a dog person, my wife and my daughter are obsessed with kittens. And so my wife is just, she looks at me and she's like," We're getting kittens, aren't we?" And I'm like...

Leela Srinivasan: Yeah, well you know there's Zyrtec and things like that.

DG: Yeah I know. I understand. I understand. Okay. So I'm going to read you the seven, and I'm going to tell you I picked out three that were my favorite and I want to dive in on those. 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. First one. My favorite, use feedback to inform your biggest messaging decisions.

Leela Srinivasan: 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 backfires.

DG: And you don't even have to, oftentimes you don't even have to do the research. Those things are already out there via social media, via Amazon reviews, via product hunt, via Quora. I bet you could go find a million questions people have asked on Quora about how to use SurveyMonkey to blah. At Drift, we call it, this is not a real scientific name. We say" their words", which is, did you use their words? Either you had somebody tell you that, or you went out and saw it. Sometimes all of the best messaging, any good line of copy we've written has not come from us. A customer has said it.

Leela Srinivasan: That's great. So I think where I've seen the surveying and the research piece come in handy is first of all, for the fine tuning of the wordsm, right? So I think it's, 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: Yeah, so your approach might be, 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 Srinivasan: Yes, actually. So a couple of things. So yes, first of all, there's the brainstorm with the marketing team. Other, 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 qualitative feedback. To your point, you want customers reacting to the statement on the slide and going," That word is weird," or," What do you mean by that?" Or," Don't say scalable." That was actually a real story from back in the LinkedIn days.

DG: Love that.

Leela Srinivasan: And then you whittle it down to your three or four and you can run quants 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. Go talk to three people.

Leela Srinivasan: Yeah. Absolutely. And we've, for what it's worth, offer a little known service called SurveyMmonkey Audience, which is basically you can buy panel relatively inexpensively and run research in hours.

DG: Amazing SurveyMonkey Audience. Is that what it's called?

Leela Srinivasan: Yes.

DG: Audience. Okay. Other one I loved out of this was, leverage customer feedback for surprise and delight.

Leela Srinivasan: 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 Srinivasan: Well, the engine literally is your ear. Because we talk about B2B marketing, but really it's B2H.

DG: Totally.

Leela Srinivasan: Business to human.

DG: There is no B2C. There is no B2P.

Leela Srinivasan: No. So if you embrace the fact that you were literally building relationships and conversations with humans, what I found to be successful in all the places I've worked is listening with a keen ear to the nuggets or the specific detail that will, 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 t- shirt in the mail.

Leela Srinivasan: 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 color commentary that we could do something interesting with. So literally one time a customer gave us a nine or a 10. We have the question of what else can we do to, anything else we can do? And the answer was," No, unless you want to send me ice cream."

DG: Amazing.

Leela Srinivasan: So you know what we did right?

DG: Send him ice cream.

Leela Srinivasan: We sent ice cream to Toronto. And it was the summertime and they blew up on Twitter and it was just, they were already a fan, but it took that relationship to the next level. And we knew we had a fan for life at that point.

DG: And you have a fan for life, and this is 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 Srinivasan: I hadn't thought or of that surprise, but...

DG: So I'll show you this. This is really, okay. So David, who's the CEO of Drift and he's not here. He's not here at SaaS for this year. Somebody made a bobblehead of him and hand delivered it to me. So we'll see if I get stopped at security.

Leela Srinivasan: That is special. He's watching you now.

DG: We'll turn it this way. Let me turn it this way. Okay. The other, 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. Can you give me, how does that play out? Give me some examples.

Leela Srinivasan: 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 feedback driven content is what their end user is thinking. So on the first category the 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 into the future of the profession, right? So that was flavor number one.

DG: And then that becomes something that you could run every quarter or every year. It's a benchmark that then you build up this demand for it. People want it, they know every June you're going to publish the blog. Right?

Leela Srinivasan: That's right, and it feeds all of your channels, right? So you've got the inaudible of downloadable content, you run it in webinars. It makes its way on stage at presentations, et cetera, et cetera. Right? The other flavor, as I said, is 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 it's 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 inaudible.

DG: And is that through them or they work, is that through SurveyMonkey audience or did they have an audience of developers?

Leela Srinivasan: They have an audience of developers, right? So they didn't need us to crosstalk

DG: So you're just tapping into people you already have, saying, hey, we want to be a part of this? And of course, I'm a marketer. If you're reaching out to me about the future of marketing, I want to tell you my opinion.

Leela Srinivasan: Right. And then you want to know whether your opinion lines up other people's.

DG: See where that ranks.

Leela Srinivasan: Yeah, exactly.

DG: Any of these from this list that you like, that I didn't call out?

Leela Srinivasan: I have stories for all of them. Of course. I think, one I'll call out 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 at Simon Kucher& 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 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 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 is just priced incorrectly.

DG: You have to work with some who really knows how to run those things, right?

Leela Srinivasan: Ideally, I mean, I will say I've done it the paying for the consultants way, and I've done it the scrappy way. Yeah. 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 the prior company I literally bought that book and then implemented, I think it was chapter four, forget crosstalk.

DG: It's great. It's good when a book is actually tactical and you can say-

Leela Srinivasan: Here are the seven things you need to do, right? And we did them and we actually landed in a great spot from a pricing standpoint.

DG: Okay. I want to shift over there's a couple more questions before you wrap up. You got to get ready for the big stage. This is the small- ish stage. Shifting to enterprise. So this is something that you've been working on and have done recently. SurveyMonkey, strong brand, lot of awareness among what we would call SMB very small businesses, whatever. How did you shift marketing to make the shift to enterprise? Unpack that a little bit.

Leela Srinivasan: 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 C- SAT 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. They make sure that your data doesn't leave the building when your employees do sort of thing.

DG: This is, 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 Srinivasan: Yeah. I mean a couple of things. Number one, the solutions that we've 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 really, it's a combination of right time for us, but also demand from the market for us to cater to them.

DG: Everybody that listens 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 it, is there an enterprise lead funnel that's different than the main site? Do you have a enterprise website? Are there enterprise reps? What was all the stuff that you needed to build out to support this?

Leela Srinivasan: Yes, yes and yes. So my hiring was preceded by the hiring of our phenomenal chief sales officer, John Schoenstein.

DG: Hi John.

Leela Srinivasan: And he's my guy. Yeah. He's amazing. So, and by the way, we could also have another podcast on sales and marketing because 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 heard 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: And so, but her mission is to generate leads for this enterprise business, not... 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 Srinivasan: 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 a self- serve way to be exposed to and understand how we can benefit them. 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 have a conversation.

DG: 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 surface-

Leela Srinivasan: 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 Srinivasan: That's right. But they haven't inaudible 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 Srinivasan: 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 we are, 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 enterprise direction. And it does throw out some interesting challenges because if you think about the average enterprise brand, right? Stuffy, boring, trying to figure out how to be more approachable and more consumer like, right?

DG: That's why I'm asking, because it's SurveyMonkey, cool, hip brand. I think the mistake a lot of people make is now we have to be enterprise SurveyMonkey. Whereas, I'm an enterprise buyer. You're an enterprise. We're all people.

Leela Srinivasan: We're back to that B2H thing. Yeah. That's exactly right. So we're 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 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 by 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 told me before that it's eating from your own restaurant, which sounds much better. That is good. That is a marketer's answer, which I love right there.

Leela Srinivasan: I think that the thing it's, so I don't know where dog food and crosstalk

DG: I don't want to eat dog food. I don't want to eat my own dog food. No way.

Leela Srinivasan: And then the other end of the spectrum is drinking your own champagne, which sounds a bit opulent. My CFO wouldn't like that.

DG: No. Not during the day, no.

Leela Srinivasan: Well, anytime inaudible. But so the middle ground for me is eating into your own restaurant because hopefully you're 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 there's no, I guess the definition of the word empathy is it's, not fake. It's real. We have real empathy, right? Which is like, oh my God, I-

Leela Srinivasan: 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. I think it's. And then you, 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 think, 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 running, using surverys.

Leela Srinivasan: And that's actually my dirty little secret in terms of marketing success, right? So at LinkedIn, we've all been a candidate. I was a huge LinkedIn user before I joined the organization.

DG: OpenTable you're a consumer.

Leela Srinivasan: Diner, right? Lever, hiring manager. And Lever's whole, and Sarah was on talking about collaborative hiring. It's really important for hiring managers to be involved in the process. And now here we are at SurveyMonkey and it's the ultimate metajob because when you look at TechValidate, SurveyMonkey Audience or Enterprise Survey's platform, right? I mean, these are all tools that I can use on a daily basis to add value to my organization.

DG: Totally. There's a million things I could talk to you about. Thank you for doing this on a busy day. Good luck with your SaaStr talk. This'll go out after. So hopefully there'll be lots of love for you on Twitter and yeah. Cool.

Leela Srinivasan: Thank you, Dave.

DG: All right. Thank you. Thanks of listening to this episode of the Swipe File. If you like the podcast, make sure to subscribe, leave a review, text your friends, tell your mother, do whatever you want to do. It'd be awesome if you help spread the word about the show. But I have a little special for you because you're listening to my podcast. If you go to drift. ly, drift. ly/ Steve, you will see a six minute video that I made that is about Steve Jobs' storytelling secrets, and you can get it all for free. Plus if you sign up there, you will unlock this crazy new thing that we're building behind the scenes called Drift Insider, where we're going to give you some of our best content exclusively. So go and check it out. The way, the secret way to get on this list right now is to go to drift. ly/ Steve. You have to watch the first video and you'll be able to get the rest when they all come out. Check it out if not, check it out soon and I'll see you in the next episode,


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.