Transcript | How to Build a Robust Customer Story Pipeline with Lindsay Molina

On this episode, I was joined by Lindsay Molina, Senior Group Manager, Customer Marketing at Slack. Prior to that, she also ran customer marketing at MuleSoft and Poly. In speaking with Lindsay, I was struck by her thoughtful and deliberate approach, as well as how she’s applied her learnings to consistently evolve her programs. We talk about her system for creating a customer story pipeline, her suggestions for building credibility with sales when starting a new role, and the main characteristics she looks for when hiring for customer marketing.

Margot Leong: All right, Lindsay, I’m super excited to have you join us on Beating The Drum. Thank you so much for being here today. 

Lindsay Molina: Yeah. Thanks, Margot, for inviting me to do this. I’m really excited to chat. 

Margot Leong: Fantastic. Well, first off, I’d love if you could start off by introducing yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and touch upon the type of work you’ve done within customer marketing specifically?

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, sure. So my name is Lindsay Molina. I’ve been doing customer marketing for almost seven years now. My background is mostly working in enterprise companies. Currently, I lead customer marketing at Slack. And before that I led customer marketing for MuleSoft, which was a company that was later acquired by Salesforce. And then my first gig, kind of where I cut my teeth in this was at Polycom, which is now called Poly. I started doing corporate comms and customer marketing there. So that’s kind of how I got started on this track. 

Margot Leong: Got it. And so when you were at Poly, it sounds like that was where the transition from corp comms into customer marketing was made. Talk to me about what that transition was like and how that even happened. 

Lindsay Molina: Yeah. So the way that the team was structured there was that customer marketing was part of their corporate comms team. And at the time they’d already had kind of a distributed global customer marketing group, and so the woman I reported to ran customer marketing for U.S., and actually how I got started was, it actually was a contractor role, but I love to write and I had a strong background in that.

And so I actually started by writing case studies and all of the content that you would see on the web, and then from that kind of expanded my role to doing more customer interviews and getting customers to speak on our behalf in the press, which also tied into the corp comms aspect of that. I worked with our PR agency at the time to help line up customer stories for the press. So that was actually great, because it got me experienced in working on the corp comm side. And I know teams are structured differently in every company, but at Polycom at the time, it was really more of a corp comms function.

Margot Leong: And that’s great that you actually started off with the storytelling aspect, right. Partly because of your enjoyment around the writing piece.

Lindsay Molina: Definitely. And it was also really cool because this is back in the time when they were really on the forefront of video conferencing and we were moving from those room systems into more cloud-based video, which is funny if you think about where we are today in the world, but I actually got to work with a lot of customers internationally as well, and working with the counterparts there. And then I also got to travel a little bit. So I actually went to our office in Singapore at one point, worked a lot with our colleagues in Europe. It was kind of also my first look into this international, globally distributed team and what that looks like, so that was also a really cool experience for me.

Margot Leong: And so then talk to me about how your role at Slack and some of the work  that you have done with MuleSoft as well. Like, talk to me about how that has evolved from your time at Poly.  

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, so I was at Polycom for, gosh, I think at least a couple years and I love the customer marketing role. It had changed a little bit. People have left the company, so I got to take more of a front seat in terms of leading the strategy for customer marketing there. 

And then accepted a role with MuleSoft in 2015, I think, to actually build out their customer marketing program from scratch. So at the time they didn’t have anyone in that function, and the way they had built out the team there, or they wanted to build out the team was to have it as part of the product marketing group. So that was also really interesting to me because I come from working mostly in corp comms side.

Margot Leong: So that’s been pretty much my background. I’ve done some corp comms, but never been doing customer marketing while within that. So I’ve always actually been within a product marketing department when doing customer marketing. What was that experience like? How did that sort of add to your repertoire? 

 Lindsay Molina: Yeah. Well, first of all, for people who aren’t familiar with MuleSoft, it’s a very technical product. So it’s a platform for developers to build integrations and APIs, which I really didn’t have any experience with, especially coming from a company like Polycom, that was historically in the hardware space into the cloud. So that was a huge learning curve for me, but I think what was interesting about it, and every company is different, but I think my philosophy now definitely is, is that customer marketing is deeply embedded with product marketing teams because in terms of getting to the depth and the heart of how customers are using your product and their experience and their stories there, you have to be closely aligned with those teams. 

So for me, it was a learning curve of actually learning the product and working with the technical product marketing team, but then also just trying to figure out how to navigate, like how to start from square one, where there were some outdated case studies on the website. There were some assets for the field, but on top of it being just a very technical product, we had a rapidly growing sales team. 

So we’re also trying to meet the demands of this growing sales team, which poses its own challenge, right? How do you onboard new sales people, make them familiar with the stories, make them feel empowered to go out and use them and tell them. So it was kind of both of those were hitting me at once. That first year was a little crazy. It took me a solid 12 months to really get my feet under the ground, but the team there was really amazing. Because this was a new function that people had been asking for for a long time, I think they were excited to have someone come in and actually fully own that. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. I think there’s nothing more exhilarating then being able to build that out from scratch and really get to own that, while also having people that are really excited for it and to support you as well with that. So that’s great. 

To product marketing,  I really enjoy being under product marketing. Knowing the GTM strategy, and then already being able to embed that into the type of storytelling we do, like it comes as second nature. You know, you’re already part of all those conversations and you’re so familiar with the product. And I think it’s almost necessary when you’re doing those interviews to be able to be nimble and really fully know the product so that you can speak to the customer in the right way, right. 

Lindsay Molina: Well, yeah, absolutely. Especially if you’re interviewing CIOs, architects, developers, you have to be able to speak their language too. And so part of that is understanding their persona and their worlds and then of course the product itself. 

So I just learned a ton from being on the product marketing team. And to your point, aligning my strategy with go-to-market. So what are they focused on? What are the big product launches? What are the messages and making sure that we’re pulling those through with the stories. Otherwise, you’re just sort of creating customer stories for the sake of creating the stories. And they’re not really aligned to the broader strategy of the marketing or even sales teams. 

Margot Leong: I completely agree with that. With MuleSoft, did you guys also have a lot of products at that time as well that you had to be expert in?

Lindsay Molina: So not exactly. So there’s one platform and then there was different features or different components of it that we would focus on. And so depending on if the customer was using those, we would go deep into that. But it wasn’t anything like a company like Salesforce, for example, right. So many different clouds. It wasn’t that complicated.

So our core foundational messaging was pretty consistent. And then depending on which other parts of the platform the customer was using, we could go deeper on those. But even at the time when I joined the product marketing team, we had product marketers focused on different parts of the platform, plus we also were building out our industry and solutions marketing group, which was part of product marketing. So we were already starting to go in depth into different sectors. And so of course there was different messaging and product features there too,  but that’s why it’s so helpful to be on that team and literally sitting next to them and learning from them is because I felt like that was also the best way for me to get up to speed on the product. 

 Margot Leong: Did you ever have situations where you would sort of tag team with product marketing on stories, or was it, regardless of story, where you and your team, were basically responsible for creating those stories? Or did product marketing, for specific stories that they were really expert in or specific use cases, did they take over some of that? 

Lindsay Molina: Oh, it definitely was a partnership, and in terms of understanding like their go to market strategy, what they were focused on, I would then try and build a pipeline of customers to get involved to do things. So if we knew we had upcoming webinars or we had breakout session at an upcoming retail conference, I would work with that product marketer to make sure we had a great customer lined up. And I would actually work with her on getting the customer prepped and she would actually do a lot of the in-depth work with the customer to get them ready for those things, so she was heavily involved. They would do things like join me onsite for video interviews, anything to do with the case studies, so it was definitely a partnership there. It wasn’t just me going off and getting this stuff and then handing it over to them. 

Margot Leong: Got it. That’s good to know. 

Lindsay Molina: That was great because they’re definitely subject matter experts in all of these areas, way more than I could ever be . 

Margot Leong: That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned you would prep the customer prior to connecting them with the PM for the more in-depth pieces. What was that prep call usually like? What did that involve? 

Lindsay Molina: So, the way we would look at it is sourcing customers. So from the start, before we even get to the prep is like looking at who’s our customer base, who do we have relationships with or who have we worked with in the past, maybe not on the marketing side, but just for feedback on the product feature itself, or maybe they were a beta customer to see like who our target list would be.

And then once we make the ask to the customer in terms of what we want them to do, I really like to approach it as an integrated ask. So not just saying like, hey, we know we need a speaker for this event, so let’s just ask them to speak. But thinking about what are we doing in the next six to nine months and what are all the different touchpoints of which we could use this customer for?

So I can give one example for MuleSoft that we did quite a bit with. It was that retail example I mentioned with Asics. So we knew we wanted them to speak on the main stage of our regional conference that we were doing that fall. And so we knew there were multiple things leading up to that speaking slot that we wanted to work with this customer on, including recording a video, writing a case study, using their story as part of a white paper and all of these things. So I would work with a PMM to say like, okay, here’s what I think the strategy should be. And here’s all the things I know that we’re doing in the next nine months. Here’s how we can leverage this customer. And then we would go to the customer with that ask. Of course, a big part of that is getting approval from the comms team and navigating that. So that’s where I feel like customer marketing really needs to lead, and where we have the expertise in how to position that as value for the customer and how to get involved. 

And then really from there, myself and the PMM would work together to think about, okay, what’s the storyboard, what’s the narrative, and what do we want this to be? And then the prep calls themselves are pretty straightforward because that’s like the fun stuff. That’s just where you’re talking to the customer about their story, getting those details. And then just capturing the content. Everything up until when you can actually start to get those interviews, I feel is where like the heavy back and forth work is. But once you get, sort of the green light to do the actual fun stuff, that’s where it moves pretty quickly. 

Margot Leong: Because you had a previous background in comms, do you think that that set you up or helped you out when it came to pitching comms, basically helping you guys to work with those customers?

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, definitely. So I think we have to remember at the end of the day as yes, like these are people, and so they have personal things that motivate them and they have their own reasons for wanting to get involved in this type of stuff. But as you start to work with enterprise and large enterprise companies with big brands, like Asics that I mentioned, there’s company goals you have to think about, they have certain restrictions on what they can and can’t do, so you have to really sort of navigate that landscape. It’s a lot more difficult than just getting an individual to say, yeah, sure. I’d love to go on stage and speak for you guys, right? So it’s a lot more complicated than that. 

I think what I learned with PR is: it’s generally an easy way to show external validation of the customer. So while of course, case studies are great for us or getting them to speak at our event is great, and depending on the size of the event and the platform, that’s not always as enticing for a customer to get involved in, as it would be say, like, hey, we want to feature your interview in the Wall Street Journal, or, hey, we want you on stage at this global conference speaking to our CEO.

So those sort of like corp comms or PR type activities seem to be very enticing to customers. What I think I learned early on is trying to find ways to incorporate the engagement with the customer to include those things, in addition to the other stuff that we know we want, like a case study or a video, or speaking at one of our conferences. Because at the end of the day, you want to also provide value for the customer and you want them to be motivated to do this stuff with you, right? It’s really more about a mutual partnership and not just us coming to them saying like, hey, we want to create this asset, so we need your time. You have to come to them with something that you think is going to be of value to them, and in my experience, whenever we’ve included PR or some sort of corporate communications angle with it, for these larger companies, they definitely see that as value. 

Margot Leong: Just curious, for some of these larger companies, even getting your foot in the door, walk me through what that process typically looks like.

 Lindsay Molina: Right. So again, it’s going to be different depending on which company you work for, but let’s use my experience working for enterprise software companies. So I always start with the account team because they’re the ones who have the relationship with the customer, whether it’s the actual account executive or the salesperson themself, or,  often times the customer success manager too. So I always start there. Get a lay of the land for the customer, what they’re doing, where they’re at in their maturity, what are some other use cases? 

And then for, especially these enterprise and large enterprise brands, you want to figure out who’s our biggest champion at the highest senior level. So ideally someone VP and above that you can sort of soft sound or approach with this pitch to get them excited and involved because they’re the ones who are really going to ultimately sway, whether it’s someone in the C-suite or the actual comms team themselves to do this stuff. So I usually start there and then it’s just a matter of understanding what potentially could motivate the customer, what are the activities that we could do with them. And it’s sort of designing that pitch to them in a way that either the account team themselves can deliver it or that we can get on a quick friendly call with the customer and actually sort of present these ideas to them with the immediate, next step being, hey, we know we need permission from your comms team, would you be willing to intro us to them? 

Because in my experience, even though the sooner you get comms involved, the quicker you could get shut down, it’s better to do that at the beginning, than just like, you know, write a whole case study, and then you reach out to the comms team and then they shut it down. So it’s better to get their buy-in early on and also understand what the limitations are. But also oftentimes, these comms teams that we work with at these customer accounts, like they are also motivated to want to do this stuff. And if they are, it’s going to help open more doors for you. So I see getting involved with them as early on as possible is one of those critical pieces you need. 

Margot Leong: That makes a lot of sense to me. I’m sure as customer marketers, we’ve all run into that, we’re like, well, we’ll create the collateral and then we’ll run it by comms. And then we don’t hear back for a year.  

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. 

Margot Leong: You’re just kind of hoping.  

Lindsay Molina: I’ve definitely done that. On occasion, it would work. And then, six months later they see the case study on the website and they’re like, what the heck is this? I’ve just learned because it’s really like, you’re managing your number of engagements like it is a pipeline. And so, customers are gonna fall out, I mean, we’ve had customers, who’ve agreed to do things. Things happen with the company. People leave, the comms person leaves. There’s so much out of your control. So I’m just kind of like, you know what, let’s get the straight answer. If it’s a no, then that’s fine. We’ll stop and we’ll move on. But you’ll find as you work with these larger brands, that’s a really critical piece is getting their buy-in. 

Margot Leong: Have you ever experienced where you’re like, okay, this is like a big whale to go after in terms of an enterprise brand, but they rarely, if ever do stuff with vendors, were you ever able to sort of crack that nut or prove that they would be open to doing something?

Lindsay Molina: Yeah. For those ones I’ve found leveraging the executive support from our sales leaders is hugely important. 

Margot Leong: That’s a great idea.

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, sometimes that can be – if it’s a new customer, we’ve done a lot of education and we have such a supportive leadership team at Slack who’s been incredible and helping us get customers to agree to do this stuff. So for example, if we’re closing a new, huge enterprise deal, they’ll talk about those things during negotiations hopefully. Even if they can’t get it written into the contract, at least they’ve had those conversations with the customer and showed good faith that, hey, we value this partnership. We have all these marketing and comms activities we can do with you guys to uplevel your brand and to showcase all this amazing transformation you’re driving in your company. So they’ll have those early on to kind of plant a seed, which is helpful. 

And then for existing customers, for example, that we just haven’t been able to tap into yet, I think same thing, using some of the leads from sales, or even like our executive, like the C-suite, to reach out and just say a friendly, like, Hey, I’m speaking at this conference, would you want to join me? Things like that to sort of open the door that seem less threatening and can be a little bit more friendly and relationship-based could potentially allow for longer, down the road , high-end type engagement. 

Margot Leong: I really like that because you’re thinking about, how do I leverage the vast array of resources that I have at my disposal. And one of those is, you know, executive level or C-suite, using that sort of relationship currency to get your foot in the door. 

Lindsay Molina: Yeah. I mean, especially in a company like Slack, right? With tens of thousands of customers. Even if we had a massive customer marketing team, which we don’t, we couldn’t tackle all those, right? And why would you want to go from bottoms up every time when you can come in top down? Fortunately at a company like Slack, I think the leaders recognize the value of this stuff, the importance of our customers, and showing that part of our commitment to them in this partnership is to do this type of work.

But if you work for a company where that’s not the case, I think one of the key things I’ve learned is educating them on what this work looks like, why it’s a benefit for the customer, why it’s beneficial for the health of the account long-term . And once you can start to educate leaders about that, I think that they would be totally willing to chip in and do this type of work.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely.  We talked about the importance of partnering with sales, and I know that’s something that you’re pretty passionate about. It makes such a big difference when sales is already bought in on customer marketing.  I’d love if you could talk to me about your experience partnering with sales teams, how you get their buy-in, and how do you convey the value of customer marketing to them?

Lindsay Molina: It’s a great question. I don’t think I have the perfect answer for how to do this, but from my experience, especially at MuleSoft and when I joined Slack, it’s hard, right? Because you’re new. It takes time to build foundation and to get the stuff up and running. But at the same time, you want to deliver some quick wins for a team, especially when they’re hungry for this type of stuff. So it’s kind of like, how do you balance going to the teams and asking them for their support, whether it’s making nominations of customer references so that you can go and build your pipeline or getting them to talk about marketing and PR opportunities during the negotiation of a deal, right? Like you’re going to them and asking them to do work to help you before you’ve actually really delivered anything to them.

Margot Leong: That’s a good point. 

Lindsay Molina: So those like first six months plus, it’s a lot of trying to build foundation and credibility while also just delivering. What I’ve learned works well is sort of like balancing two tracks of both is looking at what’s all the available content today, because even if there hasn’t been like an established customer marketing role at a company, oftentimes sales will create their own stories or somebody else in marketing will. There’s gotta be something there that you can start from that you could maybe  repackage up and distribute in a way that’s more like programmatic.

So for MuleSoft, there were several older case studies and there were some slides that had been floating around. So a quick win there was okay, what are all the stories that are out there that we can talk about? Reformat them in a consistent slide form that the sales team can use, had them all printed into like a storybook-type thing, and then also just made sure that they were available, especially for all these new people as they were joining, that they knew where to find this stuff. So that’s sort of like a easy, 30-day-type thing while then also like long-term looking at okay, who are our largest accounts? What is our target list and then starting to talk to those account teams and build relationships there for more and setting the expectation that this is more of a long-term play. Like a three plus month thing, from when you can get a customer involved to when they’ll see a final case study on the website. So that you’re kind of doing both at once. 

Ultimately, it’s just, they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re just communicating, like the whole point of you doing all this work is to help them. And the way that I think about this is the whole reason we create these stories, like the main goal really is to enable the sales team to take these and to share these with other customers, for prospects and educate them on the art of the possible of what they could be doing with Slack. So they should be motivated to want to help you get the customers to do this stuff, but you also have to deliver for them too. So I think that’s just like part of the credibility that you need to build early on. 

Margot Leong: When you package these up in a way that’s helpful for sales, what sort of qualitative feedback do you get back from sales in terms of how these stories are helping them sell more?

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, it’s a great question. Well first of all, I would recommend speaking to the sales teams, right? So if you’re new in this type of role, or if you are building a program out, is spend most of your time in that first month actually talking to salespeople and getting their feedback on where are they using these stories? When do they need them? What are the formats that are helpful for them? 

And so for us, when we sort of revamped what case studies were and what were the assets we produced for the field, we landed on doing the long-form web case study, a PDF, and then also slides that they could actually use in their presentations. We set ourself a goal of a number of those assets that we would produce, which also was a great way to show the sales team like, hey, we’re committed to you. This is how many stories we’re going to launch in the next year. 

And then once those had been launched, we actually had something that we could go back and look at the data from. So whether it’s views, downloads, or how many times they’ve shared the asset with a customer, we can see through the tool where we archive all this is called HighSpot. But if you don’t have that, I think it’s still very reasonable for once an asset’s been live for three plus months, you to follow up with the sales teams and say like, Hey, are you using this? Where has this been helpful? 

And how we use it at Slack is that you can also just jump into these channels and see them sharing these assets, so we post all of ours into a channel. People can react to it, and then it’s just really exciting to see them used in the wild, in different channels where we’ll actually see the sales team chiming in when people have questions and they’ll respond with, hey, you should use this case study or I’ve used this case study for this deal and it was really helpful. So that they start to like self-serve and then also help each other with it, I think is also another way to look and see, are these being used? Are these helpful or not? 

Margot Leong: Yeah, that’s actually pretty smart. That sounds also very rewarding to post something in a Slack channel, and then you can see those little emojis or reactions in real-time, or you can see the piling on from sales saying this was helpful or whatnot. I like that as you know, just another way to get feedback.

Lindsay Molina: Yeah. And honestly, we could do a whole other podcast episode on the beauty of using Slack for building a customer marketing program. Because I always joke like if I leave Slack, like I could never, never work for a company or do this type of role where we didn’t use Slack in the way that we do in our program here.  And I’ve actually like demoed some of the things we’ve done for other customer marketers. I think their mind is blown at just how much more transparent and easy it is to engage with the field, share content with them, get direct feedback. And just move way, way quicker on this stuff then I have at previous companies. 

Margot Leong: I would love to do a podcast on this. That sounds great.

Lindsay Molina: Not to make a plug for Slack, but like it really is life-changing. And also, yeah, the fact that we can just communicate directly with our customers in there too, can pull you right into a channel that they’re already in with the customer and do this. It helps a lot. 

 Like one thing I think it really helps with is just building that level of trust and engagement with the account team.   And I firmly believe this and I always like tell my team this too, as a customer marketer, you are an extension of the account team, so we always want to be incredibly mindful of what we’re asking them to do because they’re busy, right.  And oftentimes doing these engagements requires a lot of effort on their side. We want to be mindful in the way of what we ask of our customers and how we reach out to them to make sure that we’re not making too many one-off ad hoc asks to the customer, to where it’s becoming a burden on them. 

Our job is also to help make sure that other folks in marketing are not bombarding the account team or the customer directly with different asks, because that also results in a poor experience for the customer. So a lot of this really just comes down to the approach and how you work with the account team, and really be a champion for the customer. And so of course, Slack makes it a lot easier when you’re in these accounts channels and you can have that strong relationship. And then I think once you do this once with the account team, I think they’re going to see the value of it, and they’re going to want to do this again with more and more of their accounts. And then you kind of have that flywheel effect. 

Margot Leong: Got it. You mentioned, right, a part of your role is to make sure that other teams are not also bombarding the same customer with requests. How do you think about staying on top of all of that? 

Lindsay Molina: It’s hard, right? Because, in some ways, as customer marketers, we want to be in the loop on everything, we want to be in control and sort of managing those engagements and doing the end to end thing, which works when you’re like a one-person machine, which I have been in those roles, right, where I didn’t have a team and it was all me. It was kind of easy, but also overwhelming because I would get tagged anytime any customer marketing question came up. So I kind of see it all, but I also couldn’t manage it that way so I wouldn’t say that was like the right way to do things.

Now that we have a team, there’s obviously more people, you have more resources, but that still doesn’t mean that you can respond to every single request that comes our way and that you can be in every single conversation. So the way we’ve tried to frame it is, the customer marketers who are like these managers,  their role is almost more of like an engagement lead. So they are the ones interfacing with the account team. They’re the ones building what’s the integrated set of activities that we know we want to do with this customer. They’re the person going back to our other partners in marketing, whether it’s product marketing, brand, comms, events, right?

And so we’re saying like, hey, we have this opportunity to work with Customer X. These are the things we know we have coming in the next six months. We think we want to do these things. Are there any other asks you would have, or how does this fit into your plan? So you’re really being that sort of conduit to then go back to the account team and say like, okay, here’s the ask, and then ideally you’re managing that. And so that is sort of a model of what good looks like. And then of course, along the way, as you actually get into the interviews, the creating of content, whatever it is, you can pull in the other subject matter experts from the marketing team. So if it’s PMM or if it’s someone from brand team, like you can actually pull them in. But ideally the customer marketer’s leading that process. So that’s like for those high touch engagements or those larger enterprise or marquee brands, that’s sort of the role we see. 

But then there’s going to be other asks, whether it’s just, hey, I want a quote from this customer for a blog or, hey, I want to build a slide for this new product feature and I want to use this use case. And if we try to facilitate all of that, we’ll just get stretched too thin. So we’ve tried to make those sort of requests more self-serve where they get funneled into a channel to the customer marketing team where ideally someone can post a request for that. We can then triage it and say, yeah, this actually fits in to a larger strategy, we’ll help leading this or hmm, kind of sounds like this is a one-off thing. If you want to work with the account team to get this quote approved for your product blog, go for it so that we like know about it, but we don’t have to manage it all. That’s a way that you can sort of prioritize what you focus on.

Margot Leong: Got it. I think that’s a great way to think about it. Over the course of time, right, I’m sure that you build relationships with customers directly once the account team intros them to you. Let’s say that there’s a request that comes in and you’re like, okay, this customer could fulfill that. Do you then reach out to that customer directly after checking with the account team? Or do you prefer to have the account team make that request still? How do you think about that? 

Lindsay Molina: Actually, that’s a good question because that came up recently where there was one of these ad hocs: hey, we’re looking for some customer quotes to support this message for this new feature we’re launching. Do you have any customers who’d be able to speak to that? And we did have one who we had recently worked with who we were like, okay, yeah. This customer actually would be a fit. And someone on my team, because she had such a strong relationship and bond already with the comms contact, she basically said to the account team like, hey, we actually just need a really lightweight quote from this person. I think they would do it. Can I just reach out to the comms contact there and ask? And the account team was like, yeah, sure. So she was able to do that. 

Because that is also the beauty of what the customer marketing team does is because we are working with these comms teams, we generally have a stronger relationship with the comms contact then the account team does, right. So the account team helps get the buy in from the champions and they usually are involved in a lot of these activities, but they’re not the ones on every single call with the comms team or back and forth correspondence with them, and our team is. So, yeah, absolutely, I think we can use our own relationships there. Of course, with the permission of the account team. 

The other thing I would say too is: it’s not just about saying no to like something, because it seems like a small ask or because it’s a one-off, but also I think we’re trying to be more strategic and be transparent with the teams on what we’re focused on a quarter ahead. And so we can say, this quarter, we’re focused on sourcing stories for customers of these five core industries where you’re focusing on these types of use cases or stories that support these upcoming launches that we know we’re having. 

We can be transparent with the teams on, these are the types of stories we’re gonna go after and why, so that when someone responds, you’re always going to get some sales person or someone in marketing, like, hey, I need a customer in this industry with this very, very specific thing. And you’re just like, well, that’s great, but it doesn’t really fit into like the overall strategy that we’re focused on for this quarter. So because of that, we have to say no. So it’s not just about like small asks, but also about, I think, being clear on the priorities that you’re focused on. Because otherwise everyone’s gonna always want some story from some industry or some, you know, region that’s just not, you know, a focus. So you have to be clear about that too. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is back to that point about being strategic and not being afraid to say no at times. You know, it’s not just getting customer stories to get customer stories. You’re basically storytelling in a way that helps move the business forward. It’s not just all things to all people, but it really is being strategic and understanding what are the objectives and then what aligns to that. 

So in that vein, talk to me about your approach to metrics in general and how you and the team think about that. 

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, this one’s so difficult and I’ve talked to so many customer marketers and I think we all struggle with it, so if anyone has like the perfect answer, please hit me up on LinkedIn and tell me what you do. But I think it’s a little bit of a mixed combination of both output-based work and then obviously you want to aim more for outcomes. So again, if you’re starting from scratch and in my case, basically I was when I joined both MuleSoft and Slack, I think having some sort of goal on we’re going to create X number of stories or we’re going to create two to three stories for these top five core industries that we know we’re focused on as a business this year, whatever it is, right. 

But you’re actually like putting a stake in the ground, I think is important. One, because it holds you accountable and it puts a sense of urgency around creating this stuff and just getting it out there. And then it also shows that you’re committed to delivering on what you say you’re gonna do, which is also hugely important for that trust that you’re building with the field. And that way, output-based can be good and then it also gives you sort of like a framework by which to measure your success. So like, hey, last year we launched 25 enterprise case studies and, you know, 10 videos. This is what we saw. Now we can actually make some inferences around trends of what was successful and what was not. So that going forward, we can be more thoughtful. So in that way, I feel like output can be good. 

But if all you measure is output, then you’re not actually looking at what was the outcome of those things. So again, like you talked about when you asked, how do you know if these things are actually working or making an impact? So what we found actually, when we looked at the metrics from the output of what we launched last year, was that there were certain stories that way outperformed others. And part of it was based on the industry, so no surprise. They were stories of companies in finserv, retail, other regulated industries, because those are always the hardest to get the customers to do. So those ones are really successful. 

And then also stories where we had multiple different assets. So a video, a case study, maybe they spoke at an event, they were part of one of our campaigns. So like this was something that had long tail use and those stories were the most successful too. So then when we kind of looked at it, we thought like, okay, so there’s something to do with making sure that we have the right mix of stories by industry, but it’s also making sure that we’re going deep with these stories versus just one-off writing the case study and moving on. And so now when we kind of look at more of the qualitative work, we’re trying to focus on these deeper, longer term engagements where we’re doing multiple things with the customer. And to me, success looks like if six plus months later, or a year later, they’re still one of the assets on our homepage, or they’re still one of those stories that we keep using in a campaign, that’s long-term value and those assets will work way, way, way, way harder for you than just sort of like the one-off blog or the thing that you just posted just to get the story out. 

And then you can also look at engagement from the field. So if you have something like a Highspot or way to track the content, that can be really insightful. Of course, we’re curious about web traffic, but that’s not something that we primarily focus on as a leading indicator. And then also anecdotally, feedback on these stories and which ones people have found successful.

And then I think – these ones are always so hard to track, but they make such an impact – is when you get customers to speak at events, because there’s a lot of intangible things that we do with customers that you can directly attribute. Like when we look at success of an event, having strong customer speakers are a requirement for success, but there’s no way other than maybe attendee feedback on the surveys, like, hey, this was a great speaker. There’s like no real hard, tangible way to track that, so that’s another area where we just sort of like try to align. It’s almost output-based, but it’s like, okay, for these events, we’re going to agree to sourcing X number of speakers under this criteria to make this event successful. 

And then something new that actually I just went through an exercise with my team on was message pull through and the strength of the narrative of these stories. That’s been an interesting exercise because we just launched some new corporate messaging. And then as we’re getting more fine tuned with the positioning of Slack and working with PMMS, we’re actually training all of the customer marketers and anyone who’s interviewing customers or writing any type of customer content on these messages so that they can do better interviews, dig more into like value and ROI and help them figure out how they can frame that for the customer. Just making sure that we’re covering off all the key points of the story that we are focused on, so that the message pull through of these stories is much stronger. 

Because I think something too that can happen is if you’re just trying to create a lot of stories or move quickly is that three to six months later, maybe that story is not as relevant because you weren’t like focused on what are the key pillars of the narrative. That’s something I think that will be interesting to go back and look at it in the next six months to a year, which is the depth of our stories and how well they’re tied to our narrative. 

Margot Leong: I think that is a really, really salient point to bring up.  That is something that I’ve done previously with my team as well. You know, during those group meetings, it’s letting them know about some of the shifts and then training them on, as you said, what are those pillars for the new narrative? Because that affects everything. 

Lindsay Molina: Well, it’s hard, too, right? If you’re gonna try and work with these large enterprise customers, it can take months just to get them to like give you the green light to proceed with any sort of activities. So you need to plan well ahead to get these customers on board. And it’s hard for you to plan that far in advance if you don’t know where the messaging is going.

So, yeah. And to your point, stuff changes quickly. If you’re not in the day to day with the product marketing team or even the product team, you don’t even know that some of these changes are coming. You can’t predict the future of like where the message is going, so you’re never going to have like the perfect customer lined up for a launch that’s coming in three months. But the sooner we have an idea of: what are the priorities for next quarter? What are the messages we want to bring to the market? Then you can start to try and find those customers. 

And then when it comes to actually doing the interview, you only have like one hour with the customer to get a story you want, and it’s really easy in that one hour, even just to have very on the surface conversations with the customer. And then when you go to actually write the piece, you’re like, Oh shoot, why didn’t I ask him about this? It’s so obvious. Like I know there’s a big campaign coming up for that. Like, why didn’t I ask them that? 

So I think just part of getting more focused is just having better interviews. And so for that, because you only have an hour with the customer, I think training the team to ask those questions, to go deeper with a story where we need to go is going to get you a better story in the end. And so that was something that I hadn’t actually done before at any of my previous companies, and like I said, we just rolled it out. So I don’t know how effective it’ll actually be, but I was really excited about it. And early feedback from the team was that it was super helpful and that they feel more empowered to go in and have these discussions with customers now. 

Margot Leong: Nice. That’s great. I mean, it’s all goes back to that old adage, right? Like, cut once, measure twice. I do think it will pay dividends for you guys, so I’d be curious to see how that turns out. 

We’re coming down to time now, but one of my last questions for you is about how you built out your team at Slack. I’d love to hear about how you thought about structuring your team here and what are the different roles and responsibilities. 

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, definitely. So I joined as sort of the first person to build this function. I think I was in the role for about eight or so months just as myself. So that was a lot of the foundation building. I was working on customer stories globally, right, so we have a pretty big presence in Europe. So I was working with the marketing team there, mostly field marketers. Same for team in APAC. And then later we started to grow the team in Japan, so working with them to identify and source stories and sort of just get content out there. 

And then when I made my first hire, I had her focus a hundred percent on customer marketing from start to end just for North America. So she was able to really like go out there and build our pipeline of stories, which then freed up more of my time to help the regional teams build out more content. So I think I gave you an example of like, when we had 25 case studies we launched in a year, more than half of those were from the U.S. and the rest were from the regions, but I knew that I needed to give a lot more support to those folks.

So once I made that first hire, then I could help create the customer stories in the regions. And then which also set us up for success when we started to make these regional hires. So the next hire we made was a customer marketer for APAC, and then followed by a customer marketer for EMEA. And we have both of them report into the heads of marketing for those regions, which I think is really important, not just because of the time zone difference, but also because of just the ins and outs and the day to day of those marketing teams and what they’re doing on the ground there, because they are so small. A lot of those customer marketer’s roles are deeply ingrained with the field marketing teams there and what they’re doing. 

So I look at our team here as being sort of, and my role specifically now, as helping provide support to them, making sure they have all the resources and all of the processes we do and everything that’s documented that they can take that as a blueprint to build out their programs there, but to make sure that we have some level of consistency, right? So like the look and feel of every video should all look like it’s coming from the same place. The quality and the depth of our case studies are the same globally. The types of activities and how we engage with our customers should be consistent globally, right? 

So we’re keeping that high standard of basically how we operate as a global customer marketing team, but then within the regions, of course they have unique needs. They have different customers. They’re at different maturities, they’re breaking into new countries. So it’s a lot different in the regions than it is in the U.S. right now. So I think that’s why it makes sense based on where we are right now to have those teams structured that way.

Most recently, we hired a reference manager. So she’s also on my team here in San Francisco, and she’s really responsible for building out our like reference program, which is one, a tool that the team uses, but more than just a tool, it’s being that touchpoint for the field, being proactive with them, fielding their nominations, going to them to let them know what activities we have coming up and how their customers can get involved. So a lot more of that, like field-facing, relationship building, sort of getting the early pipeline going that she can then hand off to all of the customer marketing managers to actually sort of do those engagements and create all of the content with the customer.

Margot Leong: Got it. And it sounds like that person is helping to focus on some of the more operational aspects of even just generating that pipeline. And when we last talked about that, I thought that was a really interesting way of approaching it. 

Lindsay Molina: It’s like the hunting and farming narrative and I felt this pain when I joined too, of course, as a person of one, but it was like, okay, we have three global events this year that I know I need speakers for all of them. I also have to like create this much content and I need to film these videos and I also need to build a pipeline. It’s just like you get burnt at both ends, right, because you’re trying to do – even just to coordinate one shoot with a customer is a ton of work. And then on top of that, your day to day, you’re trying to field requests, reach out to account teams, follow up, schedule prep calls, like it’s a lot of work, and they’re really two different motions. 

So, to me, if I was like, okay, how do we build this out for scale? Is you really need, like, at the core is this reference program and more of the operational work and being proactive in creating source lists of customers and like soft sounding to get buy-in for customers to do things so that when we are ready to do the full integrated plan with the customer over like a six to nine month period, then the customer marketer themselves can just sort of take that relationship and run with it. And they’re more focused on the customer facing stuff, getting, building the narrative, doing the interviews, getting the content created, being a partner to the customer comms team along the way, and really just being really focused on that and not feeling like they’re stretched thin because they’re also trying to figure out what’s the next customer I’m going to work with, and what’s the next story we’re going to tell. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. I really liked that. And I think one of my last questions is around, you’ve built out this great team here at Slack and what are some traits that you are really looking for in building out your team and who to hire?

Lindsay Molina: That’s a great question. Strong at building relationships is a huge piece. Whether you are in the customer engagement side or the internal reference program side, because either way you’re either working heavily with sales or you’re working heavily with customers or both, so that’s a big piece of it. 

I think someone who is able to be flexible or like think quickly on their feet and think about how to pivot is hugely important in this role, because a lot of things come at us that are unpredictable. And you have to be really creative in how you position these things to customers almost in a way where like you sort of have to have like a sales mindset, because you’re really going in there approaching these customers and asking them to do this stuff and trying to sell them on what’s in it for them.

And then, I think someone who’s just overall creative, which is important when it comes to the storytelling piece, is always trying to like push the envelope on how can we make these stories better? What are some creative ways we can get these stories out there is really important. 

I mean, what’s interesting. The gal who runs our reference program, she came from a sales and CS background, which to me was hugely important because those are the teams she’s interfaced most with and she’s been in their position. So she’s able to communicate with them and level with them on a way that someone who’s never been in a sales or a CS role would, would maybe never even think about, so that was really important for that. 

For the customer engagement side, I think it’s really just about being empathetic, being a people person, being able to build relationships with people of all kinds, and you really kind of have to thrive in that sort of chaotic, ambiguous world because a lot of our job is totally out of our control. If you’re someone who likes to be an IC or work with a team where you have total control and it’s just internal folks only, like this is probably not the role for you. Because there’s just so much unpredictability when it comes to customers. Plans change, and just things out of our hands, so yeah, I guess being comfortable with that is important. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. It’s that being comfortable with ambiguity and like allowing some of that chaos to just wash over you and not let it sort of affect your internal state. To your point around empathy, I really like that because there’s just so much that we have to do, not only from the customer side where we have to obviously put ourselves in their shoes and build relationships, but so much of it is influencing different teams and supporting them too and knowing how to talk to them is really, really important. 

I had such a fantastic time talking with you, Lindsay. I’d love to do another episode , because there’s just so much to talk about, you’re such a fount of knowledge. But my last question is where can our listeners find you? 

Lindsay Molina: Probably LinkedIn’s best. Yeah, you can just search for me. Lindsay Molina, would love to connect. I’d love to chat, if anyone just wants to send me a message, reach out. I also am part of a couple of different groups of customer marketers. Would love to add anyone to that community where we just love to share ideas, best practices, and just be in a safe space of customer marketers, learning from one another, so would love to include anybody in that if they’re interested.

Margot Leong: Perfect. Thank you so much, Lindsay, and really appreciate it. It was, it was just such a pleasure.

Lindsay Molina: Yeah. Thank you so much. It was great to chat, and happy to go deeper again on another podcast, would be fun. 

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