As a CEO, a million things command my attention every day. Hiring great people, keeping an eye on the market, looking ahead for potential challenges, managing finances, reporting to the board…but in spite of all of the day-to-day tasks, customers are always top of mind.
How to deliver a great customer experience is increasingly a hot talking point for many companies, but unfortunately, many companies still don’t understand “why” CX is so important.
A great customer experience is the largest and most efficient growth lever you have, and in the years I’ve spent growing ActiveCampaign to over $100M ARR with 100k customers, the time & dollars invested in focusing on CX have always been returned. Here are some of the things we’ve seen:
CX Helped Us Win with SMB
One thing that I am particularly proud of at ActiveCampaign is that we were able to reach $100M in revenue while remaining small business first. This is counter to conventional wisdom, which says you need to quickly move upmarket to scale.
SMB is a large and dramatically underserved market, but many companies that go into SMB ultimately fail because they don’t understand that success in SMB requires more than a great product.
SMBs have very little time or money to waste, and fewer resources to invest in learning a new product. To help customers get value from the solution immediately, we offered migration, implementation, and training services for free, and created a host of tools and templates so people could use our solution immediately. We also gave away free strategy sessions and held local training events in very small towns that most technology companies stay away from. We knew we needed to be more than a bunch of features, we needed to be a true partner to small business.
These investments didn’t always make sense on paper, back when we had just a few hundred customers. But we took a longer view of the situation, knowing that starting costs were often a barrier to entry for SMB. By removing the barriers to entry, we created a product that was easy to try and adopt — and built trust, loyalty, and widespread adoption in a market that typically presents challenges for new software companies.
CX Helped Us Save on Sales and Marketing
We have 100k customers and are in over 170 countries (more than McDonalds), but we didn’t hire a sales team until three years ago. Our virality and customer experience spoke for itself, allowing us to spread organically with very low sales and marketing costs. So how did we achieve this?
The truth is, no matter how much you flood the internet with on-point marketing, buyers aren’t listening to you anymore. They are listening to each other. Customers are the new marketers, and the only thing that matters is what they say about you. Reviews play a role in almost every purchasing decision you make. Ridesharing, food delivery, ecommerce, services…all of these purchases are dominated by reviews. And small shifts in sentiment can make a big difference between failure and success.
What we did was build up our support team early on, going above-and-beyond to enable partners and customers. Hosting in-person customer events (like the ~200 we delivered in “non-tech” hubs in 2019), is ultimately an investment in word of mouth marketing. For us, that paid off with incredibly high reviews on sites like G2, Capterra, and other sites.
Because our outspoken and engaged customer community continues to do a lot of our marketing for us, we have been able to be incredibly lean in our marketing investments, spending way less on marketing as a percentage of revenue than competitors at our same size.
Buying this sort of advocacy would not only be very expensive, it would be impossible to do authentically.
This approach has paid off in terms of acquisition, but it has also allowed us to invest more into R&D, our product roadmap, and staying ahead of the curve. We have more budget to invest in customer success, support, and partners, which ultimately makes our business more sustainable.
It helps us maintain high levels of service and innovation, and enables us to leverage partnerships for new revenue streams. All of this makes it much harder for competitors to keep up with us.
CX Helped Us Increase Our Business Defensibility and Sustainability
Finally, in an increasingly competitive world, customer experience can set your company apart in a way that is very hard to copy. It has gotten easier than ever to build a new product. With the speed of technology, fast followers are right behind you even if you have a completely new and innovative idea. Products have become highly commoditized, with rapidly emerging competition for almost any product, from bespoke sheets to meal delivery service.
So if it’s no longer possible to keep new buyers by having a unique product, how do you keep them engaged? By focusing on the experience!
An engaging customer experience — across every touchpoint of the customer journey — is much more difficult for competitors to copy because an experience is so personal. It’s made up of your people, relationships, and products, but also encompasses delivery, and post-purchase engagement. When you get that right, it’s very hard for the competition to replicate what makes you “you.”
While our solution, Customer Experience Automation, is a relatively new category, I expect we will have competitors down the road. And although they may be able to copy aspects of our features or functionality, it will be much harder for them to copy the ~200 small business events we offered last year, the volumes of free tools and services we offer to new customers, or the 300+ integrations we have in our technology ecosystem.
If you’re not currently investing in customer experience, hopefully the reasons above convinced you that it’s well worth it. We just crossed a major milestone, 100,000 customers, and CX continues to be the driver for everything I do. To this day, I still read all of our NPS scores to understand what we are doing well, and how we can continue to improve for our customers.