Marketing’s Vital Role in Customer Expansion, with Karen Budell


For most SaaS organizations, the customer success function has two players: the CS lead and the salesperson. But in this episode, Lindsey speaks with Totango CMO Karen Budell, who suggests that customer success should use a “three-legged stool approach,” with marketing as an equal leg completing the third role. 

Karen believes the three functions should work together to develop and execute customer expansion campaigns to drive more revenue from existing accounts. In a down market, this strategy costs less — and takes less time — than securing new logos.

Evolving Roles

The role of the CMO and marketing teams has evolved to focus more on driving revenue, not just bringing in prospects. These leaders are zeroed in on how marketing impacts the entire revenue pipeline.
Because marketers have always prioritized knowing their customers and audiences, they’re well-positioned to bridge the gap between sales and customer success (CS) leaders.

“Traditionally, we’ve seen tension between sales and CS over unclear handoffs and relationships. And, let’s face it — marketers and sales leaders have navigated their own challenges in this area over the decades, although that relationship has improved tremendously in the last 5-10 years,” said Karen.

“Customer marketing offers a great opportunity to bring unity. It looks at how to leverage your best advocates, understand your ideal customer profile, see what products and services generate success, and replicate all this data to find more customers,” she said. “On the marketing side, customer marketing means finding and targeting more ideal prospects. On the CS side, it means driving growth through advocacy and expansion with existing, happy customers.”

In other words, marketing provides the perfect third leg for a sturdy stool.

The three-legged stool: Better support for everyone

Among those leading customer success today — marketing, CS or sales — who’s responsible for renewal or upselling — or is it a combination? In this economic climate, renewal managers focused specifically on renewals are increasingly important. They need visibility into upcoming renewals and an action plan for each account in forthcoming quarters.

“In a typical CSS handoff, the contract ink dries, the deal’s complete and the account moves to someone else responsible for checking in periodically to see how things are going,” said Karen. “But when you just abruptly throw the handoff over the fence, so to speak, that’s when things go wrong.”

Karen suggests bringing the CSS team into the conversation before closing and onboarding a new customer. Making this shift, having these conversations sooner and getting your customers or buying committee used to this process ensures a smoother, more collaborative handoff. 

“When companies are in that more mature stage of having a post-sale organization built out, there’s more alignment, collaboration and connection,” said Karen. “While we’re seeing that evolution happen with sales and CSS, there’s another department that should be involved in the process: marketing.”

Traditionally, we think of marketing as bringing in the leads, with sales closing the deal and CX renewing and upselling the products or services. Historically, as marketing leaders, CMOs have focused on how marketing drives the revenue pipeline; they’re looking further down the field to see where the next order of revenue comes from.

Marketers, meanwhile, have always focused on knowing their customers — their audience — first. These folks are perfectly positioned to bridge sales and the CSS leader. Marketing can ask the following key questions:

  • How do you identify and tap into your most enthusiastic advocates?
  • Who are your best-fit customers in terms of profile and product usage?
  • What factors make some customers more successful than others?
  • How do you find your best customer advocates?
  • How do you leverage happy customers to drive growth through referrals and advocacy?

Expansion efforts: If you have two systems, you have no systems

Different people are often responsible for internal expansion, but there’s no clear owner. 

“You could say that if everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible,” said Karen.

In an ideal world, who should drive expansion efforts? 

“The classic answer is that it depends on the organizational structure and roles. Totango is passionate about empowering the leader of customer success to drive expansion,” said Karen. 

Regardless of the title — chief customer officer, chief revenue officer, etc. — whoever owns the post-sale customer relationship should look to drive adoption, connect with product to deliver additional value, tap into sales to champion advocacy and referrals, and leverage marketing to support growth. 

Listen to episode 364 of SaaS Half Full for more of Karen’s insights.

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