Why Customer Marketing and Community are the perfect partners for Customer Success

Bridget Heaton
Head of Community
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Interview Highlights:

  • Communities are strategic imperatives for companies and drivers of customer success through customer satisfaction, advocacy, adoption, expansion and retention
  • CS, Community, and Customer Marketing need to work together to achieve the best results
  • When you pitch to upper management, come armed with as much data as possible
  • Leverage Customer Marketing and Community teams to help scale your CS initiatives and to help celebrate your customers

Could you please introduce yourself and what you do?

My name is Bridget Heaton, and I am a customer marketer and community professional who has spent the last two and half years building the customer marketing function and launching the Data Citizens Community at Collibra. Previously, I spent almost 5 years at Schoology where I built their community and advocacy programs and was their first customer marketer. 

Creating a customer marketing function and building community from scratch at an organization is not easy or quick work. Having been through it now at two different companies in two different industries, I’ve come to see that there are certain frameworks and strategies that you can consistently use to build these functions and ultimately drive success and engagement for your customers. However, every community is different—and should be. Each community represents your brand, the needs and values of your customers and drives towards your business’ goals. 

Why should a company consider launching a community?

A few years ago, it used to be that only a few companies were doing community really well. Now, the community industry is thriving and expanding because companies have realized that communities are a strategic imperative. They can act as a moat or strategic differentiator in the market, they can elevate your brand and help to create categories and enter new markets, and they can drive business growth through customer satisfaction, advocacy, adoption, expansion, and retention. 

At Collibra, we had always planned to launch a virtual community to help support customers and drive engagement, but when the pandemic hit we had to expedite our plans. We had scoped the community-building effort to take around six months. But I did it in 30 days (laughter). Yeah, I’m super proud. 

It’s been live now for about a year, and we’re at over 5,000 people in the community. 82% of our customer base is enrolled in the community. They’ve contributed almost 50,000 acts of advocacy on behalf of the company. Meaning they’re raising their hand to engage with us in deeper and more meaningful ways  and we’re starting to see a positive correlation between that community engagement and retention.

How do customer marketing and community drive engagement?

Engagement looks at all of the ways a customer or community member interacts with your brand through content, programming, community activities, advocacy, and so much more. That’s where having a strong community platform is key. I use a technology called Influitive that allows me to design fun and engaging experiences for our customers grounded in providing them value. I use it sort of as a part Go-To-Market communication tool, part classic discussion forum, and part engagement/advocacy tracker.

Whether the community is a part of the customer marketing team or on its own, these two functions working together to build these engaging and value-based programs for customers through community is what enables engagement at scale. That consistency across all customer programs ultimately helps elevate the brand and builds that special feeling of belonging for a customer.

A good example of a customer program linking customer marketing and community would be the Valentine’s Day campaign we ran this year. We built this fun, somewhat dorky, downloadable Valentines that were only available through the community. We posted them on social media, marketed them via email, but to get them, you had to go join our community and access a special experience that was full of additional resources to help our customers drive awareness and adoption across their organizations. We used something flashy, fun, and on-brand to bring them in, but grounded the experience in valuable content that would help them to be more successful customers. 

To run programs like this, you need a tight interlock and collaboration between Community, Customer Marketing, and Customer Success. 

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How do CS, community, and customer marketing work together?

All organizations are set up differently depending on their size, but you need customer success, community, and customer marketing working together to have that high-growth impact on customer success. The reason why is that customer success is ultimately driving towards bringing their customers value and helping them be more successful with their respective products, trying to upsell them and expand their usage, and retain them as customers. 

Those are the exact same goals that a customer marketer has. A customer marketer is essentially enlisted to build the programs and campaigns to help support customer success’ goals. And in a lot of companies, community is a vehicle used by customer marketing to help achieve and drive those overall goals. So, Community also shares those same goals, in addition to helping drive customer success through self-service and support.

In some companies, Community might fall under the customer marketing team or it might be its own team. Regardless of organizational structure, there always needs to be a gray dotted line between community and customer marketing because both of those functions and their goals are in service of customer success. 

At Collibra, I started in customer marketing, building the community and customer programs from my seat there. Recently, I’ve been moved to run Community for the enterprise under the digital marketing team. Regardless of my seat, I am a champion of the gray dotted line and that core partnership that needs to exist between customer marketing, community, and customer success. 

How can one get upper management on board with this strategy? 

Businesses now recognize the need for these roles and functions, I no longer think we’re at a stage where you need to convince a company that they need a Community or Customer Marketing. You can even see from the market that companies are hiring rapidly for these roles right now. So, I think the conversation has shifted from selling them on the need for these roles to selling them on the why or the vision—what’s the strategy, why is it important, how is your approach going to help drive success.

At Collibra, they already believed in the need for community when I started. At Schoology, several years ago, I did have to make that pitch to scale our program. My big advice here? Come with data. I came to our CMO with all of the quantitative and qualitative data that I had been collecting since the day I launched the program. Starting with 19 people and a mixture of tech to run a homegrown gamification system including Google Spreadsheets and Google Forms, I had grown it to 200 people manually and I had a vision to scale with technology. So, I shared my vision, showed the data, and it worked—buy-in. It’s hard to compete with good data and demonstrated impact, even if small-scale.

What’s the best way Customer Success can support customer marketers and community professionals?

I think it’s pretty simple - give them a seat at the table. There’s that expression that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think that’s the perfect representation of a high-growth company. In early stages, everyone is working really fast and hard within their own teams and silos to ultimately reach the same goals. Then, at some point of company growth and scale, they realize they need to work together across teams to go further faster. I say, the key is doing this from the start and growing more efficiently together.

A true partnership is needed between customer success, community, and customer marketing.Those three functions working together are a perfect growth machine. Here are two examples of really great collaboration:

Think about all of the times that a customer success manager has built their own slide deck for customers on a topic to help create a new process and/or make their own life more efficient. If there was partnership for even something as small as the creation of an asset with customer marketing and community, they could scale that resource across the customer success team, give it better branding and consistency across materials, build a version shareable through the community to help drive self-service and so on. The possibilities for growth and scale here are endless.

One other way customer success can help support customer marketing and community is through the identification of customer champions and advocates. This is a mutually beneficial strategy—customer marketing/community need advocates, people willing to share their story and experience and customer success can leverage this opportunity to celebrate and champion their customers at key milestones in their journey and drive growth. An analogy I use to describe this relationship is to think of the customer success managers like a parent of a customer. They “own” the account, they have the tough conversations, they challenge, they deal with the problems, and they’re responsible for their overall growth. Whereas the customer marketer or community manager is like the fun aunt or uncle that comes in at key moments in their journey to celebrate them, champion them, make them feel special and valued. They create the experiences that help you have fun, learn, and they can even bring presents. This relationship is definitely a useful tool if used strategically. 

A lot of CSMs feel like they’re on their own, but more and more organizations now have community and customer marketing functions to help support them, to bring fun and engaging experiences to their customers, and to ultimately help drive business growth through customer success. So, next time you’re sitting down to plan for the next quarter, make sure you have Customer Marketing and Community at the table.


Collibra is the Data Intelligence company. We accelerate trusted business outcomes by connecting the right data, insights and algorithms to all Data Citizens. Our cloud-based platform connects IT and the business to build a data-driven culture for the digital enterprise. Global organizations choose Collibra to unlock the value of their data and turn it into a strategic, competitive asset.

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