December 3, 2019

How to understand customer experience through the lens of product-led growth

If product-led growth is all about the end user’s experience, how do you understand that experience?

We sat down with Georgiana Laudi—SaaS growth advisor and cofounder of Forget the Funnel—to find out the answers.

Read on to learn about the importance of customer experience mapping as an exercise and asset (hint: it’s not just customer journey mapping), the issues you can expect to encounter, and how acting like a marketer can help. 

First off, what is customer journey mapping?

The highest level way that I typically describe customer journey mapping—or what I like to call customer experience mapping, and I'll get into why in a second—is that it's a tool to help teams operationalize customer insight and build better customer experiences. It also helps to hold teams more accountable to customer outcomes.

The reason why I often resist using the term “customer journey” is that, similarly to a buyer’s journey, the customer journey paints an incomplete picture. Buyer journeys and customer journeys are historically, and ironically, somehow more about the company than they are the customer’s experience. They become about business metrics like MQL and SQL, rather than customers achieving their goals. Also, buyer and customer journey mapping have been around for a long time, and so many of us have these negative connotations associated with them. They sound like something that only big tired mature companies use, not young agile teams like us. 

Lastly, ‘customer experience mapping’ does a better job at describing how it's ultimately meant to be used, too. 

A customer experience map should span the entire customer experience, from struggling with the problem you solve to achieving their desired outcome and evolving as an individual. 

Specifically for product-led growth companies, why do you think that a customer experience map would be critical or useful?

It's particularly critical for product-led companies to have a tool like this because the very idea of being product-led is that you shouldn’t have to lean on a one-to-one experience the same way a more sales-led a company would. 

A customer experience map is a tool that will help democratize customer insight across teams and functions. This gives everyone an opportunity to create customer experiences that scale.

In a recent workshop I ran on CX mapping, I reference Guru co-founder and CEO Rick Nucci describing their musts for operationalizing customer centricity: meticulously quantified, rigorously unambiguous, and integrated into every facet of the company.” (Emphasis mine.) I couldn’t agree more.

There is no room for confusion or fuzziness. Every single person in the company has to have a crystal clear understanding of the success milestones in their customer’s relationship with them. And at each milestone, there should be clarity around things like:

  • What might be motivating them?
  • What might be a force against them? 
  • Are there other buyers or outside influences that need to be considered 
  • Where are their success gaps?
  • How are they feeling about the process? 
  • Where are they hanging out and who are they talking to?

Your founders, sales team, CS team, and others know a ton. But when you try to tap into that knowledge without a framework like this, you’ll find it’s often conflicting and almost always piecemeal. You can't rely on that at scale. And you certainly can't scale what's in only one person's head. 

A customer experience map is a way to get what all the smartest people know about your best customers down in a way that is shared across the company. 

What issues have you seen consistently brought up by doing this exercise? 

Far and away, the number one thing I see teams struggling with when they try to operationalize customer insight in this way is getting folks on board internally. 

I’ve found though that there are a few key moments that are really great opportunities to cut your teeth on a project like this; because there is a very specific business problem that is being solved for, which makes it much easier to get buy-in from the senior leadership: 

  1. A company might be experiencing inconsistent growth
  2. They might be wanting to address churn
  3. There are expansion or monetization opportunities they want to leverage 
  4. They’re looking to move into an adjacent target market, a new market, or expand globally

And when you're solving for something very specific, like churn, it's much easier to say, "Hey, we have a churn problem and this problem is worth $X to solve. So let's do this exercise over here learning what is going on in their life when they're at this stage." And then just that stage’s learning and improvement is how you then introduce the rest of the customer experience. 

You're effectively just mapping that one particular stage and then once you can prove the value—solve for churn, as an example. Then you can say “that worked and what’s next?” You build on it. There are a lot of scenarios like this, addressing churn, where it would be advantageous to introduce customer experience mapping that might otherwise feel like make-work project or a nice-to-have.

Compare that to the scenario where somebody wants to introduce customer experience mapping because, you know, it's the right thing to do. Someone might say, “Hey, we're product-led, we need a tool to democratize customer insight across the organization.”

That is often always hit with objections inside of a company. It is very, very hard to get across the board buy-in on a project like that without having one of those scenarios that I described before that you're specifically solving for.

The pushback is always the same. It sounds like it's going to take a lot of time; a lot of research is needed, and we already have research; and you know, "Oh the product team is already working on something like that. Sales already has a sales process. Marketing already has their funnel sorted out." 

In terms of advanced experience mapping versus ‘MVP get it out the door,’ how should a team decide what to do?

This is a really great question and a challenging one to answer because, of course, the answer is ‘it depends’. 

If you’re at an early stage company—one that may not even have a marketer yet—you would be very well-served by developing a customer experience map from the beginning, where the customer is experiencing the problem to growth and expanded use of your solution. As opposed to solving for just one customer success milestone at a time, like I described earlier. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that a customer experience map developed at this early stage of a company will be complete. The reality is, it will never really be complete. But you can get ‘good bones’ in place early that you can build upon. 

Could you implement something to solve for just one challenge? Of course. But you'd be much better served by having visibility into all of the customer growth levers available to you and your team. You and your team will have the opportunity to understand the customer experience holistically. You’ll see opportunities you might otherwise miss over time as the team grows and the product changes. 

For a more mature company, with more complex needs (read: more stakeholders), I would say it’s easier to introduce CX mapping by solving for a specific business challenge first. Use solving that challenge as the way to prove the hypothesis that this works. That democratizing information about this stage of the customer’s experience actually moves the needle in positive ways. And then you can get buy-in to expand research and mapping beyond that.

If however, you are experiencing slowed or and consistent growth, scratch the idea of tackling one stage at a time and do the whole thing. If you can't put your finger on where the problem is, or worse, your team disagrees where the problem is, then you've got bigger problems and you need to maybe reevaluate who your product-fit or ideal customer is. The customer experience mapping process will force you to get really, really clear on the issues and solve them in a way that will bring your team together and make it really obvious what needs to be done. 

What do most people get wrong when they do it?

Often what can go wrong with customer experience mapping is that they’re based on opinion, or assumption, or what the CEO or Product Manager thinks they know about customers. When you're so close to your product—and your own solution to the problem—it's often all you can see. When that bias gets baked into a tool like a customer experience map, meant for your team to use over time, you're building strategies on top of that bias that could (and often do) miss serve you in the future. You must use quantitative and qualitative research based on real customers, develop hypotheses about each of your customers’ success milestones, and even then, validate them further with experiments.

The other big thing that folks get wrong is that they leave out key people. They go rogue—do it on their own and don't get the proper buy-in. Or they try to get the buy-in and fail and don't ask for help from the founders, like getting levels up involved and bought in. You've got to be a marketer about it.

Whoever's championing the customer experience mapping process cannot falter in their championing of it. The internal communications needed takes almost as much effort as the research and mapping itself.

That's interesting. You have to be a marketer about it, but you don't have to be a marketer to do it.

Yes, totally. But that's true of so many things. Right? That's true of hiring. That's true of sharing your ideas at a boardroom table. You have to know your audience, and this is the same thing. Any company wide cross-functional initiative like this needs serious buy-in, or it does not happen.

Georgiana helps high-growth teams turn customer insights into revenue generating customer outcomes. She's been working with SaaS companies like Unbounce, Appcues and Sprout Social since 2009 and building B2B and B2C brands online since Y2K was a thing. In three years, she built a team that grew revenue 900% and was awarded the 14th spot in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50™, without any major funding. She loves helping ambitious managers grow into great leaders, and empowering teams to build high-impact, cross-functional solutions for growth.

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