Ask The CMO: The Smart Marketing Strategies Behind Slack’s Extreme Growth

Marketing Savvy


Wow, our latest Mashable “Ask the CMO” conversation with Slack’s Bill Macaitis is an absolute barn-burner. This rich interview echoes so many themes that I have been talking and hearing about from other marketers. First off, it’s clear that Bill believes in the shift to engagement marketing. Secondly, he talks about how brands are defined by customer experience and how we can no longer define marketing by B2B or B2C—it’s truly “B2H;” it’s the human at the other end of the interaction that matters most. And lastly—something I am certainly passionate about—Bill emphasizes focusing on the right metrics in order to make sure we’re going after the right goals.

I love how Bill takes this discussion of metrics and combines it with the idea that marketers need to own the entire customer lifecycle. He is a great example of a CMO living in a Marketing First world in that he’s thinking not only about marketing and customer acquisition, but about the entire customer lifecycle and experience. This is because—in the discussion of measuring results—customer satisfaction is one of the most important benchmarks for success. I also loved his insights about being a good manager and creating the right team—I have always said that marketing is the greatest of all team sports.

I want you to read all of his insights, but I thought this quote was too good not to showcase it up top: “Building the best of breed teams out and equipping them with a modern day marketing tech stack can mean the difference between hyper-growth and average growth.” Great thoughts from a CMO who is leading the charge at one of the hottest high-growth companies today.

The following interview originally appeared on Mashable.

File “less pointless emails” under “things every employee wishes for.” Take that, and add “no more waiting around for a response” (and the accompanying internal debate on how long to hold off before following up) and you have a more streamlined and productive work communications system.

Meet Slack, a communications tool seeking to do just that, enabling teams to message each other in real time, among other functions. A plethora of options for customization, a sleek design plus bells and whistles like shortcut Giphy embeds have made Slack a leader in the space. The tech and investor community has caught on. In April, just about a year after launching publicly, Slack was valued at 2.8 billion.

The man on the marketing side is Bill Macaitis. Macaitis came to Slack as marketing employee number one in late 2014. Before landing at Slack, Macaitis was instrumental in leading his former employers to success. Take Zendesk’s IPO during Macaitis’ reign as CMO, for example, and Salesforce’s tripled revenue during his tenure as SVP of online marketing and operations.

Mashable chatted with Macaitis to get the scoop on what it’s like to be a Silicon Valley CMO, why customer experience is king and how companies can leverage marketing to achieve extreme growth.

Q&A with Slack CMO Bill Macaitis

1. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self that pertains to your career in marketing, what would it be?

I would tell myself that a brand is the sum of every experience a customer has with your company, and a strong brand will always generate long-term growth and revenue. It’s important to think about the entire customer lifecycle and relentlessly improve the interactions customers have with your company. I would also tell myself to maintain a hunger for learning—some of the best marketing tactics are developed with each new year—and to focus on becoming a true leader, developing and inspiring your teammates to do the best work of their careers.

2. What’s the most unexpectedly important skill from your past that you’ve found plays into your success?

My dad and I did a lot of home improvement jobs together around the house. He was always giving me life lessons: “Bill, lecture #23: If you’re going to do a job, do it right; lecture #34: You need the right tool for the right job.”

When a job didn’t proceed as planned, my dad persevered until we got it right. He had a certain grit and humor to him that he passed on to me.

One year when I was little, I was helping my dad build a long breakwall for my grandma’s cottage in Michigan. It was a difficult, dirty job. We were working in the water, dredging sand, anchoring the wall and building it piece by piece.

Of course, no job ever goes as planned—we were constantly improvising and tackling obstacles that arose. But we stayed at it and eventually, after a week of work, we got the job done (and right). My grandma was delighted and she made us my favorite lasagna to celebrate its completion. It was the best tasting lasagna I ever had.


Throwback: A young Macaitis (right) works on a home improvement project with his dad


3. What are the three biggest trends that you see in B2B marketing today? What do you envision for the future?

  • Testing: So much of what we do in marketing can be tested and quantified now: ads, homepages, content, pricing, positioning, channels, etc.  You have to check your ego at the door and let data help drive informed decisions. In the future, I think we will continue to expand both the breadth of what can be tested and move testing further within the product itself.
  • Content lifecycle nurturing: Marketing teams need to understand their role is not simply to get customers to the front door, but rather to stay with them for their entire lifecycle. Content can play an extremely significant role in that lifecycle and marketing plays a key part in distributing that content throughout their lifecycle. Content should be genuine and helpful, not crappy brochureware.
  • Customer centricity: The voice of the customer has never been stronger with the rise of social. Companies are increasingly understanding the power of word-of mouth marketing, and how that begins and ends with a great experience for their customers. More companies will move toward customer-centric metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction. These metrics are a great proxy for organic word-of-mouth growth and healthy long-term hyper-growth.

4. Your career in marketing spans over 20 years, and you’ve moved from B2C to B2B side. What are some key learnings you’ve been able to apply across the board?

Customers, regardless if they are the consumer in “B2C” or the business in “B2B,” are ultimately regular people who want to have a great experience with your brand. Marketing is often the first interaction a prospect has with your company and you need to be cognizant that you are delivering a great experience.

The other key learning is the importance of being a good manager. There is an important stat that the number one reason people quit a job is because of their manager. To that end, I’ve always tried to improve my skills as a manager by reading articles and books and listening to podcasts on management. My role as a manager is to inspire and empower people to do the best work of their lives.

5. You joined Slack in late 2014 as the first marketing employee. Can you tell us about how your marketing department is structured today, and how it has grown since you began?

We are up to almost 20 people now, spanning across comms, pmm, editorial/content, advertising, ops, customer references, field marketing and nurturing.

 My role as CMO is somewhat non-traditional in that I manage all of the customer-facing teams at Slack. That includes accounts (sales), marketing and customer experience (support). By grouping these three teams together under one leader, we are able to ensure a great, consistent experience for our customers with smooth communication between teams.

We do approach everything we do with this customer-focused mindset and base all our decisions on what will be the best experience for our prospects and customers. We don’t have a commissioned sales team, for example, and we have about four times as many support people than sales. We have a single point of contact through the pre- and post-sale process and offer a fair billing policy where you get credits back if people stop using the product.

6. Slack is in and of Silicon Valley. What are some of the main challenges to being a CMO in the startup realm?

I love what I do. I feel so incredibly fortunate to work in Silicon Valley and for great companies that are materially improving people’s lives.

That being said, the CMO role will always have its challenges. I think the main one, which all CMOs face, is the constant battle to not focus on short-term results but rather always build for the long run and do what is right for the customer.

For many companies, there is so much pressure that is applied by either the CEO or the board on short-term metrics that it can mislead marketers to the wrong tactics.

One of the things that really attracted me to Slack was the commitment from our board members and Stewart Butterfield, our CEO, to build a long-term business that revolved around our customer’s success and making their working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive.

7. In interviews, you’ve said numerous times that customer experience is vital. What role does marketing play in driving this customer experience? How do you take user/customer feedback into consideration and ensure a top-notch experience?

Customer experience and growth should not be viewed as competing forces or a zero sum game. A great customer experience will yield happy customers who recommend you more. Additionally, word of mouth recommendations are usually the best converting lead sources.

Marketing has a huge role in that experience and is often one of the first touch points that a customer has with your brand. It is critical that they have a great first experience.

A robust marketing tech stack is a powerful resource to deliver a great experience. There is great software right now that allows you to target the right people, test messages and experiences that work, score leads so you understand when is the right time to reach out to them, nurture people through the buying process and onboard them successfully into your product.

Moreover, marketing is often in the best position to track and report on the customer experience via NPS and Customer Satisfaction Surveys (CSAT). These surveys allow you a constant flow of feedback to help shape your product roadmap and improve on poor experience areas.

8. Transparency seems to be a big part of the Slack ethos. You participated in a Reddit AMA, and recently released stats surrounding inclusion and diversity at Slack. What are some other ways you aim to present a cohesive brand image and drive it home?

Developing your brand tone and voice is an important first step to delivering a cohesive brand. At Slack, we focus on being humble, authentic, humorous and human. A big part of building trust with your brand is being transparent, which should be the basis for every interaction. For Slack, that manifests itself in the big and little things … the welcome message when Slack is loading, the way we respond to tweets, even our release notes.

9. In your LinkedIn description, you call out an emphasis on pairing sophisticated, data-driven marketing strategies with beautiful, emotional brand development to yield hyper revenue growth. Can you expand on your how you implement both of these tactics, and how they complement each other?

I’m a strong believer that today’s CMO has to have a blend of both data-driven domain expertise as well as the ability to create captivating brand experiences.

On the data-driven side, you need to build out your marketing tech stack so that you have the optics to understand what is working and what is not. As a marketer you should be able to measure brand metrics (aided/unaided recall, share of voice, sentiment, etc.), funnel metrics (visitors, leads, opps, pipeline, ACV), and customer success metrics (NPS, CSAT, daily active users).

On the flip side, I’ve often thought of lead gen as short-term lead creation and brand as long-term lead creation. Maintaining focus on the longer-term horizon allows you to build up brand equity—a powerful differentiator and competitive moat—and motivator for word of mouth referrals.a powerful differentiator and competitive moat—and motivator for word of mouth referrals.

10. Let’s focus in on growth. You were CMO of Zendesk when it went public, and now Slack is on a similar growth trajectory. How can companies leverage marketing to achieve similar high growth?

Marketing can be the fuel to the fire which can amplify the growth trajectory of a company. Word of mouth, PR, advertising, content marketing, conversion marketing, lifecycle nurturing, events and customer evangelism are all key components to accelerating growth and moving your company into new segments, verticals and geos.

Building the best of breed teams out and equipping them with a modern day marketing tech stack can mean the difference between hyper-growth and average growth.

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