SurveyMonkey’s CMO On Making Marketing More Human

April 2, 2020

The consumerization of business software changed all the rules. It blurred the lines between B2C and B2B products as enterprise companies began demanding the same kind of intuitive, well-designed user experience featured in consumer products like mobile apps.

We’re now on the cusp of another watershed moment: the consumerization of software distribution. This time, it’s less about blurring the lines between B2C and B2B than it is about getting rid of them all together.

As the first CMO at SurveyMonkey, Leela Srinivasan has been up close and personal with this transition and how it affects marketing. Leela sat down with me for a recent episode of the BUILD podcast to talk about this, along with how SurveyMonkey moved upmarket to serve the enterprise, how they leverage traditional marketing channels with a viral product, and much more.

SurveyMonkey grew up as a consumer-focused, self-serve oriented business, but today they’re stepping back from the B2C versus B2B dichotomy. “It’s really all B2H—Business to Humans—whether you are buying a product on behalf of your organization for enterprise usage or you’re buying it for yourself and a teammate in a startup to use,” explained Leela. “We’re in the business of marketing to humans and trying to help them to get value to be able, in our case, to leverage feedback to drive growth and innovation for their organization.”

The idea is that B2B software users and buyers are just consumers who are at work. Same people, different context. There’s really no need to treat them differently.

In response to this reality, marketing organizations targeting enterprise are adopting a more consumer-like voice and tone—approachable, warm, friendly. “I don’t know of a classically B2B marketing organization out there that isn’t trying to be more approachable and friendly and warm in their tone because they understand the importance of that human aspect,” said Leela.

She noted that enterprise players are embracing consumer-grade technology that meets the expectations of business users who have grown accustomed to having a supercomputer in their back pocket.

We started this revolution by building business software that people actually want to use. Now we need to align our marketing to be more consumer-friendly. We need to figure out how to get our products into people’s hands as quickly and efficiently as possible. And that’s the journey they’re on at SurveyMonkey.

The inspiration: Listening is the key in the feedback economy

SurveyMonkey started moving into the enterprise space two or three years ago. There were a few things that pushed them in this direction, including the arrival of John Shoenstein as their Chief Sales Officer and their acquisitions of Get Feedback and Usabilla. All three of these additions came to them with existing enterprise DNA.

But the biggest influence was their customers. The SurveyMonkey team is, unsurprisingly, big on feedback. “It’s sort of our jam here at SurveyMonkey, “ said Leela. “And we had customers literally asking for some of this functionality.” Users told SurveyMonkey that they loved their technology, but they needed enterprise-specific features like privacy, security protocols, access control, etc.

The increased interest from enterprise organizations is a result of what we call the “feedback economy.” The combination of human nature and technology has created a perfect storm for enabling and amplifying feedback. It’s human nature to want to be heard, and now—with the megaphone of the web—it’s easier than ever for people to share their experiences. SurveyMonkey’s research shows that 85% of people who have had a good experience and 81% of people who have had a bad experience are likely to share with others.

Companies are finally cottoning onto the fact that they need to be leaning into feedback from customers, employees and stakeholders, explained Leela. They need to collect, measure and understand it. Most importantly, they need to take action on it if they want to drive growth, innovate and do right by the people who will help them be successful in the long run.

Ultimately, that’s exactly what SurveyMonkey did. They took the feedback they were hearing to heart and created a product that offers the best of both worlds: a friendly, intuitive experience plus all the enterprise bells and whistles.

The next step for them: Getting the word out to enterprise buyers and users.

The obvious hurdle: Messaging adaptation

One of the most ubiquitous challenges of moving from a consumer market to enterprise is managing how people perceive your product. People may not understand right away how you’re relevant in an enterprise context. The onus is on you to fill them in.

SurveyMonkey has the products, and they’re ready for prime time. There’s SurveyMonkey Enterprise; the two acquired brands (Get Feedback and Usabilla), which play heavily in the customer experience management space; and SurveyMonkey Audience, an agile research solution quietly being used by some of the most admired CPG and financial services firms in the world.

98% of the Fortune 500 use SurveyMonkey’s products. “Where we have more work to do—and this is on me and my team especially—is that perception shift. Helping people understand SurveyMonkey as a brand that has extreme relevancy in those areas,” said Leela.

Leela notes that trade show attendees often tell them that they love SurveyMonkey, and then they ask why SurveyMonkey is there. They have no idea that SurveyMonkey offers enterprise solutions.

The external shift: Integrating new channels

As Leela and her team face this messaging challenge, their company has several things going for it: strong brand recognition and SEO, a familiar interface, and champions who love that they don’t have a dense instruction manual or heavy implementation requirements.

They also have strong product virality. At the end of every SurveyMonkey survey they include “powered by SurveyMonkey” branding alongside messaging that proactively engages survey participants with their products. This has been, and continues to be, a foundational element of their growth.

The difference now, as they move into enterprise, is that they’re able to layer on other channels like digital acquisition, offline channels and account-based marketing (ABM). Their approach is a glorious, strategic mashup of all the available marketing techniques and opportunities.

Each new tool in their toolbox helps them refine how they think about marketing to enterprise. ABM, for example, drives them to be more targeted and intentional about who their best prospects are. They’re also investing time and resources into developing their ideal customer profile because they know how much that will inform the campaigns they run, the events they attend, and the strategic content they create.

SurveyMonkey is building on top of what they’ve already accomplished, and they’re not afraid to experiment with new tactics to reach the right audience with the right message.

The bottom line: It’s all about your customer, and your customer is human

Everyone at SurveyMonkey is excited to help customers solve their evolving business challenges. Leela says they’re ready to innovate not only within their product, but also within their organization in terms of how they do things.

Research that Leela’s marketing team has done in partnership with their in-house research team revealed that 60% of consumers believe marketers are selling them things they don’t need.

For Leela, hearing that was a total gut punch because it implies that marketers don’t understand their customers—and, worse, that they aren’t listening.

Listening and understanding are the absolute keys to success in the feedback economy and the era of B2H sales and marketing, Leela explained. That holds true whether you’re talking to a consumer or a business buyer. You must understand your customers’ pain points, challenges and needs. You have to consider not just how your customers interact with your product, but how they interact with the entire customer journey, starting in the early stages as they’re just considering your technology.

Leela stressed that you need to listen and understand—that’s the only way you’ll be able to solve customer problems and deliver value. Because at the end of the day, your enterprise customers are just like any other consumer. They want to be heard. They want to be understood. They want solutions that make their lives easier.

It’s what we all want, really. So treat your enterprise customers the way you’d like to be treated.

You might be surprised how far it takes you.

Want to hear more from Leela?

Listen to the full episode here, and don’t forget to subscribe.


Ariel is a VP on the investment team at OpenView. She focuses on product-led software companies and helped lead the firm's investments in Calendly, Loopio, Balena, Zipwhip and Cogito. Prior to joining, she was a Product Manager at Yesware.