SalesTechStar Interview with Karen Budell, CMO at Totango

Karen Budell, CMO at Totango talks about the various ways in which B2B teams can boost their customer success processes in this catch-up:


Welcome to this SalesTech Series chat, Karen, tell us about yourself and your role as CMO at Totango…?

I started my career in journalism and publishing, which allowed me to gain a rich appreciation for the intersection between research, insights and compelling stories. Over the past 20 years, I built my experience and expertise in brand building and storytelling, leading integrated, content-fueled campaigns in both small, privately held and publicly traded companies.

My time in publishing and the newspaper industry during the rise of social media and birth of the iPhone, coupled with the past decade in tech at B2B enterprise software companies has exposed me to change in many forms. I thrive in entrepreneurial and ambiguous working environments, where you have an opportunity to get your hands dirty and build, and bring people and teams together to accomplish big goals and lead them through transformation.

As the CMO of Totango, I’m responsible for understanding the market, continuing to build our brand as an industry leader, and drive growth. My team covers the full buyer’s journey from communications and content, brand and events, demand gen and growth, to product marketing and sales enablement, and we partner closely with sales, customer success, and product teams to ensure we are helping our customers achieve their desired outcomes.

I’m also passionate about talent development by supporting and sponsoring the next generation of leaders, in particular, women who work in tech and who aspire to senior leadership positions.

Take us through some of the recent trends and your observations around customer success in B2B: what works and what doesn’t? What features do you feel today’s B2B teams need to focus on more, to prevent churn?  

Business leaders must lean into customer success to chart the path to long-term growth. We know that growth at all costs isn’t viable in today’s market, and we know acquisition is more expensive. More and more businesses and leaders are realizing that the path to sustainable growth is through securing retention and driving expansion. The thing is, it’s hard. It requires cross-functional alignment, integrated and shared data, and communication and collaboration across the enterprise.

Chief Customer Officers (CCOs) and customer success (CS) teams sit at the critical intersection of customer, product, and business insights, which, so they can be the key to leading businesses through this dynamic environment.

What doesn’t work anymore is when CS teams, and the software they use, operate in a silo — or when they haven’t made the shift from a reactive way of managing their customer portfolio to a proactive approach that leverages customer health and signals to shape how they guide customers to achieving business outcomes.

The CS teams that continue to drive industry-leading impact will do so by operating with customer goals in mind, using product adoption and feedback to drive advocacy, and prioritizing shared visibility and tighter alignment between marketing, sales, and product teams.

In terms of focus, that means starting each engagement with the customer’s desired outcome in mind.

How can modern marketers tie their process into the larger CS process to drive an end-to-end journey that benefits the customer?

It always begins with knowing the customer.

One of the first ways marketers can drive value through tighter CS alignment is by leaning into opportunities that harness customer insights. CS and Marketing teams often have the closest relationships with customers across various touchpoints—from keeping a pulse on their goals and pain points to understanding what they need and value at different stages of the journey. Having a deep understanding of your customer and their desired goals helps teams consistently craft targeted messages, campaigns, and programs that create value throughout the lifecycle.

Together, Marketing and CS teams have that entire lifecycle covered, from prospects who are unaware they have a problem to buyers who’re seeking the right solution to customers who are driving toward business goals —to advocates who keep that virtuous cycle going. For example, community and customer advisory boards are two rich programs that can surface valuable insights both for your business and for your customers to bring back to their teams. Both of those initiatives create a continual feedback loop between customers and the brand, providing valuable feedback which can fuel innovation and growth by deepening relationships through that value exchange.

Read More: SalesTechStar Interview with Neeraj Methi, Vice President of Solutions at BeyondID

Can you talk about some of the biggest CS flaws you see in B2B and what teams today need to do to work on them?

One of the most significant flaws we see in B2B is the opposite of what I noted above about leading CS teams. Today’s leaders are focusing on retention and expansion to drive long-term growth; the laggards are still over-indexing on acquisition and underspending on the customers they have.

We know that acquisition is expensive, sometimes demanding five times the investment to win a new customer as opposed to retaining a current one—which in a fluctuating economy and era of “do more with less”—is simply not viable. As a result, we will continue to see more and more businesses reorient themselves around retention and expansion as core levers for growth, and they will look to their CS teams, more than ever, to bring the unique cross-functional insights that can craft competitive and innovative plans to drive those results.

We’d love to hear about some of the salestech you’ve relied on over the years to help power your processes and plans?

The choice of tools in the sales and go-to-market tech space is crowded and overwhelming. Admittedly, catchy creative and brands built from thought leadership and good content catch my eye, like Crossbeam, Mutiny, and MadKudu, Gong, Jasper, and ChiliPiper to name a few.

Solutions that integrate with Slack help improve our internal processes and speed up execution, like ZoomInfo for intent data. I’m also a huge fan of Chorus to share call snippets internally and build learning libraries to improve our sales process and messaging, plus the AI call summaries save so much time. G2 and TrustRadius are a core part of learning from user reviews, but also a solid source of high-intent leads. Tools like Navattic are also exciting ways to offer a teaser of your product. Of course, the space many GTM execs are watching is email and tools used for outreach sequences given email provider restrictions on bulk senders.

If you had to share a few AI trends that will lead the sales tech space in 2024 and beyond, what would you talk about? 

An emerging trend in the sales tech space is the strategic use of AI to achieve greater efficiency with fewer resources. AI can alleviate the technical challenges associated with manual integration of customer data, it can boost team productivity, and it can surface deeper insights or information teams may overlook or not be able to see given the large scale of data available to most companies.

What’s exciting is how quickly this space is changing and how fast new tools are emerging. Sales and marketing teams can benefit from solutions that help them draft emails or LinkedIn messages in a few minutes, giving them a solid baseline that they can further personalize. Teams can also get a quick summary of an industry or target company or current customer account. If you and your team have not talked about how to use AI safely and with an eye for continuous learning, then start now because the pace of change and innovation is only going to speed up.

Totango customer success software helps enterprise businesses and cross-functional teams accelerate customer outcomes in productivity, retention, and expansion.

Karen Budell is CMO at Totango

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