Why Chili Piper’s CPO is taking over as CMO for 12 months

Alina Vandenberghe is Co-Founder, Co-CEO, and CMO at Chili Piper. She’s passionate about building fun SaaS products to solve hard problems and a company where employees thrive. Today, Chili Piper is on track to IPO, and Alina believes that becoming a great Marketer will help them get there faster. Learn why and how Alina is making this critical shift.

Alina Vandenberghe
7 min read
Why Chili Piper’s CPO is taking over as CMO for 12 months

I’m a builder. For 14 years of my life, I’ve built products that have been used by millions of users. I’ve built products for healthcare, education, finance, media, and SaaS. I’ve built products on behalf of corporations and as an entrepreneur. Steve Jobs even included one of my products in a keynote. Through it all I learned one thing: how to build products that users love.

Six years ago, I founded Chili Piper. We have perfected product fit and created a successful marketing motion… but now are getting ready for our next milestone: going public. 

I don’t feel we can get ready for that path unless I learn to be the best Marketer I can be. 

You might think moving from product into marketing doesn’t make sense, but I beg to differ.

Product vs. Marketing skillsets: Why we need to understand both #

A great Product Manager creates delightful products that users love. And to do so, they usually exhibit the following skills: 

  1. They lead with customer obsession — they listen deeply to their customers and solve for their deepest needs  

  2. An analytical mindset to keep an eye on the metrics that matter 

  3. The deep understanding of the small details but also the ability to zoom out and understand the bigger picture  

  4. Complex problem-solving abilities — many times in creative ways 

  5. Great communication and leadership are also needed to get the teams around you rallied behind your mission 

A great Marketer creates delightful experiences that drive prospects and customers to action. And usually, these are the skill sets that are considered important to do so:

  1. They spend a lot of time with the customer and know what drives them to action

  2. Measure the actions they take to create amplifications for their product 

  3. Are strategic thinkers and can see both the details of their campaign as well as the bigger picture

  4. Creative on the ways they get customers to discover your product 

  5. They master the persuasive communication tools that move customers to action 

  6. They rally multi-department teams together to action

Generally speaking, Product Managers spend a lot more time trying to achieve happy users, hence improving skills 1 and 2. While Marketers are a lot more focused on 5 and 6, creating experiences that move to action. But overall, they both create experiences that delight their users. 

And I figured it was time for me to deepen my understanding of how to do that across the full journey.

Here are some reasons that prompted me to do so (and what I think Product Managers can learn from Marketers).

1. Understanding my persona on the deepest possible level   #

Product Managers can learn the pain points of their personas in several ways, including:

  • Conducting customer interviews: talking to customers to understand their needs, problems, and pain points. By conducting interviews, they can get firsthand insights and feedback that can help them refine their product.

  • Analyzing customer data: using customer data to identify pain points. By analyzing data from sources such as customer support, product usage metrics, and feedback forms, they can gain insights into where customers are struggling or experiencing issues.

  • Observing customer behavior: observing how customers interact with their product. By watching customers use the product, they can identify pain points and areas for improvement.

  • Collaborating with customer-facing teams: working closely with customer-facing teams such as sales, customer support, and marketing to gather insights about their personas. These teams often have direct contact with customers and can provide valuable insights into their pain points and needs.

These are the ways I have learned to build products for the entirety of my career, but I’m taking the path less traveled - learning about my audience by being in their shoes.

It’s been only 4 months into my CMO role so far. Whenever I stay awake until 3AM wondering about all the ways I can meet my pipeline goals, I feel like I’m starting to understand my customers’ pain points on a truly personal level. 

Instead of conducting my typical user interviews from a product perspective, I’ve started a new video series where I’m interviewing great Marketers to learn their secrets in a completely new way.

2. Digging into new datapoints #

When I started working in product, I couldn’t help but measure everything I was building. It was the data nerd in me. 

I soon learned that you get completely overwhelmed with all the data points and a lot more important is to measure the things that mattered.

Every product is different but having the focus on the things that matter in driving engagement is key.

For instance, in the early days of Chili Piper, I was only focused on one thing: Is the user booking their meetings with Chili Piper or outside of it. As soon as they were booking more than 60% of their meetings outside, I was reaching out to find out why. 

To create the kind of experience for prospects and customers that is truly efficient in building growth, the data is critical across all channels - not only product adoption.

I’m taking my data nerd hat and I am looking to create the kind of growth machine that impacts all the funnel points for our prospects and customers. 

Full funnel metrics is now my full focus. We even started to measure things that traditionally are not measured precisely in B2B marketing like brand impact. 

3. Understanding the customers’ full experience with the product #

This includes the experience before customers start using the product. In other words, how they find the product in the first place. 

As a sales-led company, it’s interesting to know how your customers find your product. But as Chili Piper moves into a Product-Led Growth (PLG) motion, it’s critical.

I think about PLG as not only about great self-service experience, but as great journeys that move users to action. 

While I see the term PLG used interchangeably to describe a software product that has a free trial, self-service or just to highlight that product should lead growth across all channels.

I believe PLG is describing the journey your prospects/customers have with your product and that journey has to be optimized from all entry points.

Social, Paid Campaigns, Educational Content — they all aim to drive prospects to a VIP experience through your product. And to make that kind of amazing experience happen you have to pay attention to everything else that surrounds your product (e.g. copy, landing pages, product shots, the list goes on).

I’ve always paid attention to product experience — now it’s time to amp my attention to how our prospects find the product in the first place.

4. Communicating value #

Behind every product/market fit, there’s a “words/market fit”.

Many founders prioritize finding product/market fit, rather than language/market fit, as the latter seems like "marketing," and fine-tuning language is often seen as a later priority. However, there are real costs to not prioritizing this deeper work. 

Growth can feel like pushing on a string, and conversion rates may hover between 0.5% and 3%. In contrast, companies with language/market fit can get conversion rates from 8% to 40%, resulting in much stronger unit economics. 

When startups get language/market fit right, it makes everything easier.

Tightening up language helps companies to reach a larger pool of potential low-intent customers, which can lead to stronger unit economics. Language/market fit can also help startups understand and size their market, narrow in on what to build, validate demand, demonstrate traction, and improve hiring and fundraising.

As a Marketer, I’m including the search for language/market fit as a part of the customer discovery process and our A/B testing to make sure the segmentation for each of our offerings resonates with our personas.

5. Amplifying happy customers #

Welcome to the era of customer marketing. Where it’s not enough to just have happy users.

It's important for a tech startup to pay attention to customer marketing because it can help the company acquire and retain customers, which in turn helps the product team but is crucial for the success of the business as well. 

Effective customer marketing can help the startup understand its target audience, build brand awareness, create a positive reputation, and increase customer loyalty. By understanding and meeting the needs of their customers, tech startups can differentiate themselves from their competitors and establish a strong market position. Additionally, happy customers can become advocates for the company, which can lead to increased word-of-mouth marketing and further growth.

Great customer marketing for us at Chili Piper involves a deep understanding of the target audience and their pain points, as well as a clear understanding of the value proposition of the product. It should focus on building strong relationships with customers through personalized and relevant messaging, effective communication channels, and timely and helpful support. 

This can be achieved through a variety of tactics, such as targeted email campaigns, social media engagement, content marketing, customer reviews and testimonials, and loyalty programs.

The ultimate goal is to create a positive customer experience that builds trust leading to increased retention, referrals, and revenue.

Closing thoughts #

It’s the best learning experience for me to feel the real challenges directly to get to build the best product that ever existed in our industry. As I go throughout my journey, I am also sharing my lessons on LinkedIn — feel free to give me a follow and let me know if there’s something you’d like me to talk more about.

Our main mission at Chili Piper is to help sales, marketing, and customer success teams work together to give their buyers the best possible experience across the sales funnel. We help prospects, especially those who want to talk to sales immediately, to get VIP treatment on the site.  

We also focus on improving the upsell/cross-sell experience for buyers to make sure they immediately get help from the right account manager/support rep — our Chameleon integration is integral to this.

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