Slack’s CMO on how to use the best of consumer marketing at B2B brands

Slack has built up a company worth $3.8bn through word of mouth but its CMO Bill Macaitis is now looking at how it can use B2C tactics to reach one billion users.

When Bill Macaitis took up the CMO role at Slack a year and a half ago, he faced a big problem – the start-up’s own staff did not have a coherent idea what the company actually does. “When I joined there were 50 people in the company. I asked everyone to explain what Slack is, and I got 50 different answers. I instantly realised we needed a messaging framework,” he says.

It is easy to see why it might be difficult to define Slack. It aims to replace email but as a service it tailors its messaging based on who it is talking to and their level of knowledge. But at the most basic level, Macaitis describes Slack as a messaging app for teams.

“All of a team’s communications are in one place and it works with 375 different business applications. But at a larger level, we view it as an operational system. It doesn’t just bring teams together, it also stores all the files and business applications,” he explains.

The company, which now employs more than 430 people, is on a long-term mission to jump on a “macroshift that is happening in the technology landscape”, where consumers are steadily shifting from email to messaging.

“No one under 30 is creating email addresses anymore, there are a billion users on messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It felt like that trend had already played on the consumer landscape and it was just starting to play out in the business landscape,” he says.

Slack has 2.7 million daily active users and 800,000 paying customers. According to Macaitis, 77% of the Fortune 100 use Slack and 43% of its business is based outside the US and Canada. Companies that have got behind the service range from eBay and LinkedIn to BuzzFeed and The Times. However, Slack believes there are a billion “global knowledge workers” that it can target, so there is a lot more room for growth.

Using the best of B2C in B2B

The company’s ultimate goal is for people to recommend Slack. For this to happen, Macaitis believes adopting a customer-centric model is important, with marketing playing “a huge part” as often it’s the “first touch point of a customer with a brand”.

“When I arrived I was marketing [person] number one. In a good way, everyone does marketing at the company, whether it’s the sales team, product team or legal team. Everyone is interacting with customers in different ways,” he says.

To accelerate its growth, Macaitis is using his B2C background from roles at IGN Entertainment and Fox Interactive Media to inform Slack’s B2B strategy. He recently launched its first brand building campaign in the US, where it is hoping to increase awareness and build positive sentiment towards the brand. It built the campaign with agency Nexus, only communicating with each other using the Slack platform.

He says: “B2C always felt a bit more cutting edge. When it came to B2B, I was disappointed, it felt like it was a playbook that hadn’t changed in 40 years. You send out press releases, hold conferences and get people to buy the product. We want to use the best of B2C in B2B.”

As a result, the company has put a lot of investment behind “top of the funnel” content marketing, launching its own branded podcast that explores stories about “modern life and how modern teams work together”.

“It doesn’t really talk about Slack per se, it’s about trends in the work place and inspirational teams and what they’ve done. Often companies want to just tell people why they’re amazing. But we wanted to provide helpful information so people can learn about trends in the industry while developing a good connection with them,” he says.

Macaitis admits that while Slack’s campaigns take a “mainstream approach” and are aimed at long-term lead generation, companies can often get too wrapped up in segmenting audiences.

“As opposed to trying to find out how everyone is different, we’re looking for a common fibre in every single one of those segments and build around that from a functionality, pricing and messaging standpoint. It’s a mainstream approach, but I don’t sell features messaging or channels, I sell organisational transformation,” he says.

Focusing on recommendations, not sales

Slack’s most important metric is its net promoter score, which measures word of mouth growth. Besides being the businesses’ chief marketer, Macaitis also manages the sales and support teams, which he says “allows [the brand] to think of the go-to market process and all customer interactions”.

“I tell my team members that their gold standard is not whether customers bought a product, but did they recommend us? It’s a higher bar and a different standard,” he says.

“I’m embarrassed by some of the things I’ve done to customers as a marketer. Calling people before they’re ready, when it comes to your support [team] you outsource it so it costs nothing but leads to customers getting the worst possible service.”

“[Some tactics] are just polluting the customer lifecycle. And then you wonder – why is no one having word of mouth growth? It’s because you’re pissing them off every step of the way.”

Bill Macaitis, CMO, Slack

As a result, Slack’s marketing activity stays clear of “anything annoying” and aims to provide “ongoing support and education”.

“We look at frequency capping, and our ads are not an annoying blinking [format] that hurts your eyes. We try to do things differently and give them a better experience,” he says.

“We also don’t see marketing’s role as getting customers in the door and then wiping our hands and going on to the next one. Marketing’s role is about recommendation, so we spend a lot of time building up playbooks and putting together hints and tips on how to get the most out of Slack.”

Going forward, Slack is determined to use its customer-centric focus as a way of not getting caught up in what its competitors are doing.

“It’s a dominant philosophy where you’re just trying to copy your competitors. If others launch a feature, they need to do the same thing. But that’s where brands go wrong – if you focus on competitors, you lose focus on your customers.”

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