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Jason Oakley’s Take on How The Customer Evidence Gap Impacts Product Marketing

At the intersection of Marketing, Sales, Product, and Customer Success are the agile powerhouses known as product marketers.

But GTM teams have traditionally seen them as order takers for creating random collateral — one-pagers, whitepapers, the works — and that’s it.

Jason Oakley, the founder of Productive PMM, is convinced there’s a better way than the status quo.

Jason Oakley
Founder, Productive PMM
“What gives product marketing a seat at the table is having unique insights that no one else in the company has: a combination of competitive market insights and buyer intel.”

When product marketers bring these insights to exec meetings and more, they’re no longer “more product-focused” content creators; they supply the meat their organizations need for better positioning and messaging — and ultimately, more sales. But it all starts with customer evidence.

Jason breaks down the customer evidence gap for product marketers and how they can fill it by collecting, curating, and distributing customer proof.

The customer evidence gap in product marketing

Buyers are hungry for social proof. While company websites are the least trusted source for B2B content, more than 90% of buyers somewhat or completely trust peers in their industry.

Source: Workweek

Before buying a product, prospects want to hear relevant stories from customers who solved the same problems they currently have to understand if your solution is all sizzle and no steak or if it’s the real deal.

Customer proof is how they gain confidence that they’re making the right call — and 82% of buyers report that a trusted customer review can convince them to make a purchase.

This is why vendors desperately need product stats, ROI data, and use case stories from their customers. A lot of this burden falls on product marketers, but they can’t always give customers or their internal sales team what they want.

For one thing, product marketers don’t have time. According to Jason, they might work on creating a few customer stories for a short sprint, then put this on the back burner for a while. While having some proof points is for sure better than having none, product marketers recycle the old ones ad nauseam, to the point where they’re eventually dated.

Outside of time constraints, product marketers don’t always have a huge supply of customer advocates or a way to keep finding new ones. They have to default to the customers that Customer Success or Sales bring to their attention.

As a result, product marketing often ends up in a reactive cycle where sales repeatedly asks for customer evidence for a certain use case or industry, and they scramble to respond.

“A lot of times, they’re trying to take a customer story that doesn’t really match and either make it seem like it does, or give prospects something that’s not really relevant,” Jason says. “Of course, it falls flat.”

Fact: Missing customer evidence leads to indecision

When customer evidence is lackluster (or missing), life gets more difficult for buyers and product marketers alike.

Customer proof is buyer enablement. When buyers don’t have the confidence that customer proof provides, buying a product is way harder. Jason cites the stat that 40-60% of deals end in no decision: “That’s because a buyer decides to stay where they are — it’s easier and less risky not to make a move.”

Product marketers have their own problems. They spend their time reactively, fielding customer story requests from Sales and fitting square pegs into round holes to support them. “It doesn’t feel like you’ve created a system to generate social proof. It feels like you’re getting a to-do list, and you’re knocking things off as they come.”

What we’re trying to say is this: product marketers, we get it.

And what we’re also trying to say is: There’s a better way to work.

What product marketers can do with better customer evidence

When you think of customer evidence, a classic “problem-solution-outcome” case study is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But those templatized case studies hardly scratch the surface of what social proof and evidence-based content could look like.

For instance, Jason loves a good customer example showcase. These are tangible, tactical walkthroughs of what a customer has accomplished with a product, using screenshots, videos, or templates.

Here’s an example: Loom uses Notion to create a templatized process to manage their product launches. Notion shared the template so others can see how Loom used Notion to get projects across the finish line with ease.

Loom’s Notion templates

“It’s social proof, but it’s more helpful than that. It’s a way for someone to onboard to your product with a proven use case that a customer that looks like them has used it for,” he explains.

Quantifiable proof points and benchmark metrics are key forms of make-or-break data that often tip the scale just enough for customers to buy. Here are two examples of what these sound like in the wild:

  • “Companies in X industry typically see Y increase in revenue with our product.”
  • “We help enterprises save Y hours per week.”

Best of all, anyone on the GTM team can use these numbers, from demand gen marketers who write ads to sales enablement managers who create custom decks for enterprise accounts. As Jason notes, “When you’re building a business case, those are the metrics that make a business case possible. But if you don’t have those metrics, it’s really hard to do.”

Showcases and metrics just scratch the surface of what you can do with customer evidence, though. Once you really start tapping into customer proof for product marketing, the sky’s the limit.

How to collect, curate, and distribute better customer evidence

Clearly, the philosophy behind customer evidence is solid, but now let’s get tactical.

Here’s the process Jason recommends product marketers use to build up their customer evidence workflow and strategy, from collection to distribution.

1. Build capture into the customer lifecycle

The reactive, ad hoc approach to gathering customer proof is a pain for everyone, but especially product marketers.

Instead, Jason recommends capturing proof points throughout the customer lifecycle at key touchpoints in their journey: after they sign, when they onboard, or when they accomplish certain value-indicative tasks in your platform. At those milestones, ask relevant questions that help you gather targeted customer evidence. (At UserEvidence, we call this “always-on surveying,” and we’re all about it.)

“The more proactive you are, the more successful you’ll be,” Jason says.

One pro tip here: Send an intake survey to measure a customer’s baseline before they start using your product. Product marketers often try to capture proof points by asking customers about ROI or their lift in a certain metric, but the customer doesn’t know what their starting point was.

Prevent that problem by asking “What’s your conversion rate?” or “How much time do you spend on X?” on day one. That way, you get the “before” data you’ll need to show the difference your product made for them in the “after.”

2. Curate insights to find happy customers

Ever struggled to figure out who your happiest customers are? Here’s the solution: Set up a process for how and where you’ll find them.

Start with how you measure customer satisfaction. Ask your Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and Account Managers (AMs) to gauge customer satisfaction during their check-in calls.

In NPS surveys, don’t just ask someone to quantify how likely they are to recommend your product — invite them to share the qualitative details about why they gave that score. High scorers (and the reasons they say they’re happy) should prompt you to reach back out for more details about their satisfaction with your product.

Product metrics are another goldmine for spotting customers who are getting a ton of value from your solution. Look at the built-in ROI measurement tools in your product to find customers who use your product more or better than most. “If you identify someone using your product in the best way possible, that should flag you to reach out, learn more, and use them as a model for what other people should do.”

Finally, create a culture around sharing customer wins. Listen to customer calls when you can, sure, but more importantly, encourage CS and sales to proactively share their best customer stories, competitive intelligence, product stats, and ROI data.

When Jason worked at Chili Piper, the CS team was trained to say, “That’s the power of chili” whenever a customer described something cool they achieved in the platform. That sentence cued the CSM to put the call recording into a folder so product marketing could go back and listen to cool customer wins.

3. Let the customer take center stage

When you reach out to a happy customer, let them know you want to make them look good. Frame requests to create a customer story or share usage metrics like this: “We love what you’re doing with the product. Can we tell your story and use you as an example of what great usage looks like?”

If you offer customers a moment in the spotlight, they’ll be willing and even eager to help with customer advocacy. Make it your job to make them look good.

Jason often sees an internal obstacle at this stage: Customer Success teams can be hesitant to overwhelm or annoy the customer. “I think people gotta give that up — just stop that, period,” he says. “We shouldn’t be afraid of wanting to recognize and celebrate customers who are doing amazing things with our product.”

It’s one thing if the CSM knows the customer is a churn risk and isn’t happy, even though their NPS is high, for instance. But if a customer’s truly crushing it, Jason recommends that Product Marketing ask the CSM for permission to reach out for a call, while emphasizing that the ask won’t be a drag on their time.

4. Make the most of your proof points

Once you’ve found happy customers and built a process to collect customer evidence, how do you use those proof points? Jason is clear:

Jason Oakley
Founder, Productive PMM
“I think social proof should be used everywhere. Most companies fall down because they’re not using it enough.”

If you’re building proof collection into the customer life cycle, you’ll create a rich bank of customer stories and proof points to use strategically and contextually. On a solution page, use only customer stories and ROI data to back up that solution. When you’re talking about a particular feature, share evidence-based customer wins that are specific to that feature.

“It’s more about being helpful to the customer versus trying to find the one or two quotes that make you look the best,” Jason explains. The more customer evidence you have, the more you can use proof creatively to:

  • Show how a customer used your product through video for B2B “influencer marketing”
  • Create benchmark or industry best practice reports, incorporating customer knowledge, feedback, and tips
  • Borrow part of a customer story to write web copy

“Why do you even have to write your own tagline if the customer said exactly what you want to say?” Mic drop, Jason.

Jason’s vision for the future of product marketing

The product marketing “status quo” — of being an on-demand and by-request content factory — isn’t just a miss for product marketers. It also keeps other teams from getting the customer intel and insights they need.

Going forward, gathering and taking action on customer evidence will be the difference-maker that gives product marketing a secure seat at the strategy table and fuels success for the GTM function and business as a whole.

Jason’s prediction (and challenge) for product marketers is this: “The future success of product marketing is going to depend on how well you capture customer and buyer insights and enable your company to use that in your marketing.”

It’s time to power your product marketing with customer proof points that lead to better market understanding, buyer trust, and more sales. UserEvidence can help.

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