What do you do with new leads coming into your CRM? Are you taking full advantage of automations? Or are you still struggling to work through the first steps of your sales process manually?
As a company that thrives on custom workflows and automations, it’s no surprise that Customer.io is playing at the boss level of sales automation (and crushing it). They’ve come up with unique ways to solve the eternal problem: Where should this new lead go?
We spoke with Alex Patton, Director of Marketing & Marketing Operations at Customer.io, to learn more about the processes and tech that help keep marketing and sales aligned to close more deals.
Customer.io is an email automation tool that allows businesses to send targeted emails, notifications, and SMS messages to their customers and leads. Their goal: help businesses build more meaningful and longer-lasting relationships with their customers.
“We’ve been hesitant to say we serve any market better than another because, if you can use this tool successfully, money is green and that makes us happy,” says Alex. “It’s been really cool to see the variety of people who can excel in Customer.io.”
How the sales team works at Customer.io
How has Customer.io set up their sales team, where do their leads come from, and what makes this particular sales team so unique? Let’s find out:
Optimizing for both inbound and outbound
Historically, Customer.io sees more leads coming through inbound channels, such as paid ads.
But there’s a special advantage to being a .io company, which pays off in new leads. Says Alex, “One of the nice things about Customer.io is that, wherever you type it, it becomes a link. That’s been a significant source of traffic and leads. For example, our CEO was quoted in the Times a while ago, and it says ‘Colin, CEO of Customer.io’. Now, no matter what the Times does, we have a link on their website.”
Recently, as Customer.io works to expand its brand awareness, they’ve been pushing for more outbound leads. This has worked to get their name known in industries that haven’t heard of them before.
Sales team size and structure
Customer.io’s sales team is structured to generate only the most valuable leads for their AEs to work with.
Sales development team: 10-12 people
Account executives: 4
Sales enablement: 1 dedicated sales enablement materials creator
Both the sales and marketing teams are growing as needed. But what Alex loves most about the current size of their teams is that every touchpoint is recorded, resulting in a wealth of data that can be used actionably. With this data, performance is tangible.
Where does the sales team spend most of their day?
Alex’s simple answer: “Our sales team stays in Close. That’s where they live, that’s where they work.”
“What we love about Close is that it doesn’t hit you over the head with its limitations or needs. I think it’s a great thing that the product recedes into the background. You can just trust it, you don’t have to think about it.”
But of course, the data in Close is coming from other places, most from Customer.io itself. So, what if reps have a question about a certain lead or why data was presented or logged a certain way?
“They can go right back in Customer.io,” says Alex. “Everyone has access and we can see why certain things took place. Nothing happens randomly, there’s a reason it happened. We can change it going forward, but there’s always a reason it happened in the first place.”
The lesson? Give your sales team access to the original data that’s coming into your CRM. Then, they can always look back and see why certain data points were recorded.
This sales team’s superpower: taking ownership
“What we like is that our sales team is pretty technically sufficient,” says Alex. “So they will frequently build their own campaigns to do things they need.”
Of course, that initiative is balanced by central oversight that helps clear up and standardize the processes for the whole team.
For example, one AE started using Typeform to fill out prospect information after doing a product demo, then built a zap that sends it to Customer.io, and a webhook that sends that to Close CRM as a note. But when Custom Activities in Close was released, Alex helped simplify this same process for the sales team by transferring the AE’s Typeform questions into a Custom Activity in Close that can be used by all the AEs.
All sales teams benefit from workers who take ownership like this. Especially for remote sales teams, it’s important to generate an atmosphere of ownership and accountability, since this helps the whole team take initiative to solve problems and try new things.
Customer.io’s sales tech stack
I love how flexible Close is. Being able to automate our workflows with such precision from Customer.io into Close gives me incredible confidence in our sales flow. And the new custom activities are really sweet!
Customer.io’s unique sales process: Using automated workflows to qualify and distribute leads
Marketing and sales, though separated by different activities and tasks, have one central goal: Get more people to purchase.
SaaS teams can learn a lot from the way Customer.io has set up their processes and automations to intricately link marketing and sales together and push deals through faster.
Let’s dig into the processes they use to close deals, and what you can learn from them:
New lead workflows that connect the right data
In Customer.io’s own software, it’s easy to create custom workflows that react to a trigger event and push new leads through to the next stages, or send automated campaigns to them.
But it gets better: Simple integrations with the right tools means these workflows move leads directly from marketing to sales in one smooth, automated process.
Alex explains: “I’m really proud of the system we’ve built where, as much as possible, everything is everywhere. This is only possible when you have a few tools. If you have a lot of tools, you can’t get all your information across the board.”
The lesson: A small but powerful tool stack makes data easier to capture and record.
So, how does Customer.io handle new inbound leads? Alex took us through the flow he created when someone requests a demo:
Check if it’s a free email (such as Yahoo or Gmail) or an internal company email.
Look in Close to see if the lead or domain already exists there.
“We have almost our whole history in Close,” says Alex. “What’s been especially important for our sales team is to get that universal view of the lead going back in our history to the present day.”
If no results come back in Close, a new lead is automatically created. If there is an existing lead, the workflow adds the new contact there. If there is more than one matching domain, a task is set up for someone to manually check the information and merge any duplicate leads.
Once a new contact is created, the workflow automatically updates any Custom Fields in Close, such as the lead source and other data that was pulled from the form.
Check if the lead already has an owner in Close.
If this is an existing lead that is already assigned to a sales rep or AE, the information is updated and the rep is pinged through Close.
But what if it’s an entirely new lead?
Simplified lead scoring that saves SDRs and MDRs time
Remember that sales is simple. The difficult part is to avoid overcomplicating your process. When it comes to lead scoring, identify up to 3 essential data points that really make a difference, and ruthlessly ignore the rest.
This is exactly what Customer.io has done with their lead scoring system.
Alex explains: “We’ve done lead scoring in the past, and it gets so complicated so quickly that it makes reps less productive. Using the data we have, we’ve proved that if a demo request comes in from a free email address (such as Gmail or Yahoo), there is a 1% chance that they will convert to a premium customer.”
He adds: “We don’t want our sales team to waste their time with these folks. That’s why it’s the first thing we check when a new lead comes in. This isn’t perfect, but at least it’s vaguely objective and born out in our data.”
Automated lead assignment with built-in accountability
When a brand new lead makes it through this workflow, they must be qualified.
An SDR or MDR is assigned to qualify the new inbound lead.
In fact, Alex has set the workflow up in Customer.io so that new leads get round-robin assignment to their MDRs.
The lead owner is pinged through Close with a new task to follow up on this lead.
But, even if a new lead is assigned to someone, how can the sales manager be sure that they’re taking action?
Alex explains how he set up an automated process for accountability using a separate workflow in Customer.io:
“If a lead comes in as a new prospect and in 15 minutes on a weekday nothing happens, I’ll reach out to find out what’s going on. But most of the time, it will go false, meaning someone acted on it.”
The new lead is qualified.
When a lead reaches the sales development cycle, whether outbound or inbound, the team knows it’s a real lead. But the question is: Is this a good lead?
“Our sales development team does a great job of vetting all the leads that come in,” says Alex, “whether they’re outbound, engaged, or inbound. As much as possible, they’re just getting on the phone, talking to leads, and then sorting accordingly.”
The virtual ‘sales bell’ gets rung in Slack.
Celebrating little wins (like a new inbound lead) is a great way to keep your sales team motivated. Alex explains how Customer.io is doing this in a remote setting:
“I'm proud of what we're doing with Slack. Customer.io has a Slack integration that allows you to ping Slack with notifications. We do that for every new lead that comes in (as well as when a new customer pays us for the first time). That's our sales bell moment.”
The event is recorded in Google Analytics.
“Since we're recording the Google Analytics client ID at the time of lead creation, we're sending, in essence, a pixel event to GA, but from Customer.io,” explains Alex. “This is then piped into Google Ads as the conversion event. So we get that level of filtering. It's still attached to the same pixel, really downline. I'm pretty happy with that.”
Handoff to AE to seal the deal
Pass the lead to an AE and add them to the sales pipeline.
Once a new prospect is qualified, they are given an active opportunity status.
As they move through the sales pipeline, the AEs will schedule and host a product demo, send them a proposal, and close the deal.
At the end of the sales pipeline, if an opportunity is lost, the team also has specific statuses to record why these opportunities were lost.
Separating self-service leads from those that need human qualification
On Customer.io’s website, new leads have the opportunity to start a free trial directly, without talking to the sales team.
So, how does the team decide which of these leads to contact and which to send through the self-service workflow? Alex gave us the inside scoop on how this process works.
When someone starts a trial, their lead status will automatically be updated in Close. And whenever that happens, a new workflow is started in Customer.io:
One of the nice things about the events that come in from Close’s API is that they're very rich.
There's a lot of data, so it makes it easy to do things like identify by email address. But it also has the lead ID, which makes it easy to search. Even custom fields come in through everything, which is really powerful.
The workflow starts like this:
For each lead status change, the workflow automatically checks the lead and then decides what to do with it.
“What I love about linking it this way is that lead statuses touch everyone at the company,” Alex explains. “There’s some central ownership in that it’s all in one campaign, but the team that cares about new prospects and returning prospects can own these flows. It empowers everyone.”
From this workflow, when a new trial is started, there are automated emails that go out from Customer.io and are CC'ed into Close.
The next step is to do some other checks on this trial. For example, using webhooks, the team uses Helpscout to add information to Customer.io, which then adds a note into Close.
After this, the sales development team takes a look at the new lead and decides whether they’re worth qualifying
“Once we have human involvement, we want as much human involvement as possible,” says Alex. “We want personalization and personal outreach. All those human conversations are all happening in Close.”
On the other hand, new leads that are marked as ‘Self Service’ enter their own unique funnel in Close.
Alex explains how this works: “About a year ago, we started recording opportunities for self-service leads that aren't going to a sales rep. For us, those are trials, and it's been great to have a view of all the people in an active trial at any moment. This allows us to monitor the conversion rate for the month, add it into our forecasting, and monitor that in Close.”
The self-service pipeline stays automatically updated in Close through webhooks to other services, giving the sales team (and the company) a clearer view of the regular revenue coming in through self-service trials.
“It’s so easy to focus on sales teams and the revenue they’re bringing in,” says Alex. “Which is wonderful, it keeps the lights on. But it’s also nice to have a dollar sign attached to this part of the business we might not focus on as much. That’s the amount of money we made, so let’s not ignore that.”
Joining the most important data to give full context to everything
Building reports and analyzing the data is an essential part of the sales process. But once again, it can be easy to overcomplicate things.
The team at Customer.io has found the right way to organize and combine information from various sources so that their most valuable data is easily accessible.
First, they start with the data collected in Close. “It has been really nice how well structured the data is in Close,” says Alex. “That just makes it easier for everything else downstream.”
That data is entered into their data warehouse with Snowflake.
The Close lead ID becomes one of the key IDs in everything, as that base underlying thing to join on.
The most important dataset that we connect with Close in the data warehouse is Stripe. At the end of the day, that’s where the money and all the fun stuff is recorded.
The team also uses Snowflake’s data warehouse to connect lead and revenue data, along with individual performance data for AEs, or reports on the round-robin lead assignment to make sure leads are distributed equally.
“That's data that we pull from Close into the data warehouse and then report on because we can better control it that way,” says Alex.
What we learn from Customer.io: Automate the early stages of your sales process and save valuable time
Smooth handoffs between marketing and sales can be tricky, but Alex and the team at Customer.io have found practical ways to join their tech stack functionally and automate the majority of those handoffs.