Understanding Self-Serve, Acting on Customer Feedback, and Leading at Notion
Kate Taylor is the Head of Customer Experience at Notion. Prior to Notion, Kate led Dropbox’s SMB revenue and scaled sales operation. At Notion, she owns customer experience, or as she puts it “the front door experience for our customers.” She works across sales, product, marketing, and finance to scale ROI-positive revenue motions. She spoke with FirstMark’s Adam Nelson in a fireside chat for FirstMark’s Guilds.
How do you build a strong customer feedback loop across CX, Sales, Product, Engineering, and beyond?
This is a very common issue for companies to struggle with. I believe we found the right answer at Dropbox and it came down to embracing that you will need both qualitative and quantitative tracking.
On the quantitative side, make sure that you are deliberate about storing and tagging every piece of feedback that you’re getting, no matter where it’s coming from, in a very structured taxonomy. One important piece of metadata is to tie feedback to the Product roadmap; then, as teams actually set to doing design or implementation work, they have easy access to firsthand customer insights.
Once feedback is stored and tagged in a central system of record, you can run and share quantitative reports — and visualization of priorities — against it.
The quantitative insights needs to be augmented with deeper, one-to-one qualitative insights. These come out of direct conversations with customers, which the team translates into insight reports that we socialize teamwide.
Ultimately, both the quantitative and qualitative inputs will feed into our product and growth/self-serve planning.
What does an “insight report” look like at Notion?
Let’s take a specific case study: Everyone wants access to the Notion API. For us, the insight report is simply our way of going several levels deeper on a common product request. We synthesize information from one-on-one interviews with customers and our feedback database with the goal of deeply understanding a customer’s motivation. We tease out the four or five sub-themes attached to that product request. Synthesizing all of the on-the-ground feedback into a concise report that unpacks the sub-themes and customer motivations will make it easy for the entire organization to consume and act on those insights.
How do you think about hiring people to work on a growth / self-serve team?
Curiosity is the number one thing that we look for. On the whole, we’re looking for people who are curious, have a growth mindset, and who are customer-focused (and of course, love talking to people) because this person will need to transition seamlessly between thinking through a Product lens (i.e., deeply understanding a customer’s needs), and then through a Growth lens (i.e., what do we need to do to solve all of our customer’s problems at scale?)
What lessons did you learn early in your career at Salesforce that have stayed with you today?
The most formative insight from my early career that I still reference to this day came from a conversation I had with Marc [Benioff] at Salesforce. He said, effectively, that if you train talented and hungry team members on the fundamental tools and sales process — and then let them spread their wings — you’ll create the conditions for greatness. In other words, micro-management is never the answer to building a scalable team.
What have you learned about leadership in the COVID-19 era?
How I approach work: As a starting point, it’s important to talk about how I personally approach work. What matters the most to me is doing great work, building lasting relationships, and having fun while I’m doing it. The third is perhaps the hardest thing to recreate in the Zoom era, so we spend a lot of deliberate time on this. On just about every Zoom, whether it’s an internal or external meeting, we try to make sure everyone’s laughing at some point in the conversation. One of the simplest ways to do that is to make fun of yourself a bit more.
The basics of leadership: Beyond that, some of the basics of leadership are more important than ever, like: have you put in place a shared understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish? What is your mission? What are your values? What else defines your culture? What OKRs should you be tracking?
Guiding your team: Finally, as you think about guiding your team, you’ll need to lead in two modes: the first is in a group setting, with things like group training. The second, which is equally important, is you’ll need to cater to each individual on your team, because they’re each at a different point in their own development journey. Along these lines, one of the most important structures that I have in place is a specific growth plan for each individual on my team.
How do you leverage your most active customers?
We’re fortunate to have built a very devoted community of users. It’s been very impactful for us to harness those super users into a deliberated and structured program. A well-run super user program (more on the Notion Ambassador Program here) gives you a lot of surface for feedback from your most passionate users, and allows you to incentive referrals through an ambassador network that has been huge for growth in an age of viral products.
How important is content in your self-serve motion, and specifically in nurturing?
The short answer is that it’s important. But we’ve learned a few things that guide how we apply our content strategy.
Content is very important to generate top-of-funnel activity, and this is one of the most critical areas where our marketing team is focused. But as you get toward the middle or bottom of the funnel, one lesson is that customers who are already interested don’t need more content; they just need you to make it as easy as possible for them to convert, whether that’s through a self-serve or sales-directed motion.
The other big lesson is that you should be very intentional about what kind of journey you want your customer to have, and how your content experiences feed into that journey. At Dropbox, for example, one of our top priorities was to get customers into a free trial. That priority manifested in very concrete ways in our content experiences — for example, a lot of pages would be stripped of a navigation bar. We didn’t want customers clicking around our site; we wanted them to focus on converting into a free trial.
Be thoughtful about where you want different customers to land, and what you want them to do when they get there.
What tools can you not live without?
At Notion, we’ve deliberately tried not to embrace a “big company” approach to tools, both because they’re not a big company and because it’s aligned to the Notion ethos.
Of course, we use Notion for everything — we basically have no email, and it is extremely liberating. We run the entire company out of Notion.
For the Customer Experience team, we run almost everything on Intercom for conversations — from top of funnel inbound leads, all the way through to customer support.
For training, we use a lot of Loom.
Another tool we’ve gotten leverage out of is Assembled, for managing outsourced support teams. It brings scheduling and forecasting into one place, i.e., how many people will we need on staff, based on the forecasted number of tickets.
What is your favorite question to ask customers?
“Why are you asking about this?” Oftentimes, a user has some deeper motivation or need behind a feature request, that they perhaps haven’t even articulated out loud yet in any meaningful kind of way. So rather than trying to push their thinking in a certain direction, or educate them on features that we already have, this question lets us go several levers deeper to understand their real needs. We figure out what they’re really trying to do, and solve backwards from there.
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