How Notion Leverages Customer Segmentation and the Power of Community to Fuel Growth

August 5, 2020

(Coming Soon)

Camille Ricketts

Head of Marketing at Notion

We sat down with Camille Ricketts, Head of Marketing at Notion, to go behind-the-scenes on how the team thinks about customer segmentation for a product with seemingly endless use cases.

Notion is an all-in-one workspace that lets users take notes, manage projects, share documents, and collaborate with others, particularly across remote teams. In just two years, Notion has acquired over 1M users and a $2 billion valuation—no small feat for a group of 50 employees.

In this interview, we investigate how segmentation helps the team create unique experiences within marketing, product, and onboarding. We also get into the strategy Camille used to build and support a community of evangelists and super users.

You'll get a behind the scenes perspective on:

  • [01:36] How the team arrived at the three customer segments and what that journey looked like in practice
  • [07:42] How the marketing team developed positioning and messaging that differentiates the product in a crowded SaaS segment 
  • [24:03] How Notion empowers, supports, and connects with its community of super users
  • [38:06] The challenges of having a super-engaged community
  • [42:58] How the team built and empowers its ambassador program

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Camille Ricketts

Camille Ricketts is a pioneering content marketer, storyteller, and wordsmith. Her work at First Round Capital's blog, First Round Review, revolutionized content marketing for the Venture Capital industry. Now Camille leads marketing at Notion, the all-in-one workspace for notes, docs, databases, wikis, and more.

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Gia:

Hi, everyone. Welcome back. If this is your first time joining us, then welcome to Forget The Funnel. So we're excited today to share an interview with Camille Ricketts, who is the head of marketing at Notion. For those of you who are not familiar, Notion is an all-in-one workspace for notes, docs, and databases, and it also happens to be one of our core tools that we use for running Forget The Funnel. So we sat down with Camille to talk about how the Notion team thinks about customer segmentation for a product with seemingly endless use cases and also how the team uses that segmentation to create relevant experiences for all kinds of different users.

Claire:

We also got into a fascinating discussion about Notion's thriving community of power users, which started organically, but which the Notion team has since nurtured and grown and very thoughtfully leveraged both as a way to help current users get greater value and also as an extension of their pretty small marketing team. So if you're responsible for hitting ambitious growth targets, but also working with limited resources, you're not going to want to miss this part of the discussion. With that said, let's get to the interview. We would love to hear any takeaways or questions you have, so feel free to reach out to us on Twitter @forgetthefunnel or email us anytime at us@forgetthefunnel.com.

How the team arrived at the three customer segments and what that journey looked like in practice

Claire:

Maybe a good place to start would be talking about the different types of people you've identified who use Notion. So we are Notion users ourselves, but it's very horizontal, right? Seemingly endless use cases. Even personally, I can say the number of ways we use it for work and then also in my personal life almost knows no bounds. I do remember reading, as Gia mentioned, in an Open View article from around this time last year, you had shared that the Notion team had at that time defined three distinct segments of your audience. So you have individuals using it as single players. You have small businesses or teams who are adopting it in a self-serve model, which is actually how we've started using it. Then you've got enterprise teams that are using it for their department or even company-wide. So they're going through more of like a sales process. So I would be super interested to hear a little bit more about how your team arrived at those three segments and kind of what that looked like in practice because it is so horizontal, and you could have gone in so many ways. You could have chosen industry or any other lens of segmenting. So super curious to hear about that.

Camille:

Yeah. So we are still focused on those three segments. That's something that hasn't changed, and it's allowed us to become far more proficient in all of the ways in which we reach those people and be much more thoughtful about the metrics that we're looking at, the appeals that are really going to resonate with them, all of those things. The ways in which we arrived at those three segments really had a lot to do with just basic audience observation, to be honest with you. We took a very close look at who was using the product and for what. We created an onboarding process that would give us that kind of visibility upfront, really collecting a lot of information, not just about what size of company people were working at, but also what their functional area was within those companies.

Camille:

So we could get a sense of what our beachhead markets were, even within those broader segments. That's what led us to discover something along the lines of engineers and designers and product managers really seeming to click with the product immediately and represent an audience where we could do a lot of education and reach a high point of traction pretty fast. So truly it had a lot to do with just organic observation and also seeing how people start to use the product as an individual, often bring it to work with them and then people who work around them and with them closely also start to pick it up and adopt it themselves. So it's been a really nice validation of our bottoms-up model and has allowed us to put just a lot more framework around each of those identities that we see using the product over time.

Claire:

Right. I think it's really valuable or interesting that you mentioned you thought about constructing onboarding in a way that would help facilitate that organic observation. Was that the intention from the beginning or... I guess I'm super interested if you're able to share kind of how the team went about deciding like, "Okay." Essentially how the team went about even figuring out how to make those decisions or get those inputs on who was signing up.

Camille:

Yeah. So onboarding I think is extremely valuable because with a product like ours, it's really our one-stop chance to understand what this person intended to do with the product and then shape the experience that they have after that based on the information that they've given us. So in determining which questions we wanted to ask during onboarding, what information we really wanted to glean, it was all about, what are the things that actually are going to shape someone's ability to be successful once they are in Notion and actively using it and understanding their intentions and being able to meet those intentions with not just the product experience, but also the information that we then serve them along the way.

Camille:

So if you think about once somebody is in the product, what opportunities do you have to give them information? A lot of that for us was once you were actually in the product itself, what does that getting started experience feel like to you, and can we personalize that as much as possible to where it is that we know you were coming from and what your intentions are? So for example, if you say that you are planning to use Notion personally, you see a different getting started page and experience than you do if you say that you are going to use it with your team. I think eventually you'll probably see a different experience based on a lot more sort of granular segmentation. We even do segment based on whether you've signed up on mobile or on desktop in order to really receive people into that experience and push them toward the best possible use case.

Camille:

We supply templates that are very much so relevant to what people have said that they are interested in, and then we have an email onboarding experience and drip campaigns that are completely geared to helping people succeed at what they've stated is important to them.

Claire:

Those different email campaigns, excuse me, those are all tailored to the particular segment they're in. So there's a personal use campaign and a small team campaign and so on. You-

Camille:

Exactly. Yeah. So if you sign up as a personal user, we're going to show you a bunch of use cases that could be interesting. Like you said earlier in the conversation, we're such a horizontal product that people are using us for their personal tasks and notes, but they're also running Dungeons & Dragons campaigns or indexing all the Pokemon in the world or all the board games they own. So obviously, we can't present them with all of the uses that they might find interesting, but we definitely want to nudge them in a direction of like, "Here's some functionality that could unlock a lot of this potential for you, depending on what you want to do."

Camille:

If you sign up as a team and identify yourself, let's say, as an engineer or an HR professional or a marketer, we're able to say, here are templates in education that are relevant to things that we think you might want to be able to do or problems you might want to solve.

How the marketing team developed positioning and messaging that differentiates the product in a crowded SaaS segment 

Claire:

I mean, it's fantastic that you've built out these three different kind of experiences, I guess, because like you said, it's more than just the product. It's also that experience layer that you add on top of it that tailors what they learn or what use cases they see. So it's amazing that you've built all that out. I would also love to kind of dive into if you're able to share anything about your process for developing positioning and messaging that differentiates Notion, because these are three pretty different use cases and people coming to the product for different reasons. I know it can be super difficult to create messaging that is both going to speak to everyone, but also doesn't ostracize a particular use case and also doesn't just come across as so generic that it doesn't resonate with anyone.

Camille:

Totally. Yeah. I think that leading with differentiators is key because the top question on anyone's mind when they try a new product like this is, what is it going to do for me that the alternatives aren't going to do? So how can you highlight the things that are very distinct about your product and the product experience. For Notion, that's twofold. We are an all-in-one workspace that lets people take notes, manage projects, share documents, collaborate with others particularly across remote teams.

Camille:

There are a lot of products that claim to do those things, but I think that Notion is differentiated in the way that it consolidates a bunch of essential work tools into one workspace that is flexible enough to cover and enable all of them, and it's so customizable that you can essentially make your own tools in this workspace to solve whatever problems you might have, and we really believe that those are qualities that are unique to Notion in a lot of ways. So that's what we lead with is consolidation and customization and how does that unlock potential for you based on who you are.

Claire:

This is a bit of a followup on that. So you've really honed in on the customization, which I totally understand and the ability for that to unlock so many different use cases. Was that the angle or the plan from the outset, or did you come into the role when a couple of different potential ways of taking messaging and positioning and kind of arrive at that one?

Camille:

Yeah. I mean, I came in honestly pretty... I was a pretty clean slate in terms of what it is that we were going to say, what argument was going to resonate with people the most. It was really up to me and a few other members who joined the team right around when I did last year to just have so many customer conversations. That was basically all we were doing to a large extent was talking to people who inhabited these different personas and asked them what they were using the product for, what was important to them and their decision-making process when they chose Notion, where we were still falling short, what are some use cases that they didn't feel like the product was yet there to enable, and what features would unlock that possibility?

Camille:

So we just spent a ton of time doing that, and I know that that sounds like a somewhat generic answer, but it's also a step that anyone out there trying to do this cannot skip. I think that there's another step after just this massive amount of information gathering which is sitting down with all of this data and creating pretty concrete themes to understand what it is that people are actually interested in and how they want you to articulate the value that they're going to get out of the product in a way that's actually going to land with them. Because you may think that you know what benefits your product has. But if you don't explain it in a way that actually connects with the way that people think about and define their own needs, it's not going to actually click, I think, for most people.

Gia:

I'm super curious. I have a followup question to that. First of all, so happy to hear that that was such a big part of the process. That must've been fascinating, especially coming in and acclimating to the company and the brand in that way is incredible. I'm really curious if there was ever a moment following some of that sort of customer discovery and customer research that you were doing, where there was a sort of business level decision to continue focusing on all three of use cases versus focusing on one and sort of diving in deep with one of them. I find it very rare that a company is like, "No. You know what, we're going to go after... We have a huge opportunity, and we're just going to go after all of it." There was a decision where it's like, "No. If we're talking to everybody, we're talking to no one, and it's too risky."

Gia:

I just find that that is such a common challenge. So I find it's super unique that there's only a few examples out in the wild of companies that have done this well. Notion is definitely an example of one. But it's rare that it's done and that it's done well. So I'm just curious, was that a decision made very early, or was that, it's constantly being validated as like, "Yes, we're going to stay the course, we're going to stay the course"? I'm just curious if that ever wavered.

Camille:

To be very honest, the decision was made very early on that we were going to go after individuals, self-serve segment, SMBs and also the enterprise. That decision has really never wavered for us. We felt really confident in the different mechanisms that we had to reach and convert those different audiences. I can speak a little bit to the vibrant community that we've built around the B2C experience, but that has proven to be just an outsized strategy for us in terms of keeping the B2C folks really engaged and growing. Then we also were really confident in our ability to market to that self-serve audience and then build a sales organization, which is already hitting the ground running that was really going to be able to provide a lot of value to the larger enterprises up to multi thousands of seats.

Gia:

Okay. So it was baked in, and you knew, coming in, that you were solving for all three of these scenarios. Yeah. That's fascinating. That must have been huge. What a big undertaking? That's incredible.

Camille:

Yeah. It's definitely a big challenge, for sure, and it's a big storytelling challenge on behalf of my team to figure out, what are the things that we can say, the narratives that we can tell that are going to have broad appeal for multiple segments? Really making sure that we have extreme focus where we can have extreme focus is really critical. So when we talk about those sort of functional area personas and understanding which ones of those are most likely to gravitate toward us, we actually do take a super focused approach to telling those stories. So not trying to boil the ocean so much as figure out what parts of the ocean we can focus on first and then slowly grow up from there.

Claire:

I would be curious, I guess in the wake of everything that's been happening in 2020, which is a chaotic year, if you've seen any... Going back to the idea of staying broad and figuring out where you can really resonate or what use cases you can own the best, I'd be curious if you've seen any shifts in either who's coming to Notion or shifts in use cases, people are arriving with intent to use and what that's kind of looked like and if you've had to, I guess, maybe prioritize new segments you hadn't considered previously. Any behind the scenes on that we'd be super interested in?

Camille:

Definitely. I mean, the impact of everybody working from home has been really enormous for us. We've been seeing record signups pretty much since the onset of shelter-in-place. Of course, I mean, it's a very difficult time for many people. We're really pleased that we build a product that can help people get through this and help teams really endure and continue to grow and achieve their goals. To answer your question about whether we've seen a shift in persona, far more teams are using it, I would say, for remote collaboration, and that has shaped up more in sort of a portfolio model rather than them double clicking on one of the use cases that we usually talk about.

Camille:

We generally say the top three things that people use Notion for, wiki knowledge base, project management, and notes and shared documents. But we're seeing people use all three in combination now in order to have sort of a full, almost digital environment that they've created for their team to operate in lieu of having a physical office, and that's been really interesting for us to not necessarily see people do this Elkhart thing of, "Oh, we're just trying to build a great wiki," or, "Oh, we need the Trello functionality, sort of the Kanban board functionality to do project management," but rather seeing all of these different use cases stood up next to each other and interacting in really interesting ways.

Claire:

Wow. So it sounds like you have a use case or a user coming in knowing that their needs or what they want is a lot more robust and a lot less, okay, we're playing around with trying out just a new wiki platform. Like you said, you described it as like, they're looking for a digital environment to replace physical office.

Camille:

Yeah. I think it's become particularly valuable for them to be able to do all of these things in one place because all of the siloing that has occurred across different tools or all of the scatter of information I think is even that much more deeply felt now that people are not necessarily in the same physical space.

Gia:

I mentioned there's probably also an additional sense of urgency that you're seeing as opposed to before. I mean, I know how I adopted Notion. It was slowly over time, just incrementally sort of took over how I operated. But I imagine that now... Are you seeing a shorter time to product activation, or has that shortened at all? Or is it somewhat the same?

Camille:

It is somewhat the same. I would say that people are probably trialing out a lot of different tools, and they're trying to figure out what it is that is going to serve all of these needs well. But it still takes the same sort of level of consideration that it has before. We're just pleased that I think we've been able to offer the best package deal where these tools not just are in a suite, like you would imagine with Microsoft word, but where they actually can interact with each other in a lot of interesting ways.

Camille:

So for instance, if you have like a project board that has all your projects flowing through your stages of process, you can open any one of those cards, and then it's a full set of documents that can go multiple levels deep about that project, and that's just something that not a lot of other collaboration tools provide is that level of complimentariness.

Claire:

I know as a small team, there's only so many things you can tackle at one time. So maybe it's something that is now in the works. But I'd be curious how this new use case, or as you described Gia, this more urgent buyer coming in, has that changed your approach in terms of building out an additional onboarding segment or onboarding campaign or rethinking the way that you position the product on the website or in any other ways. I'm just curious how seeing that shift in how your target audience make decisions has impacted your approach.

Camille:

One of the things we did very early on literally before shelter-in-place even was the policy, I think it happened maybe two weeks in advance of us actually all going home to work, we saw that this was starting to happen. I think that Stripe and Slack had already said all of our employees are working from home, and it really sunk in for us that this was going to be a worldwide trend or requirement, rather. At that point, I think we were all really grateful that we had remained such a small, nimble team because we were able to not only reorient a lot of our strategy on the marketing side but also the product side in order to create more features and also more education around how Notion could be used in the remote use case.

Camille:

So for instance, on the product side, we made our notification system much better because we knew that that was going to be something that was going to be very used in this instance. Then the marketing side, we actually launched a whole landing page around remote and how the product could be set up to best serve those needs, and it's always kind of challenging when you are running toward a certain set of goals, and then you have to tell a team, "Okay. I know we said we were going to do this by this date, but now this is the priority." It's been amazing to work with a team that is so small and yet so able to complete things that fast in order to tell a different narrative that needed to be more urgent.

Claire:

It is beautiful that you were able to shift so quickly in terms of your marketing.

Camille:

Not easy. I'm trying not to... It sounds so easy, but it was really impressive to see how the team was able to sort of stand up this page and start telling stories about this. We ended up doing a tutorial video all within a very tight timeframe.

Claire:

Wow.

Gia:

I would love to hear... I know this is a bit... I mean, it's not off-topic because you've just mentioned the size of the team. I'd love to hear what the makeup of the marketing. Well, I mean the company as a whole, I know a little bit about customer success and how customer success is set up. But I'd love to hear how marketing is set up and what the marketing team looks like as... How many employees total now is Notion? Last I heard was 50.

Camille:

So we're just a little bit over 50, I think probably a few people who joined in the last week. We're now at that stage where new people are joining at a pretty regular cadence. So the market team is actually kind of an interesting shape right now. We are seven people altogether, and I can tell about the order that people joined in because I think that that's somewhat interesting. But the composition is me, two designers and developers, which I have to say are the secret weapon of making the marketing team as effective as it is. I think speaking to a lot of my friends who are also working in marketing, often their projects have to sit in a queue of some sort before they can be built on whether that's what, design or engineering, and we're super lucky to have two people who can not only design something, but then actually build it and make it a reality, which is incredible.

Camille:

We also have user education, product marketer, who's totally responsible for being the conduit from products to us and then to community support so that everything is being messaged really consistently, and we're very focused on what these features mean in terms of benefit for the user. My colleague, David is just really talented at that. We have two content-focused folks, one who is completely focused on telling the enterprise story and having a tight feedback loop with sales to make sure that we are really producing effective assets and content on that side and then one who is definitely more focused on the thought leadership and user education around what the product is trying to do in particular.

Camille:

Then lastly, we have a head of community, who's Ben Lang, and he's really remarkable and has been able to fuel incredible growth of this global community of B2C and B2B users in many different countries, helping them run events, create content, build communities of their own in their local geographies. That's been really inspiring to watch. So that's the general makeup of the team so far. Then I have a counterpart who's my peer, who's a head of growth, who is much more focused on the quantitative side of things. He and I are kind of two halves of the same engine, constantly learning from and responding to each other.

How Notion empowers, supports, and connects with its community of super users

Claire:

Okay. Just wanted to make sure before shifting slightly. But you brought up Notion's user community, and I was super curious about that. So it sounds like the community rolls up to marketing then. I was curious going into this, whether it was under marketing or under customer success.

Camille:

Yeah. So we refer to two different things with the word community, and I think that that just expresses our commitment to community being such a huge focus for us and making all of our users understand and feel like they are really part of a large global community. So customer success is adjacent definitely to both marketing, and then we call our support team community support because we want everybody on that team to really focus on the hospitality that we would provide to other community members, and I think that's really shaped the way that that team hires and everybody who is a specialist on that team really brings that focus and care.

Camille:

Then Ben, who is focused on community that rolls into marketing is far more around, how do we create an ambassador program? How do we work with certain users in order to reach an even larger group of users with the information and all of the education that we want to provide?

Claire:

It seems that programs like that have really taken off. I mean, that's how we were connected is I happen to know Marie, and she is very plugged into the Notion space. It seems like that's been really effective for enabling greater reach with such a small marketing team, and-

Camille:

It's been one of the most instrumental things for us, and we're deeply grateful to all of the people who have just so much organic enthusiasm for Notion that they've gone above and beyond to help introduce other people to the product too.

Claire:

Yeah, I would imagine. This is a bit of a... Kind of trying to figure out how to phrase it correctly, but I'm curious what kind of insights you then end up getting from the community that further inform marketing strategy because it's this wellspring of people who are already so plugged into the product and so engaged.

Camille:

Yeah. I mean, it definitely makes sure that we hear about concerns faster. It's almost like an action network that whenever there is feedback or feature requests or people are concerned about the direction that the roadmap might be going or they have questions about that, we hear about those things really fast and get a lot of good context about them. Then we also have a much better conduit to make sure that our messaging back about all of those things is received. I think that having a community that feels incredibly community run and really organic in a sense... Our subreddit right now has about 38,000 people on it, and we have a very light touch that is completely community owned and run. I think that that has allowed the conversation to just be a lot more robust and a lot more honest and a lot more candid.

Camille:

We often note that the people who are our biggest critics are people who love the product the most, and we definitely see that across all of these channels. I think it's very cool that we have the ability to see organic conversation going on and respond to it rather than being really, I guess concerned with owning these channels and trying to see if people are still going to give us the same level of constructive feedback.

Gia:

I'm curious how that came about. What was the sort of inception of that, and what did the early version look like, and how do you continue to sort of manage it and grow that, considering it's such an important part of marketing? What was it like in the early days and when it first sort of started to be nurtured? Was it something that happened organically, or was this something that you sort of nurtured into what it is now?

Camille:

So definitely happened organically. When I stepped foot into this role, it was already going on. We were already seeing people tweeting a ton about Notion. I'm already seeing amazing setups that they were building and sharing on their own social media channels. There was already a few Facebook groups that were devoted to it and the subreddit already existed. So truly when I stepped in and then when Ben joined me on the team and he was the first person to join the marketing team, it was about figuring out who the people in those communities were who were interested in getting even more involved, understanding what had inspired them to be so vocal and what they would want from any sort of community structure that we would provide, and we've really been following their lead to a very large extent in terms of how they want this to shape up, how they want to interact with each other and the ways in which they'd like Notion to interact, if at all, with the users that they themselves have helped us nurture.

Claire:

Interesting.

Gia:

I was just curious about how you structure it and manage it internally because it is such a important part, and I imagine it's something you are continuing to invest in and wanting to grow. So I'm just curious what the structure is and how you're managing it.

Camille:

The ambassador program is really the heart of how we interact with the community, and we call this program the Notion Pros. It's something that we launched last February really as an experiment and just see if people were interested in joining a subset of the community that would have much tighter communication with the Notion team itself and then also help us amplify various things and help us discover even more people who are interested in building things and getting in touch.

Camille:

So we ended up standing up an application on a Notion page. It was really easy to do, and we got 400 applications. We had initially stated that we were going to have 20 spots open because we really wanted this to be a manageable size when we first started doing it to figure out what the cadence of communication was going to be in and what people's interests were going to be. Since then it's grown to over 60 people, really geographically diverse, and we have them all in a Slack group.

Camille:

Ben is constantly interacting and speaks to many of them on Zoom multiple times a month. It's really required a lot of high touch consideration, and I feel so lucky to work with him, given the amount of effort he's put forth to just make every single one of these individuals feel like they are in the know and being listened to and also growing the program really deliberately to make sure that every person that does join this community is bringing a certain level of engagement and also interest in helping us open up new markets, new audiences, helping people learn how to use the product differently.

Gia:

It's fascinating. I have so many more questions about how that is run just... It sounds like a customer advisory board. It sounds very similar to how a really well-run customer advisory board would work, which then leads me to, well then what? What about the things that they're asking for or putting in votes for, so to speak, and the things that they might not be as happy with versus the things that are on their wishlist. How does that get translated from marketing to product, and what's the relationship there? Because again, it sounds a lot like how a well-run customer advisory board will be run.

Camille:

Yeah. So one of the things that I'm most excited about in terms of how the marketing team is run is that everybody on my team has a lot of connections that are completely cross-functional. So I talked about David and how he is our communication channel from product to marketing. But then definitely works cross-functionally across the team and has very close connections with the product team. He created a database not too long ago that would allow all the Notion Pros to put in their feedback and feature requests and things that they had been hearing, and then other members of the same group could go in and upvote in that database, and we could get a stack rank list of priorities. All of that has been shared with the product team to be incorporated into the various projects that they're prioritizing over the next couple quarters. We take it very seriously.

Camille:

The priorities of the Notion Pro community very often align very closely with what we already know to be important, and it's been great validation and also a great way to get more detail and more context on each one of these things that we are then going to set out to build to have access to somebody who is in the user community, steeped in what other users think and how it is that they will actually see these features applied.

Gia:

I love that. That's incredible. That must be such an amazing resource, especially since I imagine you probably also get not only validation for the ideas of what gets implemented, but voice of customer and the use cases, because again, use cases are sort of blown right open with a tool like Notion. Yeah. I love that.

Camille:

One thing I'll also add is that a lot of members of this community have been able to double down on Notion and build revenue-driving businesses of their own. So we've been able to open up several other tiers of participation for those who are interested. It's not just the same ambassador experience the entire time. But if you want to be a consultant, we now have a certification program, and if you make it all the way through and are a certified consultant, then you'll be connected with our customer success team and actually connected with clients who you can then go in and do their set ups for them or help them troubleshoot.

Camille:

Then a number of people have also started running courses that people are paying to take, summits that people are paying to attend, all of that, which has just been incredible to watch because it's introducing Notion to a lot more audiences in a different sense.

Gia:

Right. Am I understanding that correctly? So you have a certification program that then gives you the ability to recommend them to maybe enterprise customers that are signing up. Is that right?

Camille:

That is, yeah. It was designed by Ben and with a member of our Notion Pros community named William Nutt, who is an extreme expert at the product. The two of them came up with an application process as well as a certification test, which Ben likes to joke that it's so difficult that sometimes he probably won't pass this. The result there is to get a cohort of people who are deeply engaged with Notion, able to handle any manner of question, understand a lot of our more advanced use cases and who we feel totally comfortable connecting with our enterprise clients.

Gia:

What a beautiful ecosystem

Claire:

Right. I was going to say it's still brilliant on so many different levels, not just in fostering continued and ongoing and enthusiastic engagement with the product, both of those pros and also of your enterprise customers, but also the relief on the internal customer success team because there is this additional layer of support of alert. That's brilliant.

Camille:

Well, we're trying. It comes with its own sets of challenges, obviously. But that's the idea is that we create this ecosystem where people can choose their level of involvement and engagement with us, and hopefully, we're unlocking a ton of potential for them as well.

Claire:

Right. Right. It goes back to the fact that the product can do so many things. When someone gets started or when someone is trying to build out their ecosystem, they naturally do need or could use a bit of a hand from someone who is more experienced in, how do I go about even setting up what is such a blank canvas? So I mean, yeah, it's so perfectly suited to the nature of the product itself. Super interesting.

Camille:

Yeah. Yeah. I do think on the enterprise side, a lot of the requests we get are around some of the more advanced use cases around, how do we relate these multiple databases to create an automated dashboard and all of that, and those are the types of things that I think these pros just love to help solve for people.

Claire:

Right. Right.

Gia:

There's a lot of products who try to retroactively go back and create this type of ecosystem and this type of sort of self-serving, doesn't sound right, but self-perpetuating, sort of self-supporting type of ecosystem.

Claire:

Sustaining? Yeah.

Gia:

Self-sustaining. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I guess it's because of the nature of the product. From the inception of the product itself, this was sort of baked into it, but a lot of companies tried to create this type of ecosystem after the fact, and there's a lot of struggle there. It doesn't come natural, or there's a massive mindset shift to make internally that can sometimes be painful as well. Because the company has been operating a certain way for a number of years, and then all of a sudden, we're like, "Well, we're going to try this new way of supporting enterprise customers, or we're going to add a certification program after the fact, and it can be very cumbersome to implement."

The challenges of having a super-engaged community

Gia:

But it sounds like you guys have been doing it incrementally along the way. But I'm curious, you mentioned that this beautiful ecosystem comes with its own challenges. Would you be willing to share or open to sharing what some of those challenges might be like? What's the hardest part of your job? Then I promise, Claire, I will give her back to you.

Claire:

No. This is going great.

Camille:

I mean, whenever you have a vibrant, diverse community of passionate people, you're going to have concerns that bubble up. You're going to have people who disagree with the direction that you've chosen. You're going to have people who want features, for instance, that aren't necessarily prioritized, and you're going to have to be able to go-

Gia:

We won't get charts. But maybe one of them that you've heard. Yes.

Camille:

I'll add your vote for that. Actually, we've now moved away from the, we'll add your vote for that language just because we want there to be even more transparency. So now we say more so, are we... We try to provide more context, whatever we can about why things have been prioritized the way that they've been. So it's interesting because this has been somewhat of a moving target where it used to be that you could just say, "Oh yeah, I'll relay that." But now that we're kind of a bigger company, and we're making more decisions all the time, just more decisions per unit time than I think we have been in the past, there's obviously going to be more questions about why we made certain choices that we've made.

Camille:

So I think that the hardest part of our job is to make sure that we're never ever skimping on the way that we respond to these concerns, that we are going above and beyond to be transparent, to provide as much detail as we feel like we need to, to make members of our community feel like they don't need full understanding of how it is that we've arrived at things. We really try to give them as much exposure to the decision-makers behind the scenes as well. We have monthly AMAs with members of our executive team, the individual engineers who have launched certain features, really trying to give them a sense of not only how things work but give them the opportunity to ask the people who make the determination about how things work, why that is the case. So I think it's about maintaining a level of trust and actually exposure to the team itself and inviting people to really engage with us very deeply and not hold back.

Claire:

This is also not actually a support request for Gantt charts, as nice as they would be. Because I know there's, as you said, a much more thoughtful way to go about that. But I can absolutely understand how with such an engaged user base, you've got a lot of strong opinions, and somehow I can understand the challenge of balancing both serving your customer and also maintaining some kind of product vision that you were driving toward at the same time. It's a tricky line to walk.

Camille:

I think it's about making sure that you are explaining your rationales and not glossing over it and also, in a certain point, being really fair and candid when you've done your best, and you have to make sure that is something that lands, and just the sincerity with which you make it clear that you've done your best is super important.

Gia:

Yeah. I imagine you lean on... I don't mean lean as in rely on necessarily, but even with such a young company, there's a lot of brand equity there already. Notion's brand is very strong even for a very young company, and I imagine in those situations that helps. It doesn't do everything, but it must help to a certain extent that people trust that you are doing your best and that though you may not always get it right or may not be able to implement Gantt charts next week, it's forgivable because we know how much other stuff is going on, and we know how much transparency there is, and we sort of have been along for the ride too. I imagine a lot of your more vocal customers have been along for the ride for a while now.

Camille:

Yeah. I do think that transparency is super key and just making it clear that you really are bringing your A game for people. Yeah.

How the team built and empowers its ambassador program 

Claire:

Could we go back to that... Kind of you called it the early days, Gia, but that beginning stage of being more proactive or finding a way to be strategic about nurturing and growing the organic community that had already sprung up around Notion. I'm trying to look at this. I'm trying to ask this question through the lens of someone who's listening and realizes the potential of engaging with and really nurturing your existing customers potentially in a community fashion. I would love any thoughts you have on an initial action or a single action that someone in this position could take to even start exploring that.

Claire:

I think you mentioned, for example, that Ben was originally engaged in the community. So I don't know if, for you, it was just having a conversation with an engaged member or where step one is in going from, I know we have a really engaged user base or customer base to actually figuring out how to leverage that customer base in such a high impact way.

Camille:

Yeah. I have to admit that hiring Ben was kind of a cheat in a lot of ways. Ben was running a Notion fan site called notionpages.com that was getting about 80,000 views a month. He had already been active in the product hunt conversations about our various releases. So it was clear that he already was familiar with a number of the pillars of this community as well. So obviously, that's not advice that I can offer for someone to replicate.

Camille:

So instead, I'll say that the things that he and I did together that wasn't necessarily riding on his coattails was really auditing where people were having conversations about Notion online, whether it was Facebook or Reddit, or on a Discord channel or on LinkedIn and really paying close attention to who was being the most engaged and most vocal and then not hesitating to reach out to them just in an exploratory fashion, not necessarily to assume that they were going to be somebody interested in being an ambassador, but just to understand why they had gravitated so much to the product, ways in which they wanted to interact more with the team, who it was that they felt like they were in constant conversation or regular conversation with about the product or who had interesting ideas about the product or who had written interesting things about it and then start to form a list out of that type of evidence.

Claire:

It's super helpful. In particular, the outreach was just originally exploratory, right? You didn't even go into it with the idea of, "Hey, I want to be an ambassador." So much as just getting a sense of what good might look like for this very engaged customer is super smart.

Camille:

I would also say one of the more impactful things is having a really sort of trust-based approach in the sense that I think a lot of brands can be overly controlled about the way that they approach this type of thing, where if an ambassador says, "Oh, can I add this to my LinkedIn profile? Or can I use some of your branding materials on my own webinar slides? Or can I make t-shirts? Can I write eBooks?" That type of thing. We've been pretty lenient and permissive about use our assets. We want to see more creation in the community. Send us the books that you've written. Send us the t-shirts you've made. My favorite one is that there's now a anime character based on Notion named Notioko. And there have been Notioko t-shirts made now. I'm like, "Send us the-shirts."

Claire:

Amazing.

Camille:

So not being overly precious about your ambassadors or your community members taking your brand and making their own beautiful creations with it because then it does really get in front of more people who are going to feel inspired.

Claire:

Wow.

Gia:

Yeah. That's a big one, actually. That's a big one, and it's a hard decision to make as a... Generally, if you're responsible for a brand, that's a tough decision to make, and it definitely-

Camille:

You definitely run into like, "Well, that's not the color yellow I would have chosen." Of course, I'm sure, I'm positive for your listeners that we're going to run into instances where we need to draw guidelines, or we need to be more deliberate about this. But for the time being and early on, it's been a massive boon for us to take that approach.

Gia:

Yeah. Right. I wanted to back up to, I don't think hiring Ben was a cheat at all. I mean, I think that was really smart and deliberate and strategic and makes a ton of sense that you would seek out somebody who understands implicitly the value there, as opposed to finding somebody who has a certain skill set and then bringing them in and teaching them the platform and teaching them the value. You took not a shortcut in any sort of cheek kind of way, but I think it was really, really smart and obviously was a huge benefit too.

Camille:

Yeah. I have to say that that criteria has proven to be really valuable going forward into a lot of things. So the biggest example for us is that YouTube is a massive channel, and we are constantly in contact with a lot of YouTube creators of different sizes of audiences. Do they want to do something about the product. The people who are actually really excited about Notion are the ones that we love working with. So for anyone out there who's trying to figure out how to crack that nut, I would say doing a sweep of your audience to see who are organic creators and then reaching out to them really proactively is a great way to go about it.

Gia:

I love that.

Claire:

So this has been a fascinating conversation. I'm mentally cataloging all of these concepts we've been discussing on the community front for like, how can I learn from this, and how can I apply it? But I do want to ask for anyone who is tuning in and wants to learn more, whether that's learn more from you. I don't know if you have a particular area on the internet you prefer to hang out or anywhere you would like to send people. Where would be the best place for folks to go?

Camille:

Yeah. So I'm at @camillericketts on Twitter, and I believe that Ben is at @benln, although I don't know how active he is. If he's not, then I will follow up with you to have you have that. He's not that active. But I would say, for anybody who's interested in learning more about all the different facets of our community, go to notion.so/community because that's one destination where we've tried to put all of the various efforts that we have and all of the detail around them. So if you're looking for ideas or if you have feedback for us, even on how we could be doing better, that would be a great place to start.

Claire:

Beautiful. Camille, thank you so much for having this conversation with us. Again, really so fascinating.

Camille:

Thank you so much.

Camille Ricketts

Camille Ricketts is a pioneering content marketer, storyteller, and wordsmith. Her work at First Round Capital's blog, First Round Review, revolutionized content marketing for the Venture Capital industry. Now Camille leads marketing at Notion, the all-in-one workspace for notes, docs, databases, wikis, and more.

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Gia:

Hi, everyone. Welcome back. If this is your first time joining us, then welcome to Forget The Funnel. So we're excited today to share an interview with Camille Ricketts, who is the head of marketing at Notion. For those of you who are not familiar, Notion is an all-in-one workspace for notes, docs, and databases, and it also happens to be one of our core tools that we use for running Forget The Funnel. So we sat down with Camille to talk about how the Notion team thinks about customer segmentation for a product with seemingly endless use cases and also how the team uses that segmentation to create relevant experiences for all kinds of different users.

Claire:

We also got into a fascinating discussion about Notion's thriving community of power users, which started organically, but which the Notion team has since nurtured and grown and very thoughtfully leveraged both as a way to help current users get greater value and also as an extension of their pretty small marketing team. So if you're responsible for hitting ambitious growth targets, but also working with limited resources, you're not going to want to miss this part of the discussion. With that said, let's get to the interview. We would love to hear any takeaways or questions you have, so feel free to reach out to us on Twitter @forgetthefunnel or email us anytime at us@forgetthefunnel.com.

How the team arrived at the three customer segments and what that journey looked like in practice

Claire:

Maybe a good place to start would be talking about the different types of people you've identified who use Notion. So we are Notion users ourselves, but it's very horizontal, right? Seemingly endless use cases. Even personally, I can say the number of ways we use it for work and then also in my personal life almost knows no bounds. I do remember reading, as Gia mentioned, in an Open View article from around this time last year, you had shared that the Notion team had at that time defined three distinct segments of your audience. So you have individuals using it as single players. You have small businesses or teams who are adopting it in a self-serve model, which is actually how we've started using it. Then you've got enterprise teams that are using it for their department or even company-wide. So they're going through more of like a sales process. So I would be super interested to hear a little bit more about how your team arrived at those three segments and kind of what that looked like in practice because it is so horizontal, and you could have gone in so many ways. You could have chosen industry or any other lens of segmenting. So super curious to hear about that.

Camille:

Yeah. So we are still focused on those three segments. That's something that hasn't changed, and it's allowed us to become far more proficient in all of the ways in which we reach those people and be much more thoughtful about the metrics that we're looking at, the appeals that are really going to resonate with them, all of those things. The ways in which we arrived at those three segments really had a lot to do with just basic audience observation, to be honest with you. We took a very close look at who was using the product and for what. We created an onboarding process that would give us that kind of visibility upfront, really collecting a lot of information, not just about what size of company people were working at, but also what their functional area was within those companies.

Camille:

So we could get a sense of what our beachhead markets were, even within those broader segments. That's what led us to discover something along the lines of engineers and designers and product managers really seeming to click with the product immediately and represent an audience where we could do a lot of education and reach a high point of traction pretty fast. So truly it had a lot to do with just organic observation and also seeing how people start to use the product as an individual, often bring it to work with them and then people who work around them and with them closely also start to pick it up and adopt it themselves. So it's been a really nice validation of our bottoms-up model and has allowed us to put just a lot more framework around each of those identities that we see using the product over time.

Claire:

Right. I think it's really valuable or interesting that you mentioned you thought about constructing onboarding in a way that would help facilitate that organic observation. Was that the intention from the beginning or... I guess I'm super interested if you're able to share kind of how the team went about deciding like, "Okay." Essentially how the team went about even figuring out how to make those decisions or get those inputs on who was signing up.

Camille:

Yeah. So onboarding I think is extremely valuable because with a product like ours, it's really our one-stop chance to understand what this person intended to do with the product and then shape the experience that they have after that based on the information that they've given us. So in determining which questions we wanted to ask during onboarding, what information we really wanted to glean, it was all about, what are the things that actually are going to shape someone's ability to be successful once they are in Notion and actively using it and understanding their intentions and being able to meet those intentions with not just the product experience, but also the information that we then serve them along the way.

Camille:

So if you think about once somebody is in the product, what opportunities do you have to give them information? A lot of that for us was once you were actually in the product itself, what does that getting started experience feel like to you, and can we personalize that as much as possible to where it is that we know you were coming from and what your intentions are? So for example, if you say that you are planning to use Notion personally, you see a different getting started page and experience than you do if you say that you are going to use it with your team. I think eventually you'll probably see a different experience based on a lot more sort of granular segmentation. We even do segment based on whether you've signed up on mobile or on desktop in order to really receive people into that experience and push them toward the best possible use case.

Camille:

We supply templates that are very much so relevant to what people have said that they are interested in, and then we have an email onboarding experience and drip campaigns that are completely geared to helping people succeed at what they've stated is important to them.

Claire:

Those different email campaigns, excuse me, those are all tailored to the particular segment they're in. So there's a personal use campaign and a small team campaign and so on. You-

Camille:

Exactly. Yeah. So if you sign up as a personal user, we're going to show you a bunch of use cases that could be interesting. Like you said earlier in the conversation, we're such a horizontal product that people are using us for their personal tasks and notes, but they're also running Dungeons & Dragons campaigns or indexing all the Pokemon in the world or all the board games they own. So obviously, we can't present them with all of the uses that they might find interesting, but we definitely want to nudge them in a direction of like, "Here's some functionality that could unlock a lot of this potential for you, depending on what you want to do."

Camille:

If you sign up as a team and identify yourself, let's say, as an engineer or an HR professional or a marketer, we're able to say, here are templates in education that are relevant to things that we think you might want to be able to do or problems you might want to solve.

How the marketing team developed positioning and messaging that differentiates the product in a crowded SaaS segment 

Claire:

I mean, it's fantastic that you've built out these three different kind of experiences, I guess, because like you said, it's more than just the product. It's also that experience layer that you add on top of it that tailors what they learn or what use cases they see. So it's amazing that you've built all that out. I would also love to kind of dive into if you're able to share anything about your process for developing positioning and messaging that differentiates Notion, because these are three pretty different use cases and people coming to the product for different reasons. I know it can be super difficult to create messaging that is both going to speak to everyone, but also doesn't ostracize a particular use case and also doesn't just come across as so generic that it doesn't resonate with anyone.

Camille:

Totally. Yeah. I think that leading with differentiators is key because the top question on anyone's mind when they try a new product like this is, what is it going to do for me that the alternatives aren't going to do? So how can you highlight the things that are very distinct about your product and the product experience. For Notion, that's twofold. We are an all-in-one workspace that lets people take notes, manage projects, share documents, collaborate with others particularly across remote teams.

Camille:

There are a lot of products that claim to do those things, but I think that Notion is differentiated in the way that it consolidates a bunch of essential work tools into one workspace that is flexible enough to cover and enable all of them, and it's so customizable that you can essentially make your own tools in this workspace to solve whatever problems you might have, and we really believe that those are qualities that are unique to Notion in a lot of ways. So that's what we lead with is consolidation and customization and how does that unlock potential for you based on who you are.

Claire:

This is a bit of a followup on that. So you've really honed in on the customization, which I totally understand and the ability for that to unlock so many different use cases. Was that the angle or the plan from the outset, or did you come into the role when a couple of different potential ways of taking messaging and positioning and kind of arrive at that one?

Camille:

Yeah. I mean, I came in honestly pretty... I was a pretty clean slate in terms of what it is that we were going to say, what argument was going to resonate with people the most. It was really up to me and a few other members who joined the team right around when I did last year to just have so many customer conversations. That was basically all we were doing to a large extent was talking to people who inhabited these different personas and asked them what they were using the product for, what was important to them and their decision-making process when they chose Notion, where we were still falling short, what are some use cases that they didn't feel like the product was yet there to enable, and what features would unlock that possibility?

Camille:

So we just spent a ton of time doing that, and I know that that sounds like a somewhat generic answer, but it's also a step that anyone out there trying to do this cannot skip. I think that there's another step after just this massive amount of information gathering which is sitting down with all of this data and creating pretty concrete themes to understand what it is that people are actually interested in and how they want you to articulate the value that they're going to get out of the product in a way that's actually going to land with them. Because you may think that you know what benefits your product has. But if you don't explain it in a way that actually connects with the way that people think about and define their own needs, it's not going to actually click, I think, for most people.

Gia:

I'm super curious. I have a followup question to that. First of all, so happy to hear that that was such a big part of the process. That must've been fascinating, especially coming in and acclimating to the company and the brand in that way is incredible. I'm really curious if there was ever a moment following some of that sort of customer discovery and customer research that you were doing, where there was a sort of business level decision to continue focusing on all three of use cases versus focusing on one and sort of diving in deep with one of them. I find it very rare that a company is like, "No. You know what, we're going to go after... We have a huge opportunity, and we're just going to go after all of it." There was a decision where it's like, "No. If we're talking to everybody, we're talking to no one, and it's too risky."

Gia:

I just find that that is such a common challenge. So I find it's super unique that there's only a few examples out in the wild of companies that have done this well. Notion is definitely an example of one. But it's rare that it's done and that it's done well. So I'm just curious, was that a decision made very early, or was that, it's constantly being validated as like, "Yes, we're going to stay the course, we're going to stay the course"? I'm just curious if that ever wavered.

Camille:

To be very honest, the decision was made very early on that we were going to go after individuals, self-serve segment, SMBs and also the enterprise. That decision has really never wavered for us. We felt really confident in the different mechanisms that we had to reach and convert those different audiences. I can speak a little bit to the vibrant community that we've built around the B2C experience, but that has proven to be just an outsized strategy for us in terms of keeping the B2C folks really engaged and growing. Then we also were really confident in our ability to market to that self-serve audience and then build a sales organization, which is already hitting the ground running that was really going to be able to provide a lot of value to the larger enterprises up to multi thousands of seats.

Gia:

Okay. So it was baked in, and you knew, coming in, that you were solving for all three of these scenarios. Yeah. That's fascinating. That must have been huge. What a big undertaking? That's incredible.

Camille:

Yeah. It's definitely a big challenge, for sure, and it's a big storytelling challenge on behalf of my team to figure out, what are the things that we can say, the narratives that we can tell that are going to have broad appeal for multiple segments? Really making sure that we have extreme focus where we can have extreme focus is really critical. So when we talk about those sort of functional area personas and understanding which ones of those are most likely to gravitate toward us, we actually do take a super focused approach to telling those stories. So not trying to boil the ocean so much as figure out what parts of the ocean we can focus on first and then slowly grow up from there.

Claire:

I would be curious, I guess in the wake of everything that's been happening in 2020, which is a chaotic year, if you've seen any... Going back to the idea of staying broad and figuring out where you can really resonate or what use cases you can own the best, I'd be curious if you've seen any shifts in either who's coming to Notion or shifts in use cases, people are arriving with intent to use and what that's kind of looked like and if you've had to, I guess, maybe prioritize new segments you hadn't considered previously. Any behind the scenes on that we'd be super interested in?

Camille:

Definitely. I mean, the impact of everybody working from home has been really enormous for us. We've been seeing record signups pretty much since the onset of shelter-in-place. Of course, I mean, it's a very difficult time for many people. We're really pleased that we build a product that can help people get through this and help teams really endure and continue to grow and achieve their goals. To answer your question about whether we've seen a shift in persona, far more teams are using it, I would say, for remote collaboration, and that has shaped up more in sort of a portfolio model rather than them double clicking on one of the use cases that we usually talk about.

Camille:

We generally say the top three things that people use Notion for, wiki knowledge base, project management, and notes and shared documents. But we're seeing people use all three in combination now in order to have sort of a full, almost digital environment that they've created for their team to operate in lieu of having a physical office, and that's been really interesting for us to not necessarily see people do this Elkhart thing of, "Oh, we're just trying to build a great wiki," or, "Oh, we need the Trello functionality, sort of the Kanban board functionality to do project management," but rather seeing all of these different use cases stood up next to each other and interacting in really interesting ways.

Claire:

Wow. So it sounds like you have a use case or a user coming in knowing that their needs or what they want is a lot more robust and a lot less, okay, we're playing around with trying out just a new wiki platform. Like you said, you described it as like, they're looking for a digital environment to replace physical office.

Camille:

Yeah. I think it's become particularly valuable for them to be able to do all of these things in one place because all of the siloing that has occurred across different tools or all of the scatter of information I think is even that much more deeply felt now that people are not necessarily in the same physical space.

Gia:

I mentioned there's probably also an additional sense of urgency that you're seeing as opposed to before. I mean, I know how I adopted Notion. It was slowly over time, just incrementally sort of took over how I operated. But I imagine that now... Are you seeing a shorter time to product activation, or has that shortened at all? Or is it somewhat the same?

Camille:

It is somewhat the same. I would say that people are probably trialing out a lot of different tools, and they're trying to figure out what it is that is going to serve all of these needs well. But it still takes the same sort of level of consideration that it has before. We're just pleased that I think we've been able to offer the best package deal where these tools not just are in a suite, like you would imagine with Microsoft word, but where they actually can interact with each other in a lot of interesting ways.

Camille:

So for instance, if you have like a project board that has all your projects flowing through your stages of process, you can open any one of those cards, and then it's a full set of documents that can go multiple levels deep about that project, and that's just something that not a lot of other collaboration tools provide is that level of complimentariness.

Claire:

I know as a small team, there's only so many things you can tackle at one time. So maybe it's something that is now in the works. But I'd be curious how this new use case, or as you described Gia, this more urgent buyer coming in, has that changed your approach in terms of building out an additional onboarding segment or onboarding campaign or rethinking the way that you position the product on the website or in any other ways. I'm just curious how seeing that shift in how your target audience make decisions has impacted your approach.

Camille:

One of the things we did very early on literally before shelter-in-place even was the policy, I think it happened maybe two weeks in advance of us actually all going home to work, we saw that this was starting to happen. I think that Stripe and Slack had already said all of our employees are working from home, and it really sunk in for us that this was going to be a worldwide trend or requirement, rather. At that point, I think we were all really grateful that we had remained such a small, nimble team because we were able to not only reorient a lot of our strategy on the marketing side but also the product side in order to create more features and also more education around how Notion could be used in the remote use case.

Camille:

So for instance, on the product side, we made our notification system much better because we knew that that was going to be something that was going to be very used in this instance. Then the marketing side, we actually launched a whole landing page around remote and how the product could be set up to best serve those needs, and it's always kind of challenging when you are running toward a certain set of goals, and then you have to tell a team, "Okay. I know we said we were going to do this by this date, but now this is the priority." It's been amazing to work with a team that is so small and yet so able to complete things that fast in order to tell a different narrative that needed to be more urgent.

Claire:

It is beautiful that you were able to shift so quickly in terms of your marketing.

Camille:

Not easy. I'm trying not to... It sounds so easy, but it was really impressive to see how the team was able to sort of stand up this page and start telling stories about this. We ended up doing a tutorial video all within a very tight timeframe.

Claire:

Wow.

Gia:

I would love to hear... I know this is a bit... I mean, it's not off-topic because you've just mentioned the size of the team. I'd love to hear what the makeup of the marketing. Well, I mean the company as a whole, I know a little bit about customer success and how customer success is set up. But I'd love to hear how marketing is set up and what the marketing team looks like as... How many employees total now is Notion? Last I heard was 50.

Camille:

So we're just a little bit over 50, I think probably a few people who joined in the last week. We're now at that stage where new people are joining at a pretty regular cadence. So the market team is actually kind of an interesting shape right now. We are seven people altogether, and I can tell about the order that people joined in because I think that that's somewhat interesting. But the composition is me, two designers and developers, which I have to say are the secret weapon of making the marketing team as effective as it is. I think speaking to a lot of my friends who are also working in marketing, often their projects have to sit in a queue of some sort before they can be built on whether that's what, design or engineering, and we're super lucky to have two people who can not only design something, but then actually build it and make it a reality, which is incredible.

Camille:

We also have user education, product marketer, who's totally responsible for being the conduit from products to us and then to community support so that everything is being messaged really consistently, and we're very focused on what these features mean in terms of benefit for the user. My colleague, David is just really talented at that. We have two content-focused folks, one who is completely focused on telling the enterprise story and having a tight feedback loop with sales to make sure that we are really producing effective assets and content on that side and then one who is definitely more focused on the thought leadership and user education around what the product is trying to do in particular.

Camille:

Then lastly, we have a head of community, who's Ben Lang, and he's really remarkable and has been able to fuel incredible growth of this global community of B2C and B2B users in many different countries, helping them run events, create content, build communities of their own in their local geographies. That's been really inspiring to watch. So that's the general makeup of the team so far. Then I have a counterpart who's my peer, who's a head of growth, who is much more focused on the quantitative side of things. He and I are kind of two halves of the same engine, constantly learning from and responding to each other.

How Notion empowers, supports, and connects with its community of super users

Claire:

Okay. Just wanted to make sure before shifting slightly. But you brought up Notion's user community, and I was super curious about that. So it sounds like the community rolls up to marketing then. I was curious going into this, whether it was under marketing or under customer success.

Camille:

Yeah. So we refer to two different things with the word community, and I think that that just expresses our commitment to community being such a huge focus for us and making all of our users understand and feel like they are really part of a large global community. So customer success is adjacent definitely to both marketing, and then we call our support team community support because we want everybody on that team to really focus on the hospitality that we would provide to other community members, and I think that's really shaped the way that that team hires and everybody who is a specialist on that team really brings that focus and care.

Camille:

Then Ben, who is focused on community that rolls into marketing is far more around, how do we create an ambassador program? How do we work with certain users in order to reach an even larger group of users with the information and all of the education that we want to provide?

Claire:

It seems that programs like that have really taken off. I mean, that's how we were connected is I happen to know Marie, and she is very plugged into the Notion space. It seems like that's been really effective for enabling greater reach with such a small marketing team, and-

Camille:

It's been one of the most instrumental things for us, and we're deeply grateful to all of the people who have just so much organic enthusiasm for Notion that they've gone above and beyond to help introduce other people to the product too.

Claire:

Yeah, I would imagine. This is a bit of a... Kind of trying to figure out how to phrase it correctly, but I'm curious what kind of insights you then end up getting from the community that further inform marketing strategy because it's this wellspring of people who are already so plugged into the product and so engaged.

Camille:

Yeah. I mean, it definitely makes sure that we hear about concerns faster. It's almost like an action network that whenever there is feedback or feature requests or people are concerned about the direction that the roadmap might be going or they have questions about that, we hear about those things really fast and get a lot of good context about them. Then we also have a much better conduit to make sure that our messaging back about all of those things is received. I think that having a community that feels incredibly community run and really organic in a sense... Our subreddit right now has about 38,000 people on it, and we have a very light touch that is completely community owned and run. I think that that has allowed the conversation to just be a lot more robust and a lot more honest and a lot more candid.

Camille:

We often note that the people who are our biggest critics are people who love the product the most, and we definitely see that across all of these channels. I think it's very cool that we have the ability to see organic conversation going on and respond to it rather than being really, I guess concerned with owning these channels and trying to see if people are still going to give us the same level of constructive feedback.

Gia:

I'm curious how that came about. What was the sort of inception of that, and what did the early version look like, and how do you continue to sort of manage it and grow that, considering it's such an important part of marketing? What was it like in the early days and when it first sort of started to be nurtured? Was it something that happened organically, or was this something that you sort of nurtured into what it is now?

Camille:

So definitely happened organically. When I stepped foot into this role, it was already going on. We were already seeing people tweeting a ton about Notion. I'm already seeing amazing setups that they were building and sharing on their own social media channels. There was already a few Facebook groups that were devoted to it and the subreddit already existed. So truly when I stepped in and then when Ben joined me on the team and he was the first person to join the marketing team, it was about figuring out who the people in those communities were who were interested in getting even more involved, understanding what had inspired them to be so vocal and what they would want from any sort of community structure that we would provide, and we've really been following their lead to a very large extent in terms of how they want this to shape up, how they want to interact with each other and the ways in which they'd like Notion to interact, if at all, with the users that they themselves have helped us nurture.

Claire:

Interesting.

Gia:

I was just curious about how you structure it and manage it internally because it is such a important part, and I imagine it's something you are continuing to invest in and wanting to grow. So I'm just curious what the structure is and how you're managing it.

Camille:

The ambassador program is really the heart of how we interact with the community, and we call this program the Notion Pros. It's something that we launched last February really as an experiment and just see if people were interested in joining a subset of the community that would have much tighter communication with the Notion team itself and then also help us amplify various things and help us discover even more people who are interested in building things and getting in touch.

Camille:

So we ended up standing up an application on a Notion page. It was really easy to do, and we got 400 applications. We had initially stated that we were going to have 20 spots open because we really wanted this to be a manageable size when we first started doing it to figure out what the cadence of communication was going to be in and what people's interests were going to be. Since then it's grown to over 60 people, really geographically diverse, and we have them all in a Slack group.

Camille:

Ben is constantly interacting and speaks to many of them on Zoom multiple times a month. It's really required a lot of high touch consideration, and I feel so lucky to work with him, given the amount of effort he's put forth to just make every single one of these individuals feel like they are in the know and being listened to and also growing the program really deliberately to make sure that every person that does join this community is bringing a certain level of engagement and also interest in helping us open up new markets, new audiences, helping people learn how to use the product differently.

Gia:

It's fascinating. I have so many more questions about how that is run just... It sounds like a customer advisory board. It sounds very similar to how a really well-run customer advisory board would work, which then leads me to, well then what? What about the things that they're asking for or putting in votes for, so to speak, and the things that they might not be as happy with versus the things that are on their wishlist. How does that get translated from marketing to product, and what's the relationship there? Because again, it sounds a lot like how a well-run customer advisory board will be run.

Camille:

Yeah. So one of the things that I'm most excited about in terms of how the marketing team is run is that everybody on my team has a lot of connections that are completely cross-functional. So I talked about David and how he is our communication channel from product to marketing. But then definitely works cross-functionally across the team and has very close connections with the product team. He created a database not too long ago that would allow all the Notion Pros to put in their feedback and feature requests and things that they had been hearing, and then other members of the same group could go in and upvote in that database, and we could get a stack rank list of priorities. All of that has been shared with the product team to be incorporated into the various projects that they're prioritizing over the next couple quarters. We take it very seriously.

Camille:

The priorities of the Notion Pro community very often align very closely with what we already know to be important, and it's been great validation and also a great way to get more detail and more context on each one of these things that we are then going to set out to build to have access to somebody who is in the user community, steeped in what other users think and how it is that they will actually see these features applied.

Gia:

I love that. That's incredible. That must be such an amazing resource, especially since I imagine you probably also get not only validation for the ideas of what gets implemented, but voice of customer and the use cases, because again, use cases are sort of blown right open with a tool like Notion. Yeah. I love that.

Camille:

One thing I'll also add is that a lot of members of this community have been able to double down on Notion and build revenue-driving businesses of their own. So we've been able to open up several other tiers of participation for those who are interested. It's not just the same ambassador experience the entire time. But if you want to be a consultant, we now have a certification program, and if you make it all the way through and are a certified consultant, then you'll be connected with our customer success team and actually connected with clients who you can then go in and do their set ups for them or help them troubleshoot.

Camille:

Then a number of people have also started running courses that people are paying to take, summits that people are paying to attend, all of that, which has just been incredible to watch because it's introducing Notion to a lot more audiences in a different sense.

Gia:

Right. Am I understanding that correctly? So you have a certification program that then gives you the ability to recommend them to maybe enterprise customers that are signing up. Is that right?

Camille:

That is, yeah. It was designed by Ben and with a member of our Notion Pros community named William Nutt, who is an extreme expert at the product. The two of them came up with an application process as well as a certification test, which Ben likes to joke that it's so difficult that sometimes he probably won't pass this. The result there is to get a cohort of people who are deeply engaged with Notion, able to handle any manner of question, understand a lot of our more advanced use cases and who we feel totally comfortable connecting with our enterprise clients.

Gia:

What a beautiful ecosystem

Claire:

Right. I was going to say it's still brilliant on so many different levels, not just in fostering continued and ongoing and enthusiastic engagement with the product, both of those pros and also of your enterprise customers, but also the relief on the internal customer success team because there is this additional layer of support of alert. That's brilliant.

Camille:

Well, we're trying. It comes with its own sets of challenges, obviously. But that's the idea is that we create this ecosystem where people can choose their level of involvement and engagement with us, and hopefully, we're unlocking a ton of potential for them as well.

Claire:

Right. Right. It goes back to the fact that the product can do so many things. When someone gets started or when someone is trying to build out their ecosystem, they naturally do need or could use a bit of a hand from someone who is more experienced in, how do I go about even setting up what is such a blank canvas? So I mean, yeah, it's so perfectly suited to the nature of the product itself. Super interesting.

Camille:

Yeah. Yeah. I do think on the enterprise side, a lot of the requests we get are around some of the more advanced use cases around, how do we relate these multiple databases to create an automated dashboard and all of that, and those are the types of things that I think these pros just love to help solve for people.

Claire:

Right. Right.

Gia:

There's a lot of products who try to retroactively go back and create this type of ecosystem and this type of sort of self-serving, doesn't sound right, but self-perpetuating, sort of self-supporting type of ecosystem.

Claire:

Sustaining? Yeah.

Gia:

Self-sustaining. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I guess it's because of the nature of the product. From the inception of the product itself, this was sort of baked into it, but a lot of companies tried to create this type of ecosystem after the fact, and there's a lot of struggle there. It doesn't come natural, or there's a massive mindset shift to make internally that can sometimes be painful as well. Because the company has been operating a certain way for a number of years, and then all of a sudden, we're like, "Well, we're going to try this new way of supporting enterprise customers, or we're going to add a certification program after the fact, and it can be very cumbersome to implement."

The challenges of having a super-engaged community

Gia:

But it sounds like you guys have been doing it incrementally along the way. But I'm curious, you mentioned that this beautiful ecosystem comes with its own challenges. Would you be willing to share or open to sharing what some of those challenges might be like? What's the hardest part of your job? Then I promise, Claire, I will give her back to you.

Claire:

No. This is going great.

Camille:

I mean, whenever you have a vibrant, diverse community of passionate people, you're going to have concerns that bubble up. You're going to have people who disagree with the direction that you've chosen. You're going to have people who want features, for instance, that aren't necessarily prioritized, and you're going to have to be able to go-

Gia:

We won't get charts. But maybe one of them that you've heard. Yes.

Camille:

I'll add your vote for that. Actually, we've now moved away from the, we'll add your vote for that language just because we want there to be even more transparency. So now we say more so, are we... We try to provide more context, whatever we can about why things have been prioritized the way that they've been. So it's interesting because this has been somewhat of a moving target where it used to be that you could just say, "Oh yeah, I'll relay that." But now that we're kind of a bigger company, and we're making more decisions all the time, just more decisions per unit time than I think we have been in the past, there's obviously going to be more questions about why we made certain choices that we've made.

Camille:

So I think that the hardest part of our job is to make sure that we're never ever skimping on the way that we respond to these concerns, that we are going above and beyond to be transparent, to provide as much detail as we feel like we need to, to make members of our community feel like they don't need full understanding of how it is that we've arrived at things. We really try to give them as much exposure to the decision-makers behind the scenes as well. We have monthly AMAs with members of our executive team, the individual engineers who have launched certain features, really trying to give them a sense of not only how things work but give them the opportunity to ask the people who make the determination about how things work, why that is the case. So I think it's about maintaining a level of trust and actually exposure to the team itself and inviting people to really engage with us very deeply and not hold back.

Claire:

This is also not actually a support request for Gantt charts, as nice as they would be. Because I know there's, as you said, a much more thoughtful way to go about that. But I can absolutely understand how with such an engaged user base, you've got a lot of strong opinions, and somehow I can understand the challenge of balancing both serving your customer and also maintaining some kind of product vision that you were driving toward at the same time. It's a tricky line to walk.

Camille:

I think it's about making sure that you are explaining your rationales and not glossing over it and also, in a certain point, being really fair and candid when you've done your best, and you have to make sure that is something that lands, and just the sincerity with which you make it clear that you've done your best is super important.

Gia:

Yeah. I imagine you lean on... I don't mean lean as in rely on necessarily, but even with such a young company, there's a lot of brand equity there already. Notion's brand is very strong even for a very young company, and I imagine in those situations that helps. It doesn't do everything, but it must help to a certain extent that people trust that you are doing your best and that though you may not always get it right or may not be able to implement Gantt charts next week, it's forgivable because we know how much other stuff is going on, and we know how much transparency there is, and we sort of have been along for the ride too. I imagine a lot of your more vocal customers have been along for the ride for a while now.

Camille:

Yeah. I do think that transparency is super key and just making it clear that you really are bringing your A game for people. Yeah.

How the team built and empowers its ambassador program 

Claire:

Could we go back to that... Kind of you called it the early days, Gia, but that beginning stage of being more proactive or finding a way to be strategic about nurturing and growing the organic community that had already sprung up around Notion. I'm trying to look at this. I'm trying to ask this question through the lens of someone who's listening and realizes the potential of engaging with and really nurturing your existing customers potentially in a community fashion. I would love any thoughts you have on an initial action or a single action that someone in this position could take to even start exploring that.

Claire:

I think you mentioned, for example, that Ben was originally engaged in the community. So I don't know if, for you, it was just having a conversation with an engaged member or where step one is in going from, I know we have a really engaged user base or customer base to actually figuring out how to leverage that customer base in such a high impact way.

Camille:

Yeah. I have to admit that hiring Ben was kind of a cheat in a lot of ways. Ben was running a Notion fan site called notionpages.com that was getting about 80,000 views a month. He had already been active in the product hunt conversations about our various releases. So it was clear that he already was familiar with a number of the pillars of this community as well. So obviously, that's not advice that I can offer for someone to replicate.

Camille:

So instead, I'll say that the things that he and I did together that wasn't necessarily riding on his coattails was really auditing where people were having conversations about Notion online, whether it was Facebook or Reddit, or on a Discord channel or on LinkedIn and really paying close attention to who was being the most engaged and most vocal and then not hesitating to reach out to them just in an exploratory fashion, not necessarily to assume that they were going to be somebody interested in being an ambassador, but just to understand why they had gravitated so much to the product, ways in which they wanted to interact more with the team, who it was that they felt like they were in constant conversation or regular conversation with about the product or who had interesting ideas about the product or who had written interesting things about it and then start to form a list out of that type of evidence.

Claire:

It's super helpful. In particular, the outreach was just originally exploratory, right? You didn't even go into it with the idea of, "Hey, I want to be an ambassador." So much as just getting a sense of what good might look like for this very engaged customer is super smart.

Camille:

I would also say one of the more impactful things is having a really sort of trust-based approach in the sense that I think a lot of brands can be overly controlled about the way that they approach this type of thing, where if an ambassador says, "Oh, can I add this to my LinkedIn profile? Or can I use some of your branding materials on my own webinar slides? Or can I make t-shirts? Can I write eBooks?" That type of thing. We've been pretty lenient and permissive about use our assets. We want to see more creation in the community. Send us the books that you've written. Send us the t-shirts you've made. My favorite one is that there's now a anime character based on Notion named Notioko. And there have been Notioko t-shirts made now. I'm like, "Send us the-shirts."

Claire:

Amazing.

Camille:

So not being overly precious about your ambassadors or your community members taking your brand and making their own beautiful creations with it because then it does really get in front of more people who are going to feel inspired.

Claire:

Wow.

Gia:

Yeah. That's a big one, actually. That's a big one, and it's a hard decision to make as a... Generally, if you're responsible for a brand, that's a tough decision to make, and it definitely-

Camille:

You definitely run into like, "Well, that's not the color yellow I would have chosen." Of course, I'm sure, I'm positive for your listeners that we're going to run into instances where we need to draw guidelines, or we need to be more deliberate about this. But for the time being and early on, it's been a massive boon for us to take that approach.

Gia:

Yeah. Right. I wanted to back up to, I don't think hiring Ben was a cheat at all. I mean, I think that was really smart and deliberate and strategic and makes a ton of sense that you would seek out somebody who understands implicitly the value there, as opposed to finding somebody who has a certain skill set and then bringing them in and teaching them the platform and teaching them the value. You took not a shortcut in any sort of cheek kind of way, but I think it was really, really smart and obviously was a huge benefit too.

Camille:

Yeah. I have to say that that criteria has proven to be really valuable going forward into a lot of things. So the biggest example for us is that YouTube is a massive channel, and we are constantly in contact with a lot of YouTube creators of different sizes of audiences. Do they want to do something about the product. The people who are actually really excited about Notion are the ones that we love working with. So for anyone out there who's trying to figure out how to crack that nut, I would say doing a sweep of your audience to see who are organic creators and then reaching out to them really proactively is a great way to go about it.

Gia:

I love that.

Claire:

So this has been a fascinating conversation. I'm mentally cataloging all of these concepts we've been discussing on the community front for like, how can I learn from this, and how can I apply it? But I do want to ask for anyone who is tuning in and wants to learn more, whether that's learn more from you. I don't know if you have a particular area on the internet you prefer to hang out or anywhere you would like to send people. Where would be the best place for folks to go?

Camille:

Yeah. So I'm at @camillericketts on Twitter, and I believe that Ben is at @benln, although I don't know how active he is. If he's not, then I will follow up with you to have you have that. He's not that active. But I would say, for anybody who's interested in learning more about all the different facets of our community, go to notion.so/community because that's one destination where we've tried to put all of the various efforts that we have and all of the detail around them. So if you're looking for ideas or if you have feedback for us, even on how we could be doing better, that would be a great place to start.

Claire:

Beautiful. Camille, thank you so much for having this conversation with us. Again, really so fascinating.

Camille:

Thank you so much.