That’s how all the best ideas start for me and my business partner, Jeff Breunsbach.
When COVID-19 changed everything, I sat on Zoom call after Zoom call trying to figure out what it all meant — not just for us, but as the founder of a consulting firm for B2B SaaS companies, what it meant for our business.
Digital engagement is higher than ever thanks to lockdowns and quarantines, but that means it’s even more difficult to stand out to your customers and prospects. To get their attention, you’re not just competing against similar products.
You’re competing against the entire internet. (No pressure.)
A value-driven community was how we chose to solve that problem. In June, we launched our online community of practice, Gain Grow Retain, which connects our audience, customer success leaders across different companies and industries, to share knowledge and solve problems.
Why Build Community in the First Place
Community, to me, is a microcosm of customer success. When you get it right, it’s powerful.
With an online community, your members (or even customers) have a whole new engagement channel, where they can get more than just technical advice – they can talk to your advocates, swap best practices, and talk strategy. They have a resource hub that’s always growing organically.
And it’s not just the customers who benefit. The business benefits…
- Your customer success team knows what’s going on with engaged customers before they have to ask.
- Your marketing team can see who’s rising to the top as customer advocates and nurture emerging advocates.
- Your product team can get user-tested ideas for product enhancements.
- Your support team can reduce the cost of serving customers while improving their experience
Learn 4 ways that community engagement strengthens the customer experience.
Customer success is also a rapidly-growing field, and thought leadership and resources haven’t quite caught up to the way the field is expanding. Before we started the Gain Grow Retain community, we had heard from many customer success leaders that they felt a lack of support and resources.
For all the reasons above, building a community made perfect sense to us. What better way to reach and support customer success professionals than by creating an online community to connect them?
It’s about a one-to-many approach and building personalization at scale. Our community:
- Helps us go outside our traditional audience, reaching new people in a way we couldn’t have without it
- Gives us the opportunity to easily scale our efforts and test their performance
- Engages our audience to make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger
We wanted to do something for the customer success community we serve while everything turned upside-down.
Customer success is a notoriously challenging field — you’re managing customer outcomes and expectations, pursuing retention, and account growth goals, and troubleshooting thorny product issues. Add a pandemic on top of that and our audience, customer success leaders, were scrambling to stay afloat.
The Customer Success community needed a place to build their career, grow their personal brand, and solve moment-by-moment problems.
So we created Gain Grow Retain, building it to a 3,000 member community in the span of six months. Here’s how we did it — and increased our community engagement along the way, building a thriving community that customer success leaders love.
And if you work in customer success, come join us in the community! Just create an account and start participating.
3 Ways We Engage Our Community of Customer Success Leaders
A customer community doesn’t have to be large to be impactful.
A community of 5,000 members or less sees about 25% to 35% engagement, but a 100,000+ member community often has only 10% engagement. While the 90-9-1 rule may be outdated, you’ll still find that not everyone chooses to interact in the same way. There are four different types of people in any community:
- Creators: Those who start conversations and build content.
- Contributors: Those who reply and engage with existing content.
- Consumers: Those who log in and view content without contributing (also called lurkers.)
- Inactive: Those who never log in or engage.
Our job as community builders is to engage as many people as we can. There will always be lurkers, of course, regardless of whether you’re using the community to deflect support cases, engage in thought leadership, or offer best practice-sharing.
But the more people contribute, the more value everyone sees.
People like to consume content in a variety of different ways. A strong content strategy uses different channels that feeds into the online community to drive engagement:
1. Feature community members
Our community idea came out of a podcast we launched in 2019 (another “Hey Jay!” kind of idea). We wanted a conversational outlet for our thoughts and ideas, with topics as wide-ranging as the job market within customer success to leading indicators for churn and onboarding tactics.
It took a long time for it to take off. But once we started featuring our community members, the podcast showed real potential. We’re now over 6,000 listens a month, and I’m expecting to be close to 10,000 per month by the end of the year.
The important thing is just to start.
So many people think podcasting is difficult to get into, but all you need to get started is to set up a call with one of your customers and record it. Ask them:
- How their business is doing
- What kinds of decisions they’re making (or struggling with)
- How they solved their last major business challenge
- Any advice for the rest of the community
Work alongside your marketing team to identify key prospects or customers with interesting stories.
Featuring customers and community members strengthens the value the community offers and gives you a natural extension to continue the conversation in discussion threads. We try to make every call-to-action centered on getting engaged in the Gain Grow Retain community.
By recognizing community members, you build their brand and showcase a model of success anyone in the community can emulate.
2. Keep programming consistent
Once you define which channels and programs you want to use, consistency is key. You want to build a repeatable, systematic content engine that makes a difference to your members.
While the podcast took off, we knew we needed a more interactive way to engage our community. Anthony Kennada, CMO at Front, started offering marketing leadership office hours over LinkedIn.
It only made sense to try the same thing with our community of customer success leaders. We committed to doing it for four weeks, testing and iterating after that.
45 people joined our first panel, featuring four well-known customer success leaders, talking through the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses.
After every call, we asked for feedback, and our community members asked for more discussion and interaction. We started turning the panel presentation model into more of a panel discussion, fielding Ask-Me-Anything-style questions from the virtual audience.
Word got around. By three sessions, 160 people came.
Now, GGR office hours are a regular part of our content strategy. Each week, we choose a topic from our online community, send an invite to everyone’s calendar, and dive in. We’re averaging around 200 people who attend each week, and it’s a powerful way for people to connect.
3. Encourage peer-to-peer connections
As we started to have more conversations with our community members, more and more people asked for a way to continue talking about them.
That’s where the community idea really clicked for us.
It was clear from our podcast listeners and our office hour attendees that our community members needed a place to learn from one another. And that more importantly, they wanted to come together with us.
We took the topics from our podcast and our office hours and put them online so people could interact with them anytime.
We started with early adopters — the ones who attended every call, who listened to every podcast, who were already on our email list — to prove the format of the community. To make a community work, we had to have a group of people excited to participate, seeding enough content so that when others join, there’s already value.
From there, we added a layer of community moderation to maintain a high-quality standard within the community, both in terms of the content (keeping out spam and annoying advertisements) and tone (keeping discussions positive and learning-focused.)
- Curating user-generated content to ensure quality and that it falls within norms and rules
- Maintaining an open but appropriate climate for conversation
- Seeding content and replying to threads to keep the conversation going
But the best part of any community is the connections people make with one another. Whether it’s helping someone find a job, build friendships, or become a mentor, encouraging the bonds between one another is the real value of any community, especially for one like ours, which is geographically dispersed.
As more and more people join, the community changes to add the most value to them. We’ve added subgroups based on specific industries (like cybersecurity), values (diversity and inclusion), and key customer success trends (like AI) so everyone can find their niche.
Build a Community-Centered Content Strategy
All of our initiatives with Gain Grow Retain tie back to one thing: our online community. The goal with creating a community of practice around customer success was to build a comprehensive resource for customer success leaders, that would drive engagement and value. Our community:
- Gives us a way to unite customer success leaders, creating a strong network around a common cause
- Acts as a library of resources and brilliant minds to support any community member seeking help
- Furthers the customer success industry and success of customers, everywhere!
Plus, we always ask for feedback to keep making the community better. Luckily, that’s easy to do within the platform:
Here’s what one of our community members has to say:
“I just joined Gain Grow Retain a couple days back and yesterday was my first time attending CSM Office Hours and I have to say it was an amazing experience. Everyone was so welcoming and it was great to get different perspectives and ask questions. We truly have a close-knit community and I am glad to be a part of it.”
If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that customer engagement is absolutely critical to maintain growth. Adding new people is great — I’ll never say no to a good hockey-stick graph for customers, attendees, or podcast listeners — but if we don’t offer any value, they won’t stick around. And more importantly, they won’t deepen their relationship with our brand to become customers.
Chief Customer Officer
Jay has spent several years in different functional leadership roles in which he has developed a methodology for building, scaling, and operating customer-centered organizations. Jay began his career as an engineer and data architect at Blackbaud before moving into Services and Product leadership roles over the course of 8+ years. With roots planted firmly in the software industry, Jay moved on to become an executive at PeopleMatter which sold to Snagajob in 2016. In 2017, Jay founded Customer Imperative, a consultancy focused on B2B SaaS, which eventually developed the Gain Grow Retain customer success leadership community. In 2020, Customer Imperative was acquired by Higher Logic and Jay joined the team as Chief Customer Officer.
Jay earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Information Systems from Appalachian State University.
Jay loves to connect with and hear from customers, send him an email at [email protected].
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