Community marketing and community-led growth for B2B Tech and SaaS businesses has become the strategy of the moment that every revenue leader is trying to unlock and make work.
And that won’t slow down in 2023. But it’ll likely look different.
As we come off a wave of community big bets and a big glow-up for the community industry overall – new solutions forums, for digital events and even for the intersection of community and education – it’s worth looking at the fundamentals of what makes community so hard to nail down for your business, but … truly powerful when you do.
Community: from buzzword to strategy
We’ve written about the change and evolution of the community industry over the last few years. But what can get lost in the conversation about community-led growth and the exciting products that have launched and the marketing efforts is the purpose of the community for many businesses.
Community can mean many things. But what’s bubbled up to the top for many looking to community as a way to increase their brand reach, get more customers, better serve their audience, or even create stronger connections and bonds between and with their employees is:
Community is the place where people and ideas connect.
Seems simple, right?
Whether we refer to community as a moat to protect current customer relationships, the throughline that connects all of our efforts or a way for us to turn customers into advocates … an impactful community strategy is a multiplier of efforts and outcomes, for both community members and those who are facilitating community connections.
Communities can be “town squares”, like Twitter, or more guided places to gather, learn and connect, like LinkedIn. We see communities facilitated by and around B2C brands like
Glossier and Peloton bring people to a common space IRL and online to connect and grow together, whether it be around their use of a product or their progress toward a goal.
In B2B, communities have become the strategy d’jour with successful examples of gathering around a common purpose or philosophy, like Chili Piper’s strong brand presence on LinkedIn, Metadata’s DEMAND community for marketers or Walnut’s #WeAreProspects movement. We’ve also seen B2B professionals come together to learn together. (ahem – Sales Assembly. More on that later). :)
So, why should you pay attention? And why is community-led growth still the right bet for businesses looking to hit short-term goals and long-term insights? Both externally AND internally?
Community definition: where people and ideas connect
The movement to remote work and volatility of the job market (both the ups AND the downs) have shown us that connections matter more than ever. But it’s also exposed some weak spots in our sudden and drastic move to virtual connection with our companies, with our prospects, with our customers and with each other.
Communities that have done well to fill those gaps follow a few core principles:
- Healthy community spaces center the community members’ goals and needs. Social media transitioned from broadcast channel to connection point over the years. Dedicated community spaces are no different. If I, as a community member, understand and see the tangible value of participating … I’ll make the time to invest. If the motive of the company or person that’s facilitating the community starts to take precedent over the needs of the community, it’ll become less interesting to regularly invest time and energy.
- The community enhances current connections and adds MORE value, without trying to center the community for the sake of it. We see this all too often. A brand or group “launches” a community and hopes that the if you build it, they will come mantra will hold true. In fact, launching is typically a step in the process, and not the final destination. Your community should feel seamless and integrated into the day to day of your community members OR offer a real, tangible, unique benefit of coming to YOU versus going elsewhere.
- Community is about connections. Period. Community can and should be about more than just talking and getting to know other people. We’ll talk about that further. But what makes community a unique part of a service delivery, brand marketing or customer support strategy is its ability to put community members at the center of the conversation with each other. Otherwise, 1:1 and 1:many strategies work as well. And community doesn’t accomplish anything new for your members and can just become noise.
Creating community to strengthen your go-to-market motion
We’ve talked about community-led growth as a brand play, community as an industry, and the philosophy of community best practices.
But why should building community matter for those who work in revenue organizations, for those who lead revenue organizations, or any of those who work in and around the B2B tech space?
Well, let’s reflect on what businesses are up against in 2023.
- For all of the accessibility and equity created with the rise of virtual and distributed work, there are fewer tried and true ways to connect your team to their role and the company in bigger ways.
- More and more leaders are challenged with adding informal context, delivering on-the-job training and seeing tangible ways that their teams are absorbing lessons from the practices they observe and soak up by being near their colleagues and peers
- We’re all executing faster than ever and consuming more information than ever before … but our ability to put learnings and lessons into practice or expand our thinking are few and far between.
Remote work and a distributed environment has unlocked the potential of more flexible and creative work but the playbook for how to get there is still being written.
Much like the “before times” (pre-2020), community is at the center of a strong plan. It just looks a little different now.
Community Multiplier Effect #1: Connect the Dots on Learning and Insights
Learning Communities are not uncommon (Thinkific has a nice primer on the topic). If learner theory is a new concept, or you were thrust into a role where you had to educate, engage and inspire action of a team in a distributed environment … here’s the gist:
- Adult learning can be done synchronous or asynchronous
- When learning a practical skill or honing your craft, having space to connect concepts to real-life situation is paramount
- Whether the preference is to learn with others or on your own, adoption happens when there’s an expansion of ideas and accountability to learn
Whether it’s together or apart, community connects the dots for learners:
How can community connect learning and development in your organization? Potentially in ways you’re already doing it. Think about a recent training or new process you rolled out.
- Hosted a meeting on the topic, where you walked through a slide deck, demo’d a product or process
- You outlined expectations and responsibilities
- You opened it up for questions, comments. Bonus if you created space for peers to connect with peers to share, discuss and ideate (spoiler: that’s the community part)
- You sent a follow-up email with asks and expectations of those that attended the training
- You sent the recording to people who couldn’t attend and future employees
There are 1-2 ways to “create community” within that … but are we making the most of it?
Let’s apply community to this framework. You could have:
Does every meeting or training need a full, robust community play to drive comprehension and adoption? Probably not.
But community and community-led growth enhances each of these steps and makes the learning more relevant and specific, helps drive recall and adoption and creates a sense of group learning to level up and not individual adoption.
Community Multiplier Effect #2: Break out of the 4 Walls of your Organization
When the possibilities are endless, it’s hard to pick a path.
That’s where we find ourselves now that the physical “walls” of our organization have been figuratively torn down and we’re living in a space where we can connect, meet and learn from revenue org professionals all over the world.
Amidst the sea of webinars, Slack workspaces, Facebook groups, professional organizations, industry meetups, LinkedIn engagement circles, oh my … we face a tough decision.
Where and how do we prioritize our time to expand our horizons and connect with our peers?
More often than not, you and your team members are likely finding yourself overwhelmed by the options and underutilizing what’s available. Quality is a concern. So is time spent and the shift of close connections driving your professional development to professional development as a side gig while you scroll through social media at night.
But, what about when you nail it.
What about those times when you “find your people” on social media, in a virtual event space, within a forum for other sellers, producers, operators or customer success professionals just like you.
It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing a wider world reflected back at you.
Connecting with others who do work similar to yours, who face similar challenges and opportunities but who work in a different environment can be a source of validation, inspiration and commiseration.
Think about perfecting your GTM motion like fitness and training. Sure, you could stick to the proven and tested exercises and routines. You’ll start to get better (and stronger) and develop muscle memory for the moves and form.
These are good things.
But if you stick with just those exercises and routines, autopilot can start to kick in. You’ll start to go into autopilot, doing sets and reps without thinking. Sure, your form is perfect … but the results of diminishing returns.
When you switch it up – introduce a new exercise, keep your muscles training in a variety of ways – your entire body gets stronger and flexible, more dynamic and with more endurance.
Exposing yourself to new environments makes you more alert, responsive and sharper. Same goes for your professional skills. Challenging them by hearing from and talking about the things that others are doing makes you better.
And if you lead a team of producers, operators or frontline leaders … you should be encouraging this ongoing improvement and leveling up as much as possible.
Community across organizations means that people and ideas connect. Community-led growth across teams is community-led growth for all. You can learn best practices, gut check trends, have a more well-rounded view of how your processes stack up compared to others and tap into the collective mindshare of those who work like yours.
Said another way: finding a community of peers that have relevant context to your job but a wider experience day-to-day can be a stronger sounding board and differentiator between good and great.
- The best CSMs tap into their peers at other companies to understand what save plays are working now, in this moment.
- Enterprise Account Executives who have access to a collective of other AEs selling into big business will be the first to know if consolidation or confidence in ROI is the stronger messaging right now.
- Marketers talking to other marketers will build better campaigns and messaging than those who are only looking inward, at their own customer research, data and historical performance.
Community is better as a community. And building community with your peers that span across your 4 walls will hone your craft and make you and your team more flexible, adaptive and responsive to the current moment.
Sidenote: this applies to internal community efforts, too. Breaking down silos is an equal opportunity net gain. If your SMB AEs are just talking to their teammates, they have no idea what they can learn from CSMs who service those accounts. Customer marketers without knowledge of what content is resonating in the market or how CAC has shifted won’t have an understanding of how customer expectations and needs have changed over time. And on and on and on.
Community Multiplier Effect #3: More Durable and Dynamic Strategies Are Better Built Together
Communities of Practice.
Communities of Platform.
Communities for Belonging.
Communities of Peers.
These are all ways to describe the purpose and the function of a community, but I’ve heard from C-suite to entry level professionals that they feel more confident, better equipped and like their skill sets and strategies are stronger when they have a group of peers to tap into, build with and alongside and can connect with when the times are tough and when they want to celebrate a win.
Two examples show how important this is up and down the seniority level.
Cross-functional community leads to stronger results
I’ve worked alongside sales and CS leaders whose careers have skyrocketed because they leaned on one specific thing: their own personal board of directors.
Curated specifically for and by the person and sourced from those they admired, looked up to, and built alongside … this personal board of directors was a group of people who opted in to be a sounding board, support group, win celebrator and peer group to help the individual achieve their goals.
Sometimes it was to offer advice.
Other times it was to give the objective perspective that allowed the individual to see where and how they could break through a mental barrier or tough quarter.
All throughout, though, it was a community of trusted and like-minded professionals who wanted to see them succeed and would help where and how they could.
A mix of internal and external advocates allowed these people to be more confident and well-rounded in their expertise, to weather obstacles with more perspective and to hold them accountable to the steps that would help them achieve results and their goals?
The result? All of the people who first introduced me to the concept of a personal board of directors are now in director+ roles themselves, leading Customer Success, full Sales teams, Product Design and more.
Community lifted them up and made them better.
Communities change as your needs evolve
“Community” can sometimes be seen as a fluffy, nice-to-have group that is fun when you have time, but not critical to doing your job.
Successful leaders, though, have felt firsthand the impact of their community on their roles. They understand firsthand the power of community-led growth.
I’ve talked to leaders who are smart, tenacious and passionate about what they do share that the best use of community, for them, is to have a group of peers to bounce ideas off of, to riff and tear about working plans and to levelset on what’s most impactful for their teams.
I’ve heard from other leaders – of teams of 2 all the way to teams of hundreds – say that their peer network is the most critical part of their success. Networking, support and advice all help them show up and excel for their teams.
Others benefit from a dedicated space where they can be themselves, let their proverbial hair down and get grounded in between at bats of showing up for their teams.
When we label community as nice to have, we’re getting lapped by those who are leveraging their community and network to be better, to have sounder ideas and who are going further with others.
The best leaders can easily answer the question:
- “Who do you learn from?
- “Who do you rely on?
- “Who inspires you?”
The answers are community. And community is no longer a nice-to-have.
Community Trends for 2023
2023 will hold unchartered waters and more of the same for those seeking to drive community-led growth.
How’s that for a throwaway line?!?
But it’s true. Some industries will stagnate and experience sluggishness like the back half of 2022. Others will rebound or become sharper, more focused as needs continue to evolve and growth becomes less of a promise to all those in tech, and only awarded to those with sound strategies and smart, effective teams.
But if we’ve learned anything from the last few years that we can take into the next phase of tech’s maturation and growth, it’s that those who are cutting their teeth by learning live with peers, who are pushing themselves to find new perspectives and are testing and who are not just “leveraging their network” but are mutually dependent on others in their peer circle will be the ones that come out more durable, dynamic and set up for success.
- More niche communities will spring up, and places where close connections are easily made will trump broadcast and volume-based engagement.
- Splashy community strategies that prioritize the hype over substance will grow fast and wither.
- Communities that center learning and connection amongst its members will evolve and grow as a collective much faster than those that take a top-down approach.
- Gone are the days of vanity metrics and cheap rewards. We’ll all prioritize spaces where we get substance and can achieve real results over activity for activity’s sake.
You and your team can invest in community as a strategy and make community-led growth a superpower of both your internal team and your external efforts. And it’ll make all of your team’s efforts more well-rounded, more decisive and more dynamic for whatever gets thrown your way.