“Competitors can steal your features and your marketing campaigns, but they cannot steal your loyal customers.”
With a post-quarantine scenario and a digitalized society, many people argue that people have become more individualistic and that the sense of community has weakened. However, communities are livelier than ever, and they are on the internet.
Across different platforms, communities of different niches gather together to collaborate, connect, and provide value to each other. Many of these communities are built around a brand or a business. In this sense, if you are either a startup founder or a marketing/customer success leader, you can leverage the power of communities to grow your company.
For Leaders of Growth, Arthur Nobel, Principal at Knight Capital, spoke to Natalie Luneva. Natalie is the Founder of SureSwift capital and the co-founder and CMO of Outranking.io, an AI research and writing assistant for marketers. Besides, she implements high ROI growth opportunities for SaaS companies as a marketing consultant with more than ten years of experience and hosts a podcast called “SaaS Boss”.
Natalie Luneva is an expert in helping SaaS companies to build online communities and a pioneer of the community-led framework.
What types of growth pains you’ve seen in companies scaling from Series A to C?
I often see the founder, the CEO, or Product Visionary distancing themselves from the ideal customer as the company matures. It’s crucial to identify the ideal customer profile (ICP) to talk to. Another pain I see founders struggling with is not knowing the ideal industry they want to go after, or maybe they go after multiple industries, and that is why it’s hard to identify their ICP. This is something Community-led growth can help with, and not only for companies between the Series A and Series C but also for companies in an earlier stage. Sometimes it’s hard to talk to your ideal customer and hear their story.
What does community-led growth mean, and which are the benefits of building a community for growing a startup?
Community-led growth is a framework to help SaaS companies grow by building a community. The idea came to me when I was trying to tap into a new industry with our SaaS, and I had no idea of how to do it and who those ideal customers were within that industry. We were not sure if they were going to use our product and we needed to verify.
There are many benefits from using this framework. One of the main benefits is building customer loyalty and preventing churn. Especially, champion churn. This happens, for example, when someone of Customer Success or Support builds relationships, and then leaves the company and takes customers to another platform.
Another one is increasing user acquisition and increasing conversions from trial to paid. It can also help to decrease Support Ticket Volume. According to a couple of studies that I've seen, 84% of the support questions of Salesforce get answered by the community. Using this approach, you can get new product ideas, and it is also an excuse to connect with influencers in the industry.
Community-led growth can help you do industry research. In my case, it saved us tens of thousands of dollars a month of work by setting up this community first, and it took me very little time. I found a couple of groups on Facebook for that particular industry, and made some posts in each of those groups saying: “Hey, I'm organizing this mastermind. Who would like to join?”. I think almost 200 people commented on the post saying “Yes. I'm interested".
Competitors can steal your features, your marketing campaigns (some of the competitors stole our entire website with the copy, the testimonials, and everything). But they cannot steal your loyal customers.
Would you say community-led growth applies to the entire funnel?
One of the beauties of it. I started working with a company that had some free trial users, but zero paid customers and they didn’t know why so I set up a Zoom call and I invited all of their user base to this call. They got a lot of feedback even though the meeting was not specifically about the tool, but on the problems and their industry. People love to connect with other people within the industry, and they will thank you for organizing such meetings.
Who is responsible for the community-led growth in the organization and how time-intensive is it?
That's another beauty of this approach, as it touches so many sides of the company and so many departments such as Marketing, Customer Success, and sometimes also Engineering. Some companies have a person in charge of the community. Many departments can learn from having this community.
It doesn't take a lot of time. All it takes is around one hour a week to do a session and a couple more hours to collaborate, communicate, and turn it into podcasts and stuff like that. You don't necessarily need to hire anyone dedicated to that.
Can you share the 8 steps framework to build a community?
1. Identify your goals of building a community. You can choose more than one and there are dozens of benefits of having a community, but if I were to summarize them in a couple of bullet points they would be:
Increasing customer loyalty and decreasing churn;
Help you gather feedback for the product;
Help to build User Generated Content;
Decreasing support ticket volume.
2. Decide what is the format you want to start with. I recommend starting with a weekly mastermind call without being too salesy. Even if you have five people it is still a community and these calls will allow you to hear their feedback on their problems, see how they talk about their problems and whether they are something that they are even considering.
3. Invite people to your community. Always invite your existing audience first, for example, trial takers, cancellations. Also, I usually do a little trick here. I go to multiple Facebook groups and post something like: “I’m organizing this mastermind call. Who is interested”, and people would start commenting.
4. Listen to what the community says (in the calls or whatever format you choose).
5. Ask for feedback from your community members. Asking for feedback is crucial. Especially in the first mastermind calls, I usually ask “how would you structure the meetings?”. I also ask them if they would like me to invite an expert, or if they want to change the format. I usually find experts that want to join the calls on Facebook groups.
6. Collaborating. Bring those people and partner up with them, build relationships, and then generate content, such as a podcast or social media posts.
7. Promotion. You get more people to join by sharing more information about those experts that are speaking on the weekly calls.
8. Analyzing. See what's working and what is not working. A lot of companies think that you can create a community just by creating a Facebook group. However, there are some additional steps that you need to take to make sure the community is activated. You need to encourage people to actively ask questions or actively answer the questions of the members to have an engaged community.
How much time does it take to activate the community?
Give it at least three months to flourish and see if this is going somewhere. You need to turn on a big flywheel. Then it is going to get speed, and then it will be self-sustaining.
How can people find you on social media, and which content would you recommend to explore the community topic?
I did a pre-order campaign for my book Startup Micro Tribes, which is going to be launched in the next couple of months!