As Sr. Director of Adoption and Engagement for Community Cloud, I spend a lot of time developing best practices and strategies to help customers improve their community’s business value. I'd like to share some key takeaways about community strategy with you in this three-part series that includes:
• Shared purpose — creating meaningful connections with customers
• The BIG, big picture — managing communities at scale
• Launch — what it takes get a successful community off the ground
This is the second post in that series. See the first part here.
Erica Kuhl, Vice President, Community at Salesforce, was one of the thought leaders who joined me on the stage at Dreamforce ‘16. Erica spoke about how she was able to scale the Salesforce Success Community. I think there are some very valuable lessons here for anyone who manages communities at scale, and I also think Erica shared some excellent advice that applies to any community, regardless of size.
Cesar: In Community Cloud we have many customers who manage large communities today, or who want to prepare for community growth in the future. The use cases span across customer, partner, and employee communities. In many circumstances these communities can range from several hundred thousand to several million members. Our very own Success Community (www.success.salesforce.com) has seen some incredible growth over the last 10 years, all of it led by Erica Kuhl. I’ve come to learn the story of this community in my time at Salesforce and want to share it with you.
Erica, can you tell us a little about your role and how the community has evolved?
Erica: I’ve been at Salesforce for 14 years and had the opportunity to try many different things while with the company. Everything from education to marketing, finally landing where I am today, building community. I’ve championed the customer community here for the last 10+ years (where did the time go!) and spent the first five or so building and growing the community in marketing. I transferred to the product organization, which is atypical, but made perfect sense for Salesforce. I recognized that in order to really scale and grow, I wanted to find a fit that matched the common goals of the community. Hence my move into products because our customers who visited the community had that common bond about wanting a stronger voice about the direction of our product, whether they are selling it, administering it, or coding on it.
The community started as a one-page website with best practices and tip sheets. I got the idea for community after teaching administrators who would come to class, share ideas, and collaborate from all over the country, but then leave and go home without a place to keep connecting. I was able to take on this challenge in 2006 to build this one-stop shop to help folks continue that connection. During that same year, we launched the IdeaExchange, which is still a fundamental part of who we are. The IdeaExchange allows our customers to submit feature requests, vote, and comment on any idea. This eventually leads to the top ideas getting noticed. It’s my team’s responsibility to bring those ideas to the product teams to help influence the direction of our product. In 2010, we rebuilt in our platform, and spent the next few years fine-tuning what community meant to Salesforce, and building a large base of very engaged and passionate members. In 2013, we added the final piece to our community puzzle by launching on the Community Cloud platform. Until then, we had a great discussion forum, a thriving IdeaExchange, but amazingly we didn’t have a place for members to connect with us or with one another. In 2013, we launched on the Community Cloud platform and we had about 540k registered community members. Six months after launch, we had 1 million members. And today, we’re at 2.4 million, and the momentum continues to build.
Cesar: This is a great example of what I often advise our customers to do: Adopt a crawl-walk-run mentality when launching your community. In some circumstances, you have to do everything at once, but if you have the option, it’s sometimes better to launch with a few key use cases in a community (such as starting with IdeaExchange) and do those well. If you are able to deliver on those initial use cases, then you earn the trust of the community and you can do more. It’s clear the Success Community is well into the “run” phase. What are all the capabilities of the Success Community as it exists today?
Erica: Today it is many things to many people — a peer-to-peer answers forum; a place to collaborate with other members and with us; it’s keeping track of bugs and fixes; it’s logging and tracking cases; it’s where you can connect before events, during events, and continue connections after events. And it’s a place where you can go to have a big impact on the product roadmap. All of this is happening in one single hub and completely free to all customers, partners, and developers.
Cesar: I personally manage a couple of groups in the Success Community, and it’s been a rewarding experience. These groups are focused on Community Cloud customers and it’s a place to share ideas on various aspects of community management — from launching a community, to promotion, to gaining executive sponsorship and best practices for reporting community health. I can see firsthand how engaged the members are — their willingness to share — and they ask very good questions! Yet these groups I manage are a very small fraction of what happens across a community of this scale.
What are the top strategies you’ve employed to effectively scale the Success Community?
Erica: Well, you just highlighted employee involvement, something that I think was key to our overall growth. Just like our members wanted a one-stop shop to connect with each other and with us, so did our own employees. Up until 2013, unless they answered questions or posted comments on the IdeaExchange, they couldn’t connect. When we launched on Community Cloud, this opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for employees, which allowed us to scale far beyond my two-person team back then. Upon launch, we seeded the community with a small number of Salesforce-run groups, but something clicked in our employees heads once they saw the power of those early groups and they jumped on board right away. Now, less than four years later, we have seen such tremendous growth in engagement. We have teams that have entirely changed the way they run their businesses, such as our Customer for Life organization which uses Marketing Cloud journeys to bring new customers into the community to help onboard them in a way that is scalable and still personal. They are able to drive engagement with these critical new customers, and process them in a way that allows them to service a huge amount of customers. Our product managers also participate year round, building a trusted network to get feedback on their products without waiting until Dreamforce every year to connect and hear feedback.
And if that wasn’t enough, it was always so tough for us to keep our customers up to date about the insane amount of features we push out three times per year. So we launched the Release Readiness group and it’s been wildly successful as a place to push out webinars, best practices, questions, and more. Month in and month out, it’s our most popular group because our innovation never slows down and change management is key.
Cesar: I can definitely vouch for the product manager participation, I see them in there all the time, answering and asking questions. In fact, we see the Success Community as a very important part of our product and marketing strategy for Community Cloud. As they say, you have to drink your own champagne! I always remind my colleagues that while it is easy to start a group, the real effort (and payoff) comes from effectively managing the group. I recently launched a group for our top Community Cloud customers and I’m focused on making this group as successful as possible. We want to give these customers direct access to our product teams and get their feedback on our product. They also benefit greatly from being able to interact with one another. I expect it will be an effective way to grow this group of trusted advisors.
What’s next on your list of strategies?
Erica: Next up is organizational alignment. This is one of the biggies for us and it was transformational for the growth of not only the community, but our Success Community team too. I recognized early on that unless we match and contribute to the core values/metrics of your organization, especially when Success Community was pretty new, that I’d be forever fighting for mindshare, resources, and budget. I was given this advice from my leader, being that I was new in the products organization. She empowered me to take my hands off the community engagement wheel for a bit as it was steadily running itself. Instead, she said to focus on success metrics tied to our organization. Namely, annual contract value (ACV), pipeline size, and product adoption. Because my community sits on top of our CRM, I had easier access to that data to come up with these metrics. I simply looked at customers that were members of our community versus customers that were not. I then looked at their closed deals and found that customers that were members of the community had 2.5x larger deals, 2x more pipeline, and had a 33% higher adoption rate. While this was something you’d expect, the results were still staggering. But until you can actually show these metrics to your leadership, it’s not real. This is the kind of thing that makes our leadership sit up and pay attention. They immediately want to crank the levers higher to drive more of the same results. This was also the reason my team grew from two to eight in less than two years. Metrics and alignment are no joke. On top of that, every additional member of my team and dollar added to my budget has a direct correlation to the engagement of the community. The more we grow, the more we put into the community to make them more successful. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle — it’s a virtuous cycle!
Cesar: I’ve always believed that an effective community can influence business goals (directly and indirectly). Well-run communities can positively influence goals such as cost cutting, employee retention, revenue growth, increased customer satisfaction, and customer retention.
Going beyond employees and organizational alignment, what’s the next most important strategy?
Erica: Develop a program to identify and invest in your top advocates. This was another bet I made early on, about six years ago, to build a model for scale and growth. I had heard about a metric that said that less than 1% of your community contributes the largest amount of content. I had been nurturing the community for many years and had known my community members for even longer. I thought of them as extended members of my team, and they were already doing outstanding things for our members. So why not reward and recognize their efforts with exactly what motivates them, and grow my team and create authentic engagement while we’re at it? That was the basis of the Salesforce MVP Program that has a mission of rewarding and recognizing our most passionate experts and advocates for their ongoing contributions to the community. This is not about big brand name customers — it’s about individual contributions at scale. And boy did that pay off. Now they are some of the most influential customers/Trailblazers we have at Salesforce. You see them all around Moscone, sitting in the front row at the keynote and being recognized by name by Marc Benioff and Parker Harris, who value their expertise and honest feedback. They are all under a non-disclosure agreement, so we can talk to them about the future and they help drive direction and vet strategies. In exchange, we give them free training, free premier support, access to key execs, access to a private network for themselves, and ways to build their brand such as featured blog posts, front-row seats, and so on. This is a special program with only 210 people, but the impact on scale and growth has been amazing.
Cesar: That’s really good advice around the role of MVPs. Continuing this theme of developing advocates, what other programs have you developed?
Erica: We have also invested in our advocates through our global User Group program. This is has been a critical strategy when it comes to ways to get brand and message out at scale. This is a community-led program that blends the online with the offline experience. Customers run groups all over the globe in 41 countries broken down by region, industry vertical, affinity (such as women in tech and diversity) and by product. Collectively they run up to 200 meetings per month on their own and we provide the tools and resources to support them. Besides hiring a rock star to run this program (Holly Goldin Firestone), we made some strategic decisions to really focus on this program to drive deeper engagement. With groups all over the world, we are now about to draw everyone into the conversation. We introduced a concept called Event in a Box, where key parts of our organization package up content and empower leaders to host a meeting on a particular topic of interest to their members. While we’d love our customers to come to all our events in person, we know that’s not possible. So we’ve partnered with our user group community to bring the vibe, fun, and excitement of our events to their local communities. They participate in exclusive content and activities, and they score custom swag as well. We did this for a product launch event with Lightning and with TrailheaDX, to name a few. This is a great way to bring the goodness of events, at scale, out to all your members.
Cesar: I have participated in a few User Group meetings in my hometown of Austin, Texas, and I can attest to the degree of passion for Salesforce and the willingness of people in these user groups to help each other out. I’ve seen guest speakers talk about building your Salesforce career, how to prepare for Dreamforce, how to use the platform, and many more topics. Any closing thoughts?
Erica: I’ve defined three growth and scale strategies. Don’t underestimate them, as they are the key to continued engagement. For many organizations, hiring never stops, so with new employees comes new channels of engagement. Even though community people are not yet known for being data hounds, they should have a data story. Take the time to deliver results tied to key metrics. It can be painful but very worth it. And finally, even if you are not at the point of being able to launch a robust MVP or User Group Program, tap into the power of your advocates immediately. As soon as you spot someone demonstrating the behaviors you want to drive in your community, jump on that opportunity to tell them how amazing they are. Start manually at first with small rewards or simply thank-you notes/emails — don’t underestimate the value of the written word and acknowledgment. It goes an extremely long way and leads to a great foundation of a very robust advocacy program.
I hope you enjoyed this conversation. Be sure to check back for the next post in this series, when I’ll talk to David Spinks, CEO of CMX Media, about community readiness and why companies are launching communities today.
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