How did a B2B enterprise software platform build a community everyone wants to be part of?
We all know Salesforce, right? It’s that SaaS CRM product that helps you drive sales more effectively. If you don’t use it yourself, however, you might not also know about its Trailblazer Community. Built and led by the inimitable Erica Khul, this has become one of the examples of great community development and engagement.
Trailblazer members write things like “my life is so much better than I ever dared to dream”, and “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the community”. No, this is not some cult or a personal development group, it’s a community supporting people using a software offering - a community that now has over 1500 groups in 90 countries and 1800 community volunteer leaders and individual groups that have 90,000+ members. Salesforce benefits from this every which way. Attrition has dramatically fallen and members recommend the service to non-users, naturally spurring growth. And the company saves itself around $25m a year in customer support deflection because so many user queries are answered by the community rather than by its own staff.
So how did Salesforce manage all this? How did they persuade their customers to become
so engaged and invested in the community? I took a good look and here are my takeaways:
The starting target was clarity on what their customers wanted. No, not what the organisation thought customers wanted or needed: what customers told them they wanted when they asked them. Everything flowed from that critical initial understanding. And it turned out that, above all, customers had two keys wants - access and reputation.
Access to the product development team, other users and new product developments.
The opportunity to build and burnish their reputation, both within the community and in their careers generally. The community’s positioning is all about supporting customers’ to succeed, not about the success of Salesforce itself (that’s just a happy bi-product.)
The other stand-out elements of the community offering are:
Equality Street - There’s no hierarchy here, no expert/audience or broadcaster/ listener relationship. Members feel just as much ownership in it as the business owners and moderators.
Smarten up - Members derive tangible results from the knowledge they gain from being part of the community, which in turn helps them progress in their careers. They receive helpful answers to their questions and get the sense that they are constantly up-skilling themselves. They learn and they like that.
Come one, come all - Anyone can join and all are welcomed. It doesn’t matter what level of expertise members have, there’s something for all stages and levels.
You scratch my back… - Members know what they want to get from the community, but also realise there’s an expectation (and a real wish) that they support others. The“giving back” element is as important as the “getting help” part, and everyone is on board with this.
Hands across the oceans – It’s not all about work. There’s a real focus on being able to develop connections and friendships with people from around the world. The most common response (73%) to being asked why they liked being part of the community was because it helps them build their network.
Easy riders – The platform is intuitive and super-easy to use. There’s a lot of sticky content and plenty of gamification for those who like that kind of thing (and who doesn’t like to see themselves progress and “earn” more rewards?) One Trailblazer commented “Being the millionth badger has been the 2nd coolest thing that’s happened to me (besides marrying my husband)”. Lucky her.
Of course Salesforce didn’t get there in one simple step - this is a community that’s been developing for over 10 years. It’s been an iterative process which started as a simple customer forum. Although not all of what they’ve done will be relevant for your own community strategy, they certainly are getting a lot of the fundamentals right. Starting with putting customer needs at the centre of everything they do.