The Power of Community - Customer Success

  • Nina Lilley

    August 25th, 2021

Image of overlapping diamonds representing community and customer success

Customer success managers play an important role in driving business growth. They have a relentless focus on their customer accounts and how to help them achieve outcomes using the company’s products and/or services. This is so important, because ultimately your customers’ success = your business’s success. To be effective, a customer success manager needs to be able to see and understand customer health in real-time, and be proactive rather than reactive to their needs.

Today, this role is more demanding than ever. With an emphasis on customer retention and the rise in rapidly scaling tech companies, customer success managers are often strapped for resources and time, and are given ever-growing responsibilities. They can own everything related to their customer accounts — product adoption, training, value realization, metrics, upselling — the list goes on.

COVID-19 has brought additional challenges. Quantitative data is important, but equally important, if not more so, are contextual inputs. True impact comes when you can pair them together to get as close to your customer and their experience as possible. Relationship building is at the foundation of customer success and a primary source of those contextual inputs. Much of it has traditionally happened in person. But the pandemic has largely taken away the events, onsites, and in-person onboarding opportunities that were traditionally key points in building those strong relationships. Even as we see a slow move back towards in-person engagements, most interactions are happening digitally — on social media, in forums, at virtual events, etc.

So how can customer success managers overcome these challenges and continue to create authentic relationships that drive value for customers and the business? In one word: community. In my eight years in customer success roles, I’ve seen the power of community improve the way I work and deliver the passionate inputs to help our teams build better products that, in turn, made those same users more successful and drove growth for the business.

During my time at Outreach, we credited so much of our company’s early growth and success to the advocacy of the diehard community of sales development representatives (SDRs) that were loud and proud about their love for our product. They felt seen — finally there was a product that helped the unsung heroes of sales, and they refused to give that up. I remember hearing about SDRs who would interview at companies and only accept an offer if access to Outreach was contractually guaranteed. These champions were the same group that, when promoted to an account executive position, built business cases to their managers that Outreach was more than a prospecting tool, and they needed this technology in their new role. Through the power of community, these champions not only helped Outreach grow, but also uncovered new workflows. Outreach continued to use community as a competitive advantage and acquired Sales Hacker, the world’s largest community for B2B, in 2018, helping their valuation increase by 9x in under three years.

After seeing the power and value of community at Outreach, I was incredibly excited to join Common Room. It's our mission at Common Room to build the technology to enable every organization to help their community feel supported, heard, and connected, and provide the ability to uncover insights and connect community to business impact. We’re building Common Room to enable an entirely new and untapped customer acquisition, engagement, and collaboration paradigm. We’re removing boundaries to enable multiple teams (not just community teams) to get closer to the end-user, to grow, share, learn, and build better together.

What does this mean for customer success?

In addition to customer advocacy, here are some examples of how customer success can harness the power of community:

  • Enablement/Education Every customer asks “how do your best customers use <product>?,” and are always looking for best practices. Who better to answer than the best customers themselves? Software can be difficult to adopt and often users are left struggling in the early part of their product journey. Customer success teams can help with onboarding and enablement, but they aren’t typically trainers. Community provides peer-to-peer learning, and I’ve found this kind of user-to-user sharing of best practices to be more powerful, since it also provides mentorship and connection among others with the same interests.
  • Growth/Upsell One of the best ways to grow within accounts is to identify the product champions or ambassadors within the organization. Since community exists in so many places, it hasn’t always been easy to do. Your current account contacts might be those champions, but it’s quite possible there are others in the organization that you can’t easily see. Or, when that main POC leaves, it can be difficult to find a new internal sponsor. Using our Organizations view, you can look at different members from an account and how they’re engaging in the community. In addition to this visibility, you also need a way to find actionable signals in the noise. We’re building Common Room to help you answer a multitude of questions, including “who at <organization> is vocal in the community and a potential internal advocate?” Being able to answer that question provides an opportunity to connect, build a relationship, and use their success stories to tap into other business units.
  • Risk/Churn It’s not enough to acquire new customers. You need to ensure the ones you have are getting value from your product and resolving issues quickly. If not, you risk churn. Being proactive in addressing any negative sentiment or product issues is key in keeping customers happy and engaged. With Common Room, you can monitor sentiment of the customer community. Our Activity tab is essentially a newsfeed. It has all the comments and conversations coming through all of your connected sources, with filters for positive and negative sentiment so you can get a better understanding of both the good and the not-so-good people are talking about. You can then triage the bad and celebrate those providing positive recognition. It also gives you a view into an organization's engagement leading up to renewal.

Community as a customer success differentiator

With the technology we’re building at Common Room, community becomes a competitive advantage for your customer success team. When you build more authentic relationships with customers via community programs, it leads to more authentic, sustainable growth. When you can find the signals in the noise to proactively address both negative and positive sentiment, you can ensure your customers are getting the most value from your product, to drive their success and growth.

Interested in checking it out? Join our product waitlist to stay up to date on the latest news and be one of the first to get access once we GA.

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