Community-led growth is the future of product-led business models. It’s one thing to build products that drive the unit economics of your SaaS company, but enabling your biggest advocates to become your best sales and support reps and your loudest marketers—that’s the dream.
We have three main community-driven platforms at HubSpot: our Community forum, our annual INBOUND event, and HubSpot Academy, where I’ve been focused since 2015. Over those years, we have transformed HubSpot Academy from a customer-enablement service into an acquisition channel into a vast community of experts. Certifying people does more than teach them how to use HubSpot. They become advocates for the rest of the HubSpot ecosystem, because we focus on helping them build their careers.
Any SaaS company with a product-led sales motion inherently has the foundation for community-led growth. Customers self-qualify and believe in the product based on their lived experience. What you need are the practices and people to help customers engage with each other. Here are three tips for leveraging your users to drive community and sales.
Plant the seeds for future communities
Don’t try to do everything at the same time. You can’t magically make a community for 20,000 customers. Instead, you need to plant the seed so that your community infrastructure is already somewhat sophisticated by the time you need community-led growth.
Before we created the Academy, our service organization taught customers one-on-one. Of course, we had a knowledge base and documentation that people could use to teach themselves. But only a certain type of user would take the time to self-educate. It was much easier to call support reps. Responsible for keeping the customer happy, they taught our early customers how to use our product.
Over time, teaching each customer individually wasn’t scalable so it became webinars, then courses, and finally Academy certifications. The only reason certifications work as an acquisition channel for prospects is because our customers love it so much. That would never have happened if we hadn’t started by developing a community mentality in our customer success organization. We listened to what our customers needed to learn and built a curriculum around that.
Serve the community by creating value
Fostering your community requires a clear understanding of its value system. Think about why you joined LinkedIn. It wasn’t because they have a cool way to share a post. It’s because 800 million people are there. Ask yourself what makes being part of your community valuable, unique, and interesting. Once you understand the source of your community’s value, you can start developing the content and services to reinforce that value.
For example, we only created certification courses for our customers at first. We created the courses to help existing customers get better at using HubSpot. They were also good at teaching how to use SEO, content marketing, and social media in a holistic inbound strategy (with or without HubSpot). That’s why a lot of people outside of our customer base found their way to HubSpot Academy - even though these people didn’t buy our product, they learned new skills that helped their careers.
That was our actual value to the community. Sure, you can learn how to create email faster and more efficiently. But what we really do is help everyone in the community grow their careers. So, we opened the Academy to anyone who wants to take our courses and earn our certifications. That way, when they get the promotion or the next job, they remember that we helped them get there.
Understanding the Academy’s value makes it clear that it is all about the content we build. We take three to six months to create a new course. For the same reason, we try to keep 90% of the content up to date at any given time. That’s hard to do when your product constantly changes. It’s a big commitment to building our community and making sure our content is always fresh.
Start with the customer success managers
So, you’ve built your systems and fostered a community based on a core value. Now you need a team that supports this community to become paying customers. Start with your Customer Success Managers because they tend to understand what the customers value the most. And find people who are really excited about education, have good presentation skills, and come from diverse backgrounds. They’ll ask themselves, “What do I need to teach customers to make them truly successful?”
Next, what I tell startups to do is create a small council. This tiny startup-in-a-startup should have people coming from marketing, sales, and customer success. Find people in you organization who are excited to build this community platform that could one day be a mission critical part of the company’s ecosystem.
As your team finds opportunities to motivate community participation, you get more buy-in from people in the community. That buy-in not only helps retention, but it’s going to change the people’s relationship with your company. You’re taking the self-serve, product-led sales motion and adding a community-led sales element. Thanks to your community, your biggest advocates become your biggest marketers and help drive growth.
While supporting HubSpot Academy, I’ve come to learn that a community consists of people having a shared interest and a shared experience. They feel like, together, they’re all part of something bigger. Seeing the positive impact that community has on HubSpot (including HubSpot’s product-led sales motion) has been exciting. At the same time, being able to foster the community’s shared sense of purpose has been both humbling and fulfilling. That’s the great thing about community-led growth: it makes things better for everyone.