EP 17: Align Your Community with Your Sales Funnel with Suzi Nelson

With a decade in the game and an extremely sharp and strategic approach, Suzi Nelson is one of the best in the community industry. The main topic of conversation is something that not all community professionals love to talk about but can dramatically increase the resources your community program gets and help everyone at your company realize the value of your community, tying community back to sales.

The first step if you are starting a community from scratch and to help people realize the value is to find what part of the funnel needs the most help. What does that mean? Since the basic components of any sales funnel are awareness, consideration, closed/sale and retention/renewal those are the places you want to focus on. Once you have identified which part of the funnel figure out the metric that matters for that, you can talk with the sales and marketing department to find a better idea of that. For example, your company might want to keep customers longer so you can pick renewal rate and lifetime customer value as two metrics to affect. While tying back to metrics directly is always tricky you can tie into your companies CRM or at a minimum make sure you have those metrics before the community started so you can show a before and after.

Another key point she touched on was how to get community members to become your biggest advocates. The vast majority of people in your community are passive so the key is to help guide them on a journey to get them active. Suzi references the “Commitment Curve” famously created by Douglas Atkins which, put simply, says you need a series of tasks that get them more engaged until they are ready to help.



[0:00:03.8] DA: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Anderson. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400 chapter community based in over a 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time, your customers. Yet, I couldn’t find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brand in person or at scale.

On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build a customer to customer marketing strategies and create in person experiences for your brand and customer before your competitor does.

[0:00:43.8] DA: Today we’re going to talk to Suzi Nelson who has been a community strategist for the past 10 years. Suzi talks about how to align your community with sales and executives to get more buy in, she also talks about how to nurture community members into your biggest advocate and the two types of metrics you need for your community. Take a listen.


[0:01:06.5] DA: Suzi, you’ve helped tons of communities start and scale. I wonder if you were to start over, where would you start, you know, where do you think this sort of beginning points of your resource start from scratch, where would you begin with trying to figure out the beast that is community?

[0:01:22.7] SN: The beast that is community, I love it. I’m going to directly quote a great man named Simon Sinek and say, start with why and by that, I mean, it can be like fashionable right now for businesses to start a forum or a Facebook Group or whatever. But without like clear business goals and if you don’t know the why behind everything that you’re doing, there’s definitely a significant time and opportunity cost, not to mention like actual overhead, you know, even communities that are hosted on free platforms have to be staffed.

You know, it’s approaching it thoughtfully and applying it to the marketing mix from the very beginning and knowing what your business goals are. When I advise brands about community, I tell them to apply it to specific areas of their customer journey or their marketing funnel or however they position it and align those goals to where people are in that funnel.

Typically, brand communities tend to fall in three different categories, the first is like at the top of the funnel, that’s whenever you’re trying to reach your prospects and share your leads, then you have communities that kind of fall in the middle of the funnel and that’s your customers, after you made the sale, you’re looking to affect retention, you’re looking to affect lifetime customer value, you’re looking to affect lifetime customer value.

You’re looking to get people, usually, I was thinking very broadly right now, there’s all different types of communities but usually, you know, you’re looking to get people to purchase more and more often. As being part of this community. And then, you have, you know, communities that meet people the very bottom of the funnel where the goal is to you know, activate and empower your brand advocates and have them go spread the word about how great their experience is with your brand.

Generally speaking, communities tend to fall in one of those three buckets and as they grow and mature, they can kind of touch on other areas but it’s really important that your community efforts directly tie back to a business goal because otherwise you’re going to experience things like losing your funding, for your community projects and maybe end up getting laid off in the next round.

That’s something that community managers talk about a lot because you know, they’re really skilled at building online communities and getting people talking and engaging, they’re not necessarily as skilled in communicating the strategy to CEO’s who only care about things like you know, reducing cost –

[0:03:34.9] DA: Attribution.

[0:03:35.0] SN: Increasing revenue, yeah, exactly. You know, just starting out, building community, if you can link it back to that why, you’re like way ahead of the curve than a lot of other people trying to build these online communities.

[0:03:48.2] DA: I think this is really interesting way to look at your community’s program stack and I wonder if are there certain things that you would just automatically bucket and say okay, this is the type of program, that would be for the top of the funnel, this is the type of program to be the middle funnel, this type is working for the bottom of the funnel, is it that simple of like, do you think that this big, broad community programs, do they serve specific markets or are they more – do they go across all of them?

[0:04:16.0] SN: I think that they should, I think that especially when brand are – we’re talking about you know, if you're building a community from scratch and you're trying to meet people at all points of the marketing funnel or their customer journey, you’re going to have a hard time curating content, you're going to have a h art time directing people to do what you want them to do because you’re meeting people all over and you’re not, you know, directing your messages in one direction.

Generally speaking, I do – whenever I’m talking with brands, whenever they’re thinking about adding community to their marketing mix. In my opinion, it’s easiest to pick one and focus and then scale up from there. Otherwise, you're trying to make your community do too many things at once, you’re juggling a lot of metrics, you’re juggling a lot of different initiatives and things like that. I typically advice people.

Find where you want to optimize your funnel and where community best fits and stick it there and then see how it develops. The good thing about community is as a community matures, you know, you’re going to have brand advocates in a community that’s just meeting people at the middle of the funnel.

Those people are going to happen naturally as part of hey, they’re getting to know your brand, they’re really engaging, they’re going to naturally become advocates but that doesn’t mean that your whole community was created just to pick out those people. It’s kind of like a halo effect if that makes sense.

Like I said, in a similar vein, if you’re going to have a community at the top of the funnel, you’re probably going to have some of those people convert into customers but that’s not the goal of the community, the goal is to nurture the leads and that’s the stuff that you’re reporting on. It really depends on like what’s your primary goal, what’s the primary place in your marketing funnel you’re trying to optimize and use that to drive your decision making instead of trying to make your community do everything at once. I hope that makes sense.

[0:06:03.6] DA: Absolutely. When you look at getting the brand ambassadors engaged in the things you're doing, how do you delineate what they’re going to do versus what the team is going to do or what HQ is expected to do, how do you sort of decide how to divvy up those different roles and responsibilities?

[0:06:21.9] SN: Year, that’s a complicated question because a lot can go into that and a lot of considerations can go into that depending on the brand and like, legalities and you know, looping in your legal team would probably be something, since you know, there’s probably like sensitive information and online communities that you know, not just everybody can access. It’s a complicated question because there’s so much that can go into it.

Generally speaking, there’s an exercise that was developed by – his name is escaping me right now but he used to be the head of community for Airbnb and he mapped out something called the commitment curve and I’m sure it’s been talked about, it’s talked about a lot in community industry circles. It’s basically mapping out every single action the community member can take and the more time it requires, generally speaking, the more commitment it requires and the more committed they are to the community.

It’s difficult to describe on a podcast but it’s a very useful exercise for making sure that people who could potentially become your brand advocates have actions they can take to become those advocates. You're creating content for them, you’re moving them along that commitment curve and there’s just something for them to do.

Examples could be okay, you see a community leader kind of bubbling up within your community, what actions can you get it to take, can you get them to create a piece of content for the community like an FAQ resource or you know, something that really leverages their knowledge as a community leader. Maybe they can host an AMA, maybe they can teach something, maybe you can elevate their platform a little bit.

Then, it would be the perfect time to ask them to join your team, you’re like hey, if you want to help moderate, but you know, the art of building up that relationship to the point where it’s kind of a no brainer for them, it’s a natural fit for them to want to participate and more of like tangible way, like joining the team or a volunteer basis or something like that.

[0:08:13.4] DA: I wonder if we could go back to this discussion around metrics because you’ve got some really great insights in it. What kind of metrics do you look at, what kind of metrics do you surface up the chain and what do you think people should focus on?

[0:08:30.6] SN: Well, that’s of course going to depend on the type of community that you have. When I talk about metrics, I always try to make it really click because there’s a lot of confusion around community metrics because there’s two different kinds. One, our metrics that like, your CEO cares about.

Then, there’s metrics that community managers care about, that’s things like you know, engagement and how many leaders that you have and how healthy is your community. The two go hand in hand but a lot of times your CEO doesn’t care how active your community is. He cares how many people are converting into leads. How many people are buying more things?

If you can map it back to like actual dollars and cents, what’s granted can be really hard especially if you’re on a platform like a Facebook group where you can’t necessarily easily get that data, you have to kind of rely more on anecdotal evidence or kind of get creative on how you find that number. It depends so much on what type of community that it is, it’s hard to get specific but it’s important not to confuse like, sense of community metrics and community health metrics with metrics that affect the bottom line.

I feel like a lot of community managers focus all of their efforts on honing in on the sense of community aspect than like the dollars and cents aspect and both are tied hand in hand and both are very important.

[0:09:50.8] DA: Year, I mean, to your point that people that are drawn to this industry or the types of people being among them having started a community myself like, I wasn’t overly intrinsically motivated, I’m not an overly sales-y kind of person and I’m probably on the far on the sales spectrum as far as community people but you know, you sit down with like a sales manager, you see that these are people that should be completely data driven, are in sales force.

Every minute of every day, the sales force instance or Marketo or whatever marketing tool they’re using. It seems like a lot of community people, myself included, yeah, that we focus on – I wonder if you could even go deeper into some of these of the types of metrics you see people focus on, whether it’s – maybe it’s an engagement metric that doesn’t actually move the needle or maybe it’s a – some sort of vanity metric that it’s not moving the needle, I don’t know, what kinds of things do you see people falling the trap of getting excited about that should really be an exciting metric.

[0:10:58.1] SN: You know, you use the word, the trap, that reminds me of Rich Millington who I saw that you guys have as a guest on a previous podcast episode. He talks a lot about the engagement trap. Engagement is great, engagement is vital for a lot of different communities but it can easily be a vanity metric, it can easily spend a whole lot of time building up your engagement but you don’t’ know the why.

It doesn’t mean anything to anybody outside of that community, namely, you know, your boss and your marketing team and your sales teams. When I first started in community, I was the same way, I didn’t care about the business side of it as much as I should have and that was something that I had to learn through years of talking directly with marketing teams and sales teams and decision makers who were constantly just okay, I get that the engagement was great butt why should we celebrate this.

Other than you do a good job talking to people. It was a lesson that I had to learn and engagement for a lot of communities isn’t important at all. For example, I know of a brand community that’s a brand community of advocates and there’s maybe 60 people in this group. It’s super small.

You would assume that maybe it would be a lot more active because generally smaller communities are more tight knit, they have a lot in common. This, it’s a Facebook group, this group gets maybe two post a week, maybe on a good week, maybe it gets two to three comments. I mean, there’s like, maybe two people besides a community manager that are active day to day in this group.

It seems like engagement’s really low. But in full context, these people have known each other for years, they all have their phone numbers, all of that engagement is happening elsewhere and this group is now just a place where they know they can go to get just that extra support and extra content with the brand and the engagement metrics don’t really matter.

It’s all in context. If we had a community manager for that group that was obsessed with engagement, they would be very upset with the way the group was going but actually is serving its purpose very well. Broadly, it should be measuring the health of your community but you have to separate that from the business metrics.

[0:13:11.4] DA: From your point of view, what types of companies or industries do you see adopting community the most right now?

[0:13:19.2] SN: Okay, continuity programs are killing it right now. Any of the membership has a community attached to it because it’s a brilliant way to keep interest and conversation a live, whenever people are done consuming the content and they’re waiting on the next course or the next box or the next whatever. Anybody who has a membership program or a subscription program is tracking on the community along with it because the retention is insane.

They’re finding communities are like the key to customer satisfaction, loyalty and it’s just amazing. I’m obsessed with continuity membership programs.

[0:13:59.7] DA: Yeah, it does feel like, I know it was startup growing, we looked at this for years like, we need to have a membership and we finally – we didn’t but I had literally had a conversation about it yesterday, it feels like every day, I’m reading about a new community that either was struggling or failing or that put together membership and I’m sure doesn’t help all of them but it seems to help a lot of them.

[0:14:22.0] SN: It’s very hot right now.

[0:14:23.8] DA: It’s very hot right now, exactly. Have you seen any interesting examples of a community being taken offline versus just the online?

[0:14:32.1] SN: Yeah, I love the concept of Yelp Elite. That’s the advocate program for Yelp, a huge part of their program is connecting their community members offline. They’re brand advocates, they will invite them to exclusive restaurant openings or just like cool and interesting things to do in your local town.

Hatchet throwing or whatever people do now. But they gather them up offline and they give them cool things to do and it’s just a perfect marriage of pairing people who are really passionate about writing and taking photos and you know, doing cool things and writing about it and then creating this amazing user generated content that benefits the brand.

They can meet offline, they can do all these cool things together and develop like really cool friendships and then take that back to the online community. I just think it’s brilliant and it’s another group that I’m obsessed with, I love everything that they do.

[0:15:25.5] DA: What do you think is the future of brand building customer to customer communities or these offline communities. Do you see these growing, do you see them sort of being where they’re at, what do you see is the future of C2C?

[0:15:38.4] SN: That’s a really interesting question. I do think that we’ll see more of them, more and more. Community instant industry is really just starting to mature, you know, David Spinks of CMX, he said something at a CMX summit a few years go that I’ll never forget. He said that the work that we’re doing now in community is going to inform the industry five years from now.

I really took that to heart because it’s so true, we’re all kind of making this up as we go along it feels like. It’s really important work. I think that we’ll see more, I think that we’ll see community management become more of a skilled position instead of – I see a lot of companies that they’re just going to tack it on to their social media marketing person or they’ll you know, get some kid out of high school that just likes need an internship and have them for the community.

They’re putting really green people in charge of something that’s really important and you know, it does require some skill and strategy. I think that we’ll see the industry itself start to mature. You know, brands are embracing communities now more than ever because it provides that human experience that can be missing whenever you start scaling your marketing strategy. You know, scaled marketing is all about getting as many eyeballs as possible.

You know, qualified eyeballs as possible on your things and getting them to take an action. You know, communities add that human element back in, it takes that transactional marketing relationship and turns it more into a human emotional relationship which is stronger and it last a whole lot longer. If I can still wax poetic for like one second and this is going to sound so cheesy but I firmly believe the community is going to be one of those things that saves the world at the end of the day.

You know, we’re in a time culturally speaking where everyone is very focused and very vocal on what makes everybody different from each other and community is that thing that focuses on what you all have in common and what brings us together. You know, if your brand or your products can be one of those flags that everyone has gathered around then even better.

I hope and I expect that more and more brands will thoughtfully approach this and add community back into their marketing mix.

[0:17:42.3] DA: It’s a great thought to end on. I need to get somebody like print that on a quilt for me that I can just rest under every night because I think you’re exactly right, it’s a great thought, thanks for being here Suzi.

[0:17:53.8] SN: Yeah, my pleasure.

[0:17:56.2] DA: Thank you so much for listening, if you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you like to see more about how to create your own event community. Go to bevylabs.com/pod.


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