The Community Blueprint w. Erica Kuhl, Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community Founder

Happy long weekend everyone☀️

Up to anything exciting this weekend? Personally, long weekends stress me out, all the traffic, bumper to bumper, mayhem at the airports and ferry terminals, and yet I always fall victim to travel on those days!

Sara DelBorrello here again btw 👋 Still haven’t left the chat – must’ve missed the memo… I’m too attached to the Newsletter now to leave!! Definitely overstaying my welcome but hopefully you took something out of my last one. If you haven’t checked it out yet, have a read when you have some extra time up your sleeves, Unlocking Business Success: The Power of LinkedIn w. Sam McKenna.

I promise this is the last Newsletter takeover from me, you’ll have your main man back next Friday, this time for real, no empty promises or anything like that again. But frankly, Scott needs some colour thrown into the newsletter every so often, so I like to believe that I’ve enhanced it a little 😏🦄

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Alright, so last week I did an interview style newsletter with the wonderful LinkedIn guru, Sam McKenna, and this week I wanted to do a similar extension of last weeks, with Salesforce’s Community All-Star, Erica Kuhl 👏

This was based off of an internal GTMsession that we hosted this week for our founders. Erica built the Salesforce Trailblazers Community from scratch and knows the playbook better than just about anybody in the 🌎.

We’ll breakdown everything from how to get started, to how to measure ROI and how to scale.


The Community Blueprint w. Erica Kuhl, Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community Founder


So before we jump in, I thought I’d give a slightly more detailed bio on Erica for any folks who aren’t familiar with her work. Erica has over 18 years of enterprise community expertise. She was at Salesforce from 2002 to 2019, serving as the VP of Community for eleven years. Erica was certainly apart of some incredible growth during her time at Salesforce; she joined the team when they were at 176 employees and left when they were at about 50,000🚀

During her time at Salesforce, Erica built arguably the most iconic community in SaaS ever, The Trailblazers Community, which involved everything from strategy, programs, ROI, metrics, the whole thing.

Why community & how do we define it?

Sara
Alright so let’s start with just the basics. Why should early stage companies consider building a community as part of their go to market strategy? Why is everyone all of a sudden crazy about community over the last few years, it seems like everyone’s really woken up to the power of it.

Erica

So before we talk about the why, it’s important that we understand the definition of what community means to you. To me community means bringing your customers in at the very early stages to be an integral part of your product strategy. Listening to them, and doing (whether it’s formal or informal) listening tours, or bringing them in to talk to your product managers. All of these things are pre community building activities that I think are so easy to do at the early stage if you’re willing to listen and if you’re willing to adapt your roadmap and your strategy to listen to their feedback. The fundamental thing you must do is be ready as a company to listen and react. You can’t just say “we want to listen to our customers and we want to build community”. You have to be willing to actually listen to them, and then make tangible changes based on what they say, and that doesn’t mean listening to every single thing they say, but being willing to listen. And that to me is such a fundamental way to start building community from the very, very beginning.

How to bring value and generate interest from your community?

Sara

Right, I totally agree. I think the best leaders, frankly in any role, are those who take the time to listen to those around them, whether it’s their internal / external community members or their employees. And then adapt and pivot based on that.

So how should people think about generating that early interest and how do you make sure they’re bringing value from day one?

Erica

So right off the bat, you don’t get to skip the strategy part of just at least understanding what are you trying to do:

Who are you trying to engage, What do they want? So that’s the stuff you have to do first. You have to figure out what your customers want and then you need to give it to them. So if they want to have an impact on your roadmap and that is what drives them to want to be more engaged with you and stay longer and buy your product, then that’s what you need to give them. But you need to do all of that work up front, and that comes in the form of just asking them. And if you have a low amount of customers, then you literally just ask them in informal focus groups or a quick survey. But don’t skip over the step of asking them and then aligning your strategy to them.

I also want to add the importance of understanding the core persona that you’re trying to hit, because community is not for every single persona out the gate. So it’s important to figure out who your core persona is and then build that strategy around them by doing your own homework to figure out what you think, then bringing it to them, letting them vet that strategy and letting them vet that idea, figuring out and asking them what their motivations are to get engaged and then doing it. So for me, that is something I think a lot of people skip right over and you guys are moving a million miles an hour and you think you already know what they want, but you’re very often wrong and I’m very often wrong. And so why skip that step already? That’s showing and signalling that you care by asking them what motivates them. So I think that’s some of the early ways to make certain you’re on track.

Sara

Ok awesome.

So I’m curious what the Trailblazer community structure looked like at Salesforce. Did you break apart the community? Did you have an executive forum of Trailblazers, and then you had more like the salesforce admins? Were those separate or was it all one experience?

Erica

We found that CIOs and CMOs were not going to be on a community, just like engaging with each other. It was a lot more of a push strategy and then creating events for them that were high impact and measuring the success of that, that way. Whereas admins loved to answer questions, love to ask questions, love to give product feedback, we had different places for them to do those things.

So we didn’t really have just one experience, we had a collection of experiences that went towards that. Community isn’t in a box, it doesn’t have a wall. It existed on Twitter with a strategy, It existed on LinkedIn with a strategy, It existed on the actual branded community with a strategy. But we considered them all community at the end of the day. And so it was just our responsibility to figure out what made most sense, whether we needed to go to them or whether they would come to us. I never really think that a good strategy has to be all in one place, because that doesn’t really work that well.

How to hire for community?

Sara

Super interesting! Ok, so i’m curious, because I got hired on to the GTMfund to help run the community along with a variety of other initiatives. But I’m always interested in seeing how every company approaches community, because it definitely varies at each company and every stage company. What’s your take on how to hire for community. Do you need to go hire a dedicated community lead to implement it and run it from the get go. And if the answer is yes, I would love to hear why and if not, who should own execution early?

Erica

Ah that’s a tough question. So my gut reaction is yes, you need someone. But I understand that that is not feasible for this type of audience. So I guess my pushback is if you aren’t going to dedicate someone to it, you need to think about what you’re going to get in return. Because just about with any sort of big initiative which I would expect this type of initiative to be at the highest possible level if you’re going to expect the return, especially since your customer has a lot of places to go other than to you, there’s a lot of competition. So you really have to figure out what you want from it. At the very beginning, if you’re talking about what I was saying, which you’re going to do some listening tours or you’re going to have host a couple of customer events where they’re going to come and talk to product managers about roadmap or you can phase your way into this where you have an individual who is customer facing that takes this on. Whether you have and it’s hard to even know how they’re set up right now.

Metrics & ROI

Sara
I think that’s great advice. One of our founders asked a great question and I wanted to bring that one up now.

How do you know that your efforts to build community are working? What metrics do you watch for? Especially leading indicators that things are not on track or going off the rails?

Erica

So if you’re trying to create yourself a place where people can just talk to each other, ask each other questions, then leading indicators are if they are getting their questions answered. I know this sounds really fundamental and basic, but if you found that what your customers are asking for is just give us a place where we can ask questions of one another and share best practices, then those questions, if that’s what they want, they better get answered. And then that’s sort of a leading indicator to seeing peer engagement and sharing. That’s one thing. If you are doing product insights, then it could be how many of your insights that you’re gathering are being added to the roadmap where you’re able to then share back what they said and how it’s showing up. And this doesn’t have to be big, huge fundamental things.

So showing that you’re making market impact and then you can start to track even early days longevity of your customers. If you’re seeing retention start based on the fact you’re doing some of these efforts, if you’re starting to see your customers stick around a bit longer, these are some even bigger and almost more amazing metrics that you can track towards. So I’d say that and then the adoption of your product is also something early stages I think you can work towards. You can decide what that looks like. I’m thinking back in the salesforce days, it was like if they created a certain number of custom reports, if they created a certain number of custom fields, and if they had a certain number of usage of their licenses, that created pop product adoption. And so that was what we started to track towards. So you can start to look at that as well. Like, what is your version of product adoption and is that bumping up by creating an environment to start engaging?

Am I heading in the right direction?

Sara

Awesome. Ok so one more founder question and then we’ll wrap up!

When you’re building an online community, you can’t help but ask yourself constantly “Am I heading in the right direction?”… So what are any metrics that we can gauge in terms of do we expect people to contribute every day?

Erica

Yeah so I tend to follow the 1-9-90 rule, which you’ve probably heard, and 1% is the really super actively engaged, which at an early stage might be five people. And then the 9% are the people that are kind of liking things or showing interest, they could move into that 1%. And then the 90% are the gleaners. All of those are very important and you’re probably going to spend the majority of your time with the 9% and the 1%, maybe just the 1%, and then eventually moving to the 9% to start moving them a little bit more towards the 1%. But as far as to answer your actual question about how much do you post, to me it’s not exactly easy for me to tell because if you’re trying to create an environment where they’re talking to each other, then the idea is you post stuff, but you post something to create an environment where they start talking. When they start talking, get all over them and praise and love on them and give them what they want, which you have to know what they want. I don’t know what they want. But you should. And if you don’t, then you gotta figure that out first. If they want access to you, if they want access to your product managers, etc.

And it’s unscalable at first. You’re not planning for the future yet. You’re not planning for when you have hundreds of thousands of people in your community, you’re doing all hands on deck to get them what they want and then start creating that flywheel of behaviours that you want.

Sara

Wow I love that. It’s interesting hearing you talk about it like that, because the way I see building a community is like building a family, you really need to understand the psychology and motivations behind what drive each individual and then hone in on that. It’s definitely not a one size fits all kinda thing.


👀 More for your eyeballs

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👂 More for your eardrums

This week has got to be our biggest week yet for the GTM Podcast. We had the pleasure to host the CEO and CoFounder of Outreach, Manny Medina 👏 Tons of tactical advice on how to succeed as a B2B founder/ leader in today’s down-market. Have a listen!


🚀 Start-ups to watch: 

Stotles just launched ✨ Stotles AI ✨ the world’s first AI-driven tool for public-sector sales, built for teams to take action, effortlessly. Check em out👇


🔥Hottest GTM job of the week: 

Mid-Market Account Executive at Capchase, more details here.

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Alright everyone,

That’s all I got!

I’m so grateful to have been apart of this, presented with the opportunity to learn from extremely accomplished and inspirational leaders everyday.

I hope you all take some time to relax and reboot over the long weekend. I know I will. And back next Friday with the one and only Scott Barker.

Enjoy the sun wherever you may be☀️

🦄SVD🦄

Before helping found GTMfund, Scott spent 4 years at Outreach as Director of Strategic Engagement. He was in charge of aligning key relationships with VCs, BoDs, ecosystem partners and community members to drive revenue and strategic initiatives across Outreach. Scott initially ran revenue/partnerships for Sales Hacker (which was acquired by Outreach in 2018). Prior to Sales Hacker, he led and built outbound Business Development teams at Payfirma and MediaValet. Scott also advises for a number of high growth start-ups and is the host/author of The GTM Podcast and The GTM Newsletter. At GTMfund, Scott leads all fundraising efforts and runs the media arm of the firm. He’s also responsible for assessing investments, team management, LP/community relationships and GTM support for founders.

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