Tell me if something like this has happened to you:
You’re having an innocuous conversation with someone about wanting to take a vacation. An hour later, you’re reading the latest tech news article, and a banner ad shows itself offering you deals on an all-inclusive Caribbean vacations.
Had you slowed your scroll through social media over a vacation related post prior to this? Has the Google algorithm gotten this good to predict your future wants and put you in an audience targeted for this? Was Alexa listening in on your conversation? Maybe. More importantly, in a world that is headed towards an inevitably automated future, you can count on this happening at a larger scale.
The idea that any time you want a vacation, an accountant, a sandwich… anything you will be offered four options for it instantaneously, is not far off. As a consumer, that’s exciting. As a business owner, that’s terrifying. How are you supposed to keep customers?
The answer: by creating community in your customer base. Here is how I know:
Preventing Customer Churn
My prior venture was a role as VP of Business Development in a fledgling startup SaaS company for Amazon sellers. When I entered the equation, the user base was rapidly dropping (from 500 to under 300 in two months), the founder/CEO had recently had multiple public “divorces” with some of his most visible customers and employees, the software was malfunctioning due to reaching its capacity after having been created without intentional design or framework, and our head developer quit- leaving us without a solution for the product.
The mastermind group that had been established by the CEO- a group of six that had paid a handsome down payment and subscribed to a steep monthly fee- was showing growing dissent, and losing members. I could not help on the technical end, and was still too new to the industry to understand how to make our training products (which had lost considerable interest in the market), but I knew I could nurture the mastermind group into a valuable asset, so I took it over.
Creating the Community
We allowed those in the group that did not want to pay any more to stay on without charging them, politely terminated the contract of those in the group that were not at the level of their peers, and reached out to and invited another hand-picked group of software users that demonstrated their capacity to run their business at a high level. The only ask of this group was to be open, and provide value to the others any time they had the opportunity to.
Every other week, we hosted group video calls where some weeks I would present on a concept I learned from a piece of content (article, book, podcast, etc), other weeks we’d share insights from what we’re seeing in our business, and other weeks we’d give the floor to a member to present on something they learned in their business or were struggling with while the rest of the group gave feedback. This quickly coalesced the group- a group of 15 or so solopreneurs spread out across the globe- into a small community.
Within a few months, they would pay to go down with us to Panama for a live workshop, a tour of the Panama Canal, and three days of bonding. A few months after that, we hosted an event for the rest of the software user base. Eight members of the mastermind traveled to our headquarters and presented the lessons they had learned in our group to roughly 30 attendees. In the end, these efforts created roughly $150,000 in cash flow, but it accomplished much more than that.
Benefits of Community
In creating this community, we formalized a feedback mechanism from the most important users of our product that informed us on how they used our software, what improvements would move the needle for them, and what competitors were appearing and their value proposition. We used lessons learned within the group to shore up our own Amazon business, and create new, superior training programs that were needed for our other users to reach higher levels in their business (and our subscription model).
When said competitors arrived (while our software was still not at full capacity) some of these members privately told me they considered the competition superior, but could not consider leaving theircommunity. We had established brand loyalty. The group now became an aspirational goal for lesser accomplished users of the software which incentivized them to enter our new training programs.
This formalized our customer value ladder. By recording the video calls, we could edit pieces of the video into content for ourdigital marketing, and for the members to use to promote their knowledge of the business, enabling them as affiliates. It was a true win/win/win scenario. More importantly, it is something that many businesses can replicate.
Keys to Community Creation
This is not something only limited to business software companies. A CPA, a corporate attorney, a car dealer, a commercial real estate broker, an upscale restaurant owner in touch with its clientele, and any other business that services other business owners can all hand select their most successful clients, host regular meetings, curate content that can be useful to all of them, enable them to form relationships, and gather content from these meetings that can be used for the benefit of the group member as much as for the host.
The keys are selecting for a true peer group, enabling shared vulnerability, and a moderator that can keep it all in check. If you are not that moderator, consider finding someone that is from within your organization or a third party. It will take about 4-5 hours of work per month to think about how to plan these calls, motivate the members to participate, and attend the calls. To save time, you can schedule a day to create a quarterly content calendar that can serve as your guide- just keep in mind you may want to pivot based on current feedback.
Sometimes, a 2 hour call in the middle of your work week to hear people catch up on their happenings will feel like an inconvenience. It is worth the effort. The insights you gain from these calls, the moat you build around your customers’ loyalty, and the ability to provide people with the most valuable thing you can give them- a sense of community- are advantages no technology will be able to compete with.
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