What does it take to differentiate a SaaS product? At any given moment, you’ll find SaaS marketers doing any combination of posting to social media, running paid advertising campaigns, crowdsourcing ideas and feedback from users, re-purposing content and user-generated content, hosting events and meetups, and engaging with industry influencers. It’s a busy function, for a good reason, as around 30,000 SaaS companies are currently jostling for attention.
Why SaaS businesses should care about online communities
That’s where communities come in. As a way to cut through the noise and impact everything from your sales and marketing to your product and customer success. Having an engaged and loyal community provides a valuable, sustainable go-to-market strategy.
Online tech communities have an impact across the entire customer lifecycle, influencing them as a prospect, and then helping them understand the product and remain updated with new features and applications once they’ve converted. Users join the community, share ideas with their peers, become champions of the brand, and then attract new prospects, who then convert and join the same community.
That’s why, by investing in a thriving community, you’ll join the ranks of market leaders and innovators who are using SaaS communities to stand out from the noise.
Over half (58%) of top SaaS companies have dedicated brand communities. The SaaS vendors who bet early on tech communities are growing fast — Notion scaled to $10bn in 2021 with over 2m+ users globally. Another SaaS community-led company, Figma, was recently acquired by Adobe for $20 billion.
Taking SaaS growth further
Many SaaS companies are already engaging with a community in some way, they just might not realise it yet. If you are:
- Hosting events and webinars
- Incorporating user-generated content in your product development and marketing
- Beta testing with customers
- Rewarding and recognising customers for their referrals or feedback
- Collaborating with partners in your sector
Then you are already on your way to becoming a community-first SaaS company.
What is SaaS-based community-led growth?
The community-led growth model puts a community central to the growth of your business. It unites those closest to your brand — normally your customers, partners, and employees — in a shared space where they can learn from each other, connect with experts, deepen their product knowledge, feedback to your team, and engage with exclusive events and content.
When done well, it creates a virtuous cycle of growth that can exponentially increase the growth and profitability of your business. This is depicted as a community-led growth flywheel, starting with customer acquisition, moving to product adoption, then retention, and finally customer advocacy that attracts more prospects through the (virtual) door.
By bringing your user base together in a SaaS community, you can foster a high level of brand loyalty and a sense of belonging that becomes the main driver in acquiring and retaining customers. It also builds trust and credibility which is critical at a time when prospects are struggling to understand the plethora of SaaS platforms out there.
To help you get started, Zapnito has created pathway templates for each flywheel stage.
Key benefits of SaaS communities
Once you have put the groundwork into your community, you’ll soon see widespread benefits that’ll really spur the growth and adoption of your platform. Here are three that are most relevant to SaaS companies.
Customer retention will make or break your company. In fact, a SaaS company’s growth rate is positively and exponentially correlated with net revenue retention. This is partly due to the power of upselling and cross-selling. In most SaaS businesses, customers only spend a small percentage (around 5 to 15%) of their lifetime value in the first transaction. If customers churn, you’ll lose a lot of their potential lifetime value.
Tech communities continuously add value to your customers’ lives through organic interactions happening in the community and exclusive connections to peers and content in real time. It fosters engagement and loyalty, turning your customers into lifelong fans. Just look at Salesforce Trailblazers — community members who are proud to wear Salesforce merch, adopt the Trailblazer moniker, and work (through referrals, Q&As, and user-generated content) for points, prizes and bragging rights.
2. Complementing product-led growth
You don’t have to choose one or the other when it comes to product and community. Community-led growth is the ideal partner for product marketing and development. Communities give your target audience a platform for feeding back on feature improvements and ideas; overall building a greater product-market fit. Your product leaders can use community data to inform the product roadmap. Community discussions could flag potential issues in a product, or influence a knowledge centre when the same queries crop up in a community over and over again. And the existence of a thriving community can also help you prove that your product will be successful too.
How to build a tech community
Getting started with community-led growth is relatively simple. In many ways, you already have a community existing around your company. The key is gathering your stakeholders together in a shared space (ideally brand-owned, and private) and then nurturing them to encourage their progression through the four stages of the flywheel.
Two critical things you must do to set up your community for growth are:
Know your community members
The first step in building a community is understanding who you’d like to invite to join. Your target audience can be as broad or narrow as you’d like. For the Data Leaders community, it was decided early on that the community needed to just include Chief Data Officers and members of their team who needed to remain updated on the latest thinking and trends in data. By keeping the community exclusive, Data Leaders has created a space that generates continuous value for its core customer, Chief Data Officers, and complements its existing knowledge products and services.
Set up your community growth pathways
You don’t have to always start with the first part of the community growth flywheel. Instead, you can pick the stage that best suits your business’ priorities. If retention is the focus for this quarter, then start there to focus efforts and have a quick impact on customer attrition. The great thing about communities is that they are relatively agile, so they can grow and adapt to your business needs.
We cover this topic in more detail in our piece, “Strategies for building strong online communities”.
Exponential community growth
Community is becoming a key tool in the SaaS marketer’s arsenal. As you now know, communities are powerful drivers of growth when set up in the right way. With a little bit of foundational work and consistent community management, the results of community-led growth will deliver in a compounding manner. With that, your SaaS product will skyrocket.
These are just a few things to consider when looking at a SaaS community. For a more thorough breakdown of the different stages, check out our exclusive course on community-led growth.