Growth Frameworks

Community as an Engine for Growth

How to Build Strong Employee and Customer Communities That Can Fuel Innovation, Support the Buyer Journey and Drive Company Growth

Strong communities rally around great products and companies, and these days, building a strong community may be more important than ever. Companies are navigating an increasingly complex talent landscape and working hard to build and retain engaged teams. At the same time, products and brands are vying for customers’ attention amidst increased competition, elevated inflation and tightening budgets. Whether it’s a group of customers looking to share insights on or experiences with a product, or employees with a passion for an organization’s mission, we’ve seen how communities can help foster a sense of loyalty and fuel innovation.

Below we share some key strategies to help leaders build and sustain healthy employee and customer communities – and positively impact your company’s growth.

Building a Strong Employee Community

Engaged employees are the heartbeat of a growth business. And a strong employee community is key to fostering the sense of belonging and connection to your organization that helps fuel this engagement. But the process of building a cohesive, collaborative team is arguably more challenging in today’s environment. Below are three areas to focus your efforts in building a robust employee community.

  1. Establish Clear and Cohesive Values
    Are the mission and values of your organization clear? What is your employer value proposition? Can your team members clearly describe what your business stands for? Solidifying the vision and values of your company is vital to building a strong employee community, helping to create a sense of purpose that aligns team members with the shared goals of the business. The values of your organization should be present in all hiring and onboarding processes and central to your feedback and review processes.
  2. Prioritize Transparent Communication.
    We encourage leadership teams to consider the cadence, content and channels of communication with their employees. How frequently – and in how much detail – do you want your leadership team to communicate with the broader organization? How do you enable open communication across functional areas? Clear and consistent internal communications – of your company’s mission and purpose, recognition of individual achievements, and celebration of company milestones – can go a long way to increasing feelings of inclusion, strengthening employee engagement and giving context to day-to-day tasks.
  3. Create a Culture of Collaboration
    When ideas are regularly shared, heard and vetted, and when the unique contributions of your team members are recognized, employees feel valued. Consider ways to facilitate collaboration and build connections – to surface ideas, support innovation and share new and better ways to serve customers. Ultimately, a collaborative culture can help improve engagement, reduce turnover and increase productivity across your teams. And, how your employees engage with each other is often indicative of their ability to engage productively with prospects and customers.

Building a Strong Customer Community

Often, the most powerful advocates for your organization’s product or service aren’t your employees or even your leadership team – it’s your customers. Across industries, the customer journey has changed: prospective buyers have more access to information and to each other than ever before. When today’s buyers seek a solution, they often look to their peers for perspective, making customer communities critical engines for brand awareness, product innovation and revenue generation. Below are three effective tactics we’ve seen across our portfolio to help build a customer community:

  1. Encourage Feedback (and Listen to It!)
    Whether your team is listening or not, your customers are conversing with one another – in self-generated user forums, on social media channels, on product review sites or at in-person events. Customer feedback – whether on a feature, product or service – offers important insight into the minds of both customers and prospects. Your marketing teams can leverage this perspective to inform messaging.  Your sales teams can use feedback to build deeper relationships with customers. Your product team can use it to address bugs or as key considerations for future releases. When customers feel heard, they often feel valued; an effective customer feedback mechanism can help create a strong sense of connection between your customers and your brand.
  2. Create Opportunities for Interaction
    Your customers can serve as trusted – but unbiased – third parties, offering informal, off-the-record advocacy or more visible, public statements on the value of your product or service. This makes them important engines for new customer acquisition as well as existing customer retention. It’s important to facilitate opportunities where customers can connect with and learn from each other, share their positive experiences with your brand, and be recognized for their support.

    Customer forums (both in person and virtual), community associations and annual events can help foster an ecosystem around your product or service. We’ve seen this drive value in ways large and small, including events such Summit-backed Jamf’s “Jamf Nation User Conference,” the largest gathering of Apple system administrators¹ in the world; Summit-backed Odoo’s annual “Odoo Experience” which gathers 10,000+² members of the company’s open-source community; or through smaller, more regular customer advisory board meetings throughout the year.  Regardless of the format, it’s important to capture, consider and, where possible, respond to the feedback or ideas shared by your community in these settings.
  3. Invest Resources
    In our experience, while many communities may evolve organically, those that provide the most value are thoughtfully nurtured by the businesses that benefit from their work. Many of the most successful consumer-facing brands know this well and have long invested in dedicated teams to engage with customers and influencers through social channels and offline experiences. And, these days, many B2B businesses are taking note as well: nearly 60% of the Forbes Cloud 100 list have dedicated brand communities and more than 26% are actively hiring for community roles.3 Dedicated community engagement efforts can help keep a real-time pulse on customer sentiment, actively participate and influence customer conversations, and create opportunities to effectively and systematically harness the power of customer voices to help inform product innovation, customer service, and go-to-market motion.

For companies of all stages and industries, communities serve as powerful advocates, storytellers and drivers of meaningful growth. And communities are more important than ever given today’s competitive and challenging economic climate. Regardless of your approach, it is important to remember that employee and customer communities can be as varied as the people, products or solutions they represent.

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Cae Keys

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The content herein reflects the views of Summit Partners and is intended for executives and operators considering partnering with Summit Partners. For a complete list of Summit investments, please click here.



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