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brainstorm on whiteboard product communities

A great product-focused community can be a powerful force for innovation.

Product communities — the “P” in CMX’s SPACES model — serve as the “voice of the customer.” This authentic feedback helps organizations come up with ideas for innovative features, test new developments, and identify areas for improvement.

When product and community teams are aligned, companies can innovate faster through rapid testing. Major companies with thriving product communities include Fitbit, Lyft, and Salesforce’s Trailblazer community.

Yet in CMX’s 2020 Community Industry Report, just 8% of community managers reported that they tracked “product ideas” as a measure of their impact. On a recent Masters of Community episode, Product School CEO Carlos González de Villaumbrosia agreed that more companies could benefit from a product community: “I think there’s an opportunity there to have a better relationship between community and product. There’s too much obsession over shipping, shipping, shipping, shipping features, and not enough on really refining what you have and making it work.”

How Community Improves Products from CMX Academy
An overview of product communities from The Community MBA

What does it take to build a great product community? And how can community leaders work effectively with product teams? Below, we pulled together two of our best resources to round up the experts’ top tips. Bonus: A framework you can apply in your community today.

For more, check out the full talks from the experts:

1. Learn to be your best salesperson

At Salesforce, Alex Pisani found that he needed to advocate for his community’s vision and convince the company of its benefit. “I knew I had to put my sales hat on and be my own biggest advocate,” he said.

Alex started by networking with Salesforce’s product executives and product managers to share his vision, identifying future champions and collaborators along the way. He used Salesforce’s V2MOM framework to set community goals in line with the company’s overall goals, which helped him align to the objectives of other teams. (Learn more about V2MOM at Salesforce.)

“A lot of time and effort that went into building these relationships, but I would recommend it to you all. From my own experience, it paid off big time. I was able to reach out to product executives to share my vision and network internally to find the product managers for the products and features that were core to Salesforce’s product portfolio. That was a useful tactic early on to get a lay of the land and meet PMs that I wanted to engage with on future initiatives.” –Alex Pisani, Senior Community Manager at Salesforce

Chris Massey, who runs a community for product managers at Mind the Product, suggested a similar approach. For Chris, the first step to building an effective product community was understanding how product managers worked: “What matters to you as a team? What matters to you as a business unit? What can we do to enable that?”

Like Alex, Chris suggested using goal-setting frameworks to make sure your vision for the community resonates with other departments. For example, community managers can use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to model outcomes. “If your organization thinks in terms of OKRs, you can start to use the data that you can get to represent a larger goal,” says Chris.

2. Track metrics that open doors

To be successful, it’s important for product community managers to frame their results in terms of metrics that make sense to their organization. But there’s no one framework for measuring impact, and the right metrics vary by company. Here’s how Chris approached finding metrics that resonate:

“I bring a product mindset to it, rather than trying to measure engagement or community growth. Which are fine metrics, but they don’t tell the business anything about how valuable it is. They don’t tell the business anything that helps them gauge: Is that community supporting their goals, and are you doing a good job as a community manager?” –Chris Massey, Product Lead at Mind the Product

At Salesforce, Alex focused on creating interactions between product managers and community members that could be measured and tracked, including pilots, betas, and one-on-one feedback sessions. He used his results (below) to open doors to collaboration with product teams across Salesforce.

“I want to highlight the number that 93% of Trailblazer community members surveyed said engaging with the Trailblazer Community helped them discover new products and solutions,” said Alex. “This is a piece of data that I happily share with our product team when I’m pitching the value of what I’m doing and how they can engage with the community.”

Slide from Alex Pisani’s 2020 CMX Summit talk, “Build the Influence Bridge Between Community and Product”

3. Engage the community around meaningful rewards

While internal advocacy is important, there’s no successful product community without engaged community members. Alex shared tips for engaging product communities based on initiatives that took place within Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community:

  • Involve community members in strategic prioritization. In 2019, Salesforce revamped its Idea Exchange. Rather than vote on as many improvements as they wanted, community members instead received a limited number of “coins” they could use to prioritize their top requests.
  • Create more touchpoints with product leadership. Alex helped to expand Salesforce’s popular “True to the Core” sessions, where community members engage directly with product leaders and cofounders, from once a year to monthly.
  • Give rewards that matter, like transparency. Alex created the “Meet the Makers” series that connected Salesforce MVPs to product managers. For Salesforce MVPs, the sessions provide a unique level of insight into the product roadmap and a chance to share feedback directly with product managers.
Slide from Alex Pisani’s 2020 CMX Summit talk, “Build the Influence Bridge Between Community and Product”

Understanding what motivates a community may go beyond the product itself. On the Community Corner podcast, Chris shared a belief that product communities usually share a passion or practice. For example, a community formed around niche cooking gadgets are really driven by a passion for food science; Tesla fans are often drawn by the values of the Tesla brand.

“Always remember that what people actually care about is not your product. It’s the thing that that product enables or what it represents. If you can speak to that with your community, that’s when people care and start to engage and start to evangelize—because they’re not evangelizing your thing, they’re evangelizing the thing that they can do, or they believe in.” –Chris Massey, Product Lead at Mind the Product

Conclusion: The LEXr framework

Ready to get started connecting your product teams and community members? Alex created a framework for CMX Summit attendees to start using in their own community: The LEXr framework (Listen, Evaluate, eXecute, and Repeat).

For each stage, Alex identified three tangible actions you can take to work more effectively with product teams.

  • Listen: Survey your community, network inside your company, and sell the vision!
  • Evaluate: Identify major themes, chart the path of least resistance or look to score quick wins, and align on your goals using V2MOM (or your own goal-setting framework).
  • Execute: It’s launch time, so celebrate! Make sure to measure key metrics that demonstrate success, and close the loop by sharing results with both community and product teams.
  • Repeat: Communities are never static, so don’t forget this last step! Restart the framework to get fresh insights or launch exciting new initiatives.

Want more insights? Check out all the videos from CMX Summit 2020 here!

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