πŸ“» β€” Lessons, Tips, Workflows (and More) on B2B Community Strategy with Holly Firestone

Reading Time: ~ 6 min.

Hello yenizens!

Today’s issue is a fun one! As you already know our community β€” the yeniverse β€” is building a CommSaaS, a community-centric form of B2B SaaS. Naturally, I’ve been studying these types of companies, how they are built, and most importantly their intersection with all-things community.

A few of you have passed me Holly Firestone‘s presentation for review (and breakdown) and I found a bit of time last night β€” wonderful idea and thank you so kindly for it! We’ll jump right-in!

To infinity & community

β€” john

Holly’s talk via SaaStr’s 2020 Annual event is packed with no-nonsense data, examples, and then a good deal of questions / answers at the end. I’m grateful that she spent the time!

She jumps right-in and provides a high-level overview of how to think about B2B Community; this is especially useful for newer folks to the space (and a great starting block before you jump head-first into building a CommSaaS!).

She’s been at Atlassian, Salesforce, and now Venafi as their Head of Community where she’s working to build a unique community for security experts, developers, partners, CISOs, and anyone who geeks out over security and identity management.

She then opens up squarely with a clear definition of community:

A group of individuals connected through a network of platforms, programs, and resources. These platforms, programs, and resources give customers the power to build together, support one another, contribute to business goals, and find their paths to success alongside other customers.

Holly Firestone


I like this breakdown:

  1. Platforms
  2. Programs
  3. Resources

The outcomes should look like:

  1. Building together
  2. Suppose one another
  3. Contribute to business goals

I think this nicely aligns with some of the #musthave ingredients for successful, purpose-built communities:

She highlights this point:

Community is about customers connecting to each other over a shared set of interests and values, and your business is the glue that sticks them together.

Holly Firestone

If you can’t seem to boil it down to these fundamentals, then, you might have some serious challenges! Also, this is a great reminder of using one of the many community-building playbooks that are available to folks!

For B2B SaaS businesses, community touches and impacts everything! Here are just some of the specific areas that Holly highlights:


  • Product Feedback
  • Product Ideas
  • Beta Test

Customer Success:

  • Lower attrition
  • Satisfaction (NPS)
  • Product Adoption


  • Advocacy / Influencers
  • Content Development
  • Testing / Feedback


  • Support Deflection
  • Reduced Support Costs
  • Knowledge Article Development

It’s also worth considering how your current tool selection and choices available to you are either helping you hit these areas of impact or missing it entirely (if not slightly off target).

Useful community-building tools are ones that helps you get feedback on the product, enables customers to adopt the product, allows for content & advocacy development and saves you time, money, and a lot of heartache when it comes to product support.

Not every tool can do these things well so you’ll want to mix-and-match based on your own needs, specific business goals, and culture.

Need a bit of data-driven justification for why this matters? Holly brings the goods (for you):

Community programs drive growth and return-on-investment:

  • 2x More Pipeline
  • 2x Bigger Deals
  • 33% Higher Product Adoption
  • 3x Lower Attrition

In the areas of support, she cites an example of a forum she managed and was able to ultimately save $2M dollars a month ($24M per year)!!

If you’re a senior leader who’s role and responsibility sits around “community” then you’re going to have to swallow these numbers hard.

More data-driven results which lead to greater customer & business success! We call this a win-win.


Regarding Customer Success above, a survey they sent out to their members saw large bumps in significant business areas.

Here’s a model for how this might look…

A Model for Intrinsic Motivation

Holly shares what she calls a “community incentivization framework” β€” I’m honestly not sure that middle-word is a real word, but, I get what she’s saying!


Here’s the breakdown:

  • Ownership β€” Trust, empowerment, and support
  • Status β€” Public recognition
  • Networking β€” Exclusive community of like-minded individuals
  • Access β€” Special access to people & programs providing opportunities to influence decisions
  • Perks β€” Gifts, both tangible and intangible

All of this is founded on a goal of “shared values and culture” or intrinsic motivation for the members and the community as a whole.

I love Holly’s framing of starting a new CommSaaS / B2B SaaS and recognizing that community building is unique and difficult work.

If you’re just starting out and don’t have the training and/or skills, hiring a specialist, a community gigster or on-demand community leader is a really good idea and it’s not entirely fair to “add” this role and responsibility to an existing team member who may not be interested and/or equipped to perform that role with excellence!

Go hire someone fantastic β€” there are many great job boards like the one that Community Club’s job board.

A good way of thinking about this is thinking about building a community like building a “product” β€” you have to know how to do the following:

  1. Research
  2. Development
  3. Feedback
  4. Testing
  5. Bugs
  6. Feature Development
  7. Documentation
  8. Marketing

… and more! As Holly said so clearly:

You want an expert building your community, just like building a product. You wouldn’t hire someone without technical experience to build your software product! It’s just like hiring a community professional.

Holly Firestone

One-hundred-fucking-percent. If you want a professional, high-quality community, sometimes you should just hire a professional. I do believe that all members of a team should learn how to operate, lead, and manage communities, but, I understand that everyone’s situation is different!

Choose wisely!

Here are some examples (super-helpful!!) of community roles in the growing community professional space:

  • Community Coordinator: Entry-level community role helping with front lines of community support, tracking, and administration.
  • Community Manager: The level of this role can vary (e.g. Dir. of Community Management, Senior Dir. of Comm Mngmt, etc.). This role focuses on Community Engagement and Programs.
  • Community Strategist: A senior community role focusing on building out the full community strategy including roadmap, KPIs, and operations.
  • Community Operations: This role focuses on tools and platforms that keep the community running. This includes feature updates, vendor management, CRMs, and other integrations.
  • VP, Community: Senior leadership role that may align by function. Ex: VP of CM or a generalized VP of Comm. Usually a Comm Strat as well.
  • Chief Community Officer: This role is becoming more popular, reporting directly to the CEO and works across the company to build strategy for all business units.

A wonderful overview of many of the more common roles in the professional community space! We need more of this! And then, we can triangulate these with business metrics and value and align them with greater salary bands and compensation.

You see, it is my firm belief that roles that are primarily community-centric should be the highest-paid roles in the entire enterprise, outside of the CEO. That’s how much fundamental value a community professional brings!

The problem, of course, is that this is not yet the standard β€” we’ll get there, I promise. Holly ends with some great Q and A as well, captured below:

Question: Which part of the organization should lead community on a new community initiative?

Holly F.: C-level roles, especially. Sometimes this reports up the marketing stack but this role will naturally touch every part of the business. The best opportunity would be to get folks into the C-Suite.

Question: Where do you start if you can’t afford or start with a community pro?

Holly: Start with what you’ve got so far. Start with your current members and existing folks who are in and around the business. If you already have an “event” then you can make that a reason to kick-off the new initiative. Start talking with the customer, understand their pain-points!

Question: What types of newer community platforms have you seen?

Holly: Lots!

Holly mentions quite a bit, many found here.

Question: Marketing vs Community teams?

Holly: Community serves product, growth, and market teams. You want to make sure you’re clear on all of their business needs / goals.

Question: How to start a “lean” community?

Holly: I struggle doing community in a “lean” way because the ROI is so high. You could start on Slack but it’ll become quickly unruly as there are features that aren’t built for community at-scale, especially the pricing for accessing search (content) from over 10,000 posts. It’s good for building an audience from scratch but once you start growing you need to make serious investments in community for success (for B2B SaaS).

Question: How do you plan for growth? When should we expect results?

Holly: You’re not going to see a ROI for at least 4-6 months because you have to do lot of listening to the audience and customers as you begin your process. Community is like building product which takes a long time! Make sure your leaders know this and that you get the support you need to be a success. The results will not come overnight.

Question: B2B SaaS companies that are doing a good job?

Holly: Twilio has a great developer community.

Question: Should you brand the community tightly (like a sub-domain)?

Holly: Yes, as tight as you can.

You can watch the full recording here:

Thanks again Holly!

%d bloggers like this: