All Aboard the Community Hype Train w/ Holly Firestone

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This is a podcast episode titled, All Aboard the Community Hype Train w/ Holly Firestone. The summary for this episode is: <p>Holly Firestone joins us this week to talk about all things community, including the importance of listening to your community!</p><p>If you want to join the discussion with thousands of other customer success leaders, join Gain Grow Retain: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p>This podcast is brought to you by Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach...</p><p>Jay Nathan: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Jeff Breunsbach: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p>
Perspective of Customer Community Member's
00:37 MIN
Make Use of the Feedback You're Given
00:35 MIN
The Right Structure in Place
00:33 MIN
Listening Tour
00:35 MIN
Experienced Community Professional
00:49 MIN

Host: Welcome back to another episode of Gain Grow Retain. I think this is going to be episode 115 or 117, somewhere around there. I'm excited that we've actually eclipsed 100, which is crazy to think about. We've got Holly Firestone who is the head of community at Venafi and coming to us from the great state of Texas, where I hear everything is bigger. Holly, thank you for hopping on today and just chatting.

Holly Firestone: Very excited to join you. I would say it's the great City of Austin. [inaudible 00:00: 33 ]. Let's go with that for now.

Host: I love it. Well, we always like to start with a fun, maybe a couple of questions just to loosen us up, start us off. What is your favorite fruit?

Holly Firestone: My favorite fruit? Green grapes.

Host: Wow. That was so quick. Green grapes too.

Holly Firestone: It's easy, and you just stick them in a bowl and whenever you walk by. I just saw a funny meme that was like," There's some people that know exactly what they're going to eat, and then there's some people that just stand in front of their fridge and end up eating a random grape and a piece of cheese." I'm random grape and piece of cheese person.

Host: I've been on the train trying to convince my wife that green grapes are better for years. I've not successfully won. She continues to think that red grapes are better it's always going to be a struggle in our household. I think we're going to have to buy-

Holly Firestone: You're absolutely. I went down that road. I want that red grape road for a while in college. Sounds ridiculous, but I did. Then I came back around. I realized what was right to do.

Host: I appreciate that.

Holly Firestone: Those wild college years. Eating red grapes.

Host: I think every time I ask that question too, it changes what I would say my favorite fruit is. I'm probably going to go with mango right now. I don't know. Strawberries up there too.

Holly Firestone: It's seasonal. It depends on the time of year.

Host: There's a lot of factors that go into it. My second question for you is, are you going to stay up for fireworks this New Year's Eve? Are you making it until midnight or is it like,"Meh, we're past that. We're more dinner and bed is more of the modus operandi."

Holly Firestone: You mean specifically for New Year's? Well, we had a New Year's tradition. We always went to, me and my husband for the" we", we'd go to dinner at ten o'clock. We were always at a really nice dinner that always give out champagne. That's usually what we do. This year will be interesting. We haven't even thought. I don't know inaudible we normally stay up late. New Year's no exception. My husband's a software developer. He'll code until three o'clock in the morning.

Host: I just asked our team at Hire Logic. I said," At what age is it appropriate just to start falling asleep before midnight on New Year's Eve?" I think the best answer that came back was one of our awesome, I think it was our community managers was like," Oh, I think, whenever you have your first kid. Whatever age that is, is when you start falling asleep before fireworks and midnight for New Year's Eve." I think that was the best answer I saw.

Holly Firestone: Whatever. I feel like there's no answer. You do you. Some people like to go to bed early.

Host: Awesome. Well, you have certainly spent a career in community and we were chatting a little bit for this just about how community has become the buzzword that I think everyone is focused on now. Everyone should have been investing in community five years ago from what everyone tells you and that you read. I'm curious, from your standpoint, are you glad the hype is here? Are you like," People get off my train. I've been here before." Where do you stand on people getting on the hype train for community right now?

Holly Firestone: I am all about it. I've spent a lot of time besides working in this industry, figuring out what we can do to push the industry forward. I think that there's a lot of validation that comes with this and still a long road ahead to make sure that all of these companies that are building community are doing it the right way and seeing value from it so that we continue to realize that value for years to come. One of the issues that's come up since a lot of places we're not investing in community five years ago is that we have a dearth of community professionals between five and 15 years of experience. We've got tons of people that are just coming into the industry, getting up and running, two or three years. There's not many of us that have been doing this over a decade. Right now companies are struggling to hire people with community experience because a lot of companies weren't investing in it five years ago. A lot of people didn't have opportunities to build their career in that way. If you did stick around for as long as I did, you weren't making much money, that's for sure. You weren't getting a great title. It took a long time to get here and I'm really excited for where it's going. Definitely, I want more people to come in as long as they're serious about it and doing it the right way. Also, valuing community experience and the community professional.

Host: I think that maybe the thing that I am most excited about, I've spent my career just in customer success and very close to community, but certainly I would not consider myself in that bucket you just mentioned of community professionals who've been doing this for 10 years. I think I've been able to see the power of community, and I think what I'm most excited about right now is that people are actually talking about how community can drive outcomes other than just support reflection. That was, everyone's just, go- to in B2B SaaS. I feel like for like the last five years. I think one of the things that Jay and I've talked about a lot, which is like, I think to your point, if you can invest in it right, you can think about it as bringing your peers together in having positive experiences with your brand. All these things that are tangential benefits of having a community is at the end of the day, all of these things can actually ladder up and lead to things that we care about. As SAS business retention renewals, we can actually drive, greater satisfaction and have NPS that increases there's all these other ancillary benefits that actually can be measured and have impact. I think I'm most excited that the shtick of," Oh, we should just get a sport community and it's just going to help. We're going to look at it as it's going to be a reduction of tickets." It's going to be reduction of our time on support. I think I'm just most excited at that story. Hopefully, it's not going to be going away because there's so much more that can be.

Holly Firestone: I think it's been a mix of that and a lot of marketing. If these people aren't in the community, they are brand ambassadors and that's not the same thing. I have a hard time with community and marketing because I would say the wrong metric to look at, but it can't be the only thing that you look at because like you said, there's tons of value. Tons of value across the organization. I am excited for the same reason that people are going to start seeing it as a more dynamic strategic entity and team on there at their company.

Host: I love the point. You mentioned too about marketing and advocates, because I think one of the things that we've noticed too is in customer success, we talk about advocates a lot like," Oh, we need more customer stories. We need more references. We need more. I think again over time people have thought about that as like," You've been with us a long time, you go through this singular customer journey, which is never really true. Then you become an advocate and it's just a step in your customer journey, when in actuality it's more like a ladder and it's more like there are steps of being an advocate for us. One of them could be that you're actually an advocate through our community and that you're actually engaged as a MVP of our community or there's some way that you're looking at that. Then there's a customer advisory board and there's doing webinars and speaking at conferences. There's all these other things that come along with that. I think that's the other thing that I've noticed as well is that hopefully people start to understand too. How can our advocates inside of our community start to become part of this ladder experience that we need to create for our customers to feel like there's, there's always stuff that we can be doing together that just builds the relationship and that it moves us up rather than just thinking about it as like this stake in the ground.

Holly Firestone: I think one of the biggest things that community offers there is the customer community member's perspective. You're going to build this ladder. They need to be a part of building that. That's a huge part of this is that there's a big listening element in any community and everything that you do, you have an opportunity to build with them. Missing out on that opportunity. I feel like you can't ask for a better opportunity than having people in the community that want to provide that feedback, that want to participate that care about the direction of these things. Building that without understanding what incentivizes them and what they want in return, that's definitely a missed opportunity. Obviously community can play a ton of roles in that, but that's the first one I think about because that's where you start.

Host: I just wrote down two things that are going to stick with me. I tend to write things down during these sessions like this, where I like go," I'll go give you credit, but I'm going to use them in slides or put them in. Build with them is just so short and concise and easy to like latch onto. It's not building it for them, it's literally how do we build it with them? I love that. I mean, to your point too, it's almost like the best listening mechanism we have inside of an organization yet. Oftentimes is maybe not largely thought about in terms of just the value you can provide. Not only, I think a lot of people think about maybe ideation as a part of the community and it's like," Oh, we're going to go listen to what they want." Then also I think maybe the thing that I'm most excited about for our community, for our customers right now is how do we actually start getting outside of our product? They spend maybe 20% to 30% of their day in our products. There's a whole 70% to 80% of our personas that we're talking to, that they're not dealing in a product they're going through things. Then how do we tap into that? That's the part we want to actually start to impact as well. Part of the reason why our community exists is so that professionals can actually come together as peers and say," Hey, are you struggling with this? Are you struggling with this? Here's an opportunity that I'm going through." I think that is sometimes often maybe largely ignored or thought about, which is, if we're not talking about our product, we feel like we're missing the mark. We feel like we're not going to be talked about or something like that. I feel like you don't have to do that all the time in terms of community or marketing or wherever you are. I think there's just this misnomer that comes along with that too.

Holly Firestone: Well, I think that is an indication of a different problem too, because if the people in your community are talking to each other and the conversations are just naturally happening, then it's going to lead to things outside of just your product, but if you are in the community and way to involve to try to curate all the conversations and try to own the direction that they go, and they're only going to talk about your product, that's a problem. You would even really recognize, not necessarily they wouldn't recognize if they were talking about stuff outside of your products, but it's just not something that you can or should want to control. I think in terms of going back to building with them, I mean, this is a topic I could talk about forever, but there's something to be said about when you build with them, they have a sense of ownership in what you're building. When they have a sense of ownership, they say like," I put my stamp on this. I built this with them. They take a lot of pride in that. People in the community, it's their community now. They feel attached to it and they will advocate for it and they will recruit for it, and they will continue to build with you. You have to genuinely give them ownership. I think that that makes a lot of companies and sometimes community teams really uncomfortable. It's a really important balance to achieve. When you think about distributed ownership, so what are the levels and layers of ownership that you give them? That it helps everybody make their goals, including theirs. I think about that a lot in terms of building with them. Then in terms of getting feedback, I will just say this because I just have to, which is that if you're going to ask for feedback, which is an amazing thing to even have a group of people that want to give you their feedback in the first place, some companies have to pay for that, use it. Seems like a really simple concept, but you you'd be surprised like so many people will get the feedback and then just completely ignore it and you can't use everything, but you can at least close the loop and say, we heard your feedback." This is why we can, or can't do this. This is the compromise we came to." Whatever it is. Then they will fiercely advocate for you, because they get it and they know that they were part of that decision making process.

Host: Closing the loop part is just the most important, but it's often the time that it's often the thing that just gets again ignored. It's the same concept where, you know, people always think that customers are going to get mad when they submit a support ticket. It's like," No, they're reasonable people." We're going to understand if you, if you communicate with me, if you close the loop, if you're always keep me in the loop about what's happening, where the ticket is, why it's taking so long, that kind of thing. I think about that. One of the things that we did early on with our community, with those office hours calls that I was telling you about those weekly calls. We started with 20 people and I sent a survey after every single weekly session we had. Then the beginning of the next session, we would actually review the results together. We would say," Here's what you told us. 20 of you fill out the survey that last week, thank you for doing that. Here's the NPS you gave us. Here's the feedback. Here's how we're adjusting today's session to address that feedback." We did that for eight straight weeks, almost verbatim, like we would just read the results back. I think people would get sick of it. To your point, we actually increased our response rate over time, which it blew my mind because coming from a customer success world, your response rates are just so low on surveys. You're just always downtrodden because you're like," Oh, my customers are not giving me enough feedback." In that case, it was our thought leadership community over here is actually increasing response rates. I think back to your point, I think it was directly correlated to the fact that we actually read back the results and said," If you actually tell us something we're going to try and adapt it and actually present it back to you in a transparent way."

Holly Firestone: I did something similar. I love that by the way. I did something when I was at Salesforce. We had a bunch of user group leaders and those are people that are volunteering their time to run Salesforce meetups in their area. I would give them a set of tools and resources, but they're really running them. They're owning them. We never really did anything for them. We never surveyed them, really. I started in 2015. There was no data that I had. I started serving them when I started, just asking him a bunch of questions about the program and all those things. Then at Dreamforce, our big conference every year, we finally brought everybody together. I called it a state of the union. It was a terrible name. We brought everybody together and we did the same. We read the survey results. This is how you rated our team. This is what we want to be next year and that was the first year we did it. Then every year after it said, this is what we were last year. This is what we are this year. Then we would take all that feedback and use it to build our roadmap for the next year. We'd go through the feedback first and then the roadmap and they could see the connection between the two and it was awesome. Gosh, I think the last one that I did, first one, I did, I think it was 80 people came. The last one I did was over 400. I know that they did it virtually this year too, which is amazing.

Host: That's awesome. I love that. I love how you tied that into how you guys are building your roadmap of things that we should be working on. How do we improve this? Again, back to the listening mechanism. We've got this audience if we're going to ask them to provide feedback, then we at least need to incorporate it in some way. We've been doing a similar thing. I've got an onboarding sequence to our Gain Grow Retain community where the last piece of the onboard experience is almost a one sentence email that comes from me that says," I'd love your feedback." It just says," What's going to keep you here for years?" It is near 100% response rate that I get on that thing, which is awesome. What I do is I actually take all those responses with our community manager and we actually sit down and go through and see like," Okay, what are people here for? What do they want? What's going to be?" I think that shocked people cause they were like," Oh, what? Like what's next?" I'm like," Well, I don't know what's next, I'm going to listen to what's going to be valuable to the audience because I am a part of the audience technically, because I'm the persona that we're trying to pursue. At the same time, it's not just one voice. I love that idea too, that you did.

Holly Firestone: How many community managers do you have?

Host: For our Gain Grow Retain community, we've got two community managers that helped me. Where we're going to venture in 2021 is getting more into small groups and volunteers and empowering the community to start building with us. That's why I also am latching on that because I think we've, we've done a great job of building our community and getting it off the ground. I think people are energized and there's a lot of excitement, but I think also we've done a poor job as much as we lead with transparency and we love accountability and all these things, authenticity that we think we bring to the table. One thing that we haven't done very well is built with them in terms of after the beginning. We did it really well at the beginning. We haven't done it really well in the middle. Now we're in this stage where I feel like it's just important to get back to that so that our members, I think they would tell you that they feel connected to the community. I don't think they feel ownership over the community. We're trying to change that small verbiage change there and trying to get them to own some of the small groups and feel empowered to go do those meetings and just bring back their findings and results.

Holly Firestone: That's awesome. I think that when they take it and run with it and you'll see some amazing things that happened that you would have never thought of. Seen so much come out of communities that I just couldn't have ever imagined. It's exciting to let go of the reins a little bit and see what people come up with.

Host: That's the hardest part too. It goes back to your point earlier, which is you have to be okay and you have to be comfortable with seeding control and understanding the fact that the end of day that it's going to probably drive ownership, probably some innovation, people are going to think about things differently than you would. It actually will be a greater net positive if you actually seed control and help feel like they're owners in the community. That's something that's hard though.

Holly Firestone: I feel like you have to have the right structure in place to do that because obviously, especially for an enterprise community, you have to be thoughtful about not just letting everybody run off and do a million things. You really have to make sure that the guidelines are super clear, so they know exactly what they can go and do and have the freedom to do. You have to make sure that those things actually exist, that there are a lot of places where they can be innovative, but also have the right structure in place that the things that they have to pull back into that they are doing that. Great example is using the same event platform, so you can pull the numbers and see how things are going so you have a direct line to the members in case something is going on with the leaders user group. Anyway, there's a lot of good things you can put in place that make a lot of sense and make it a lot easier for you to let people run with things and innovate.

Host: I love that point though. You're essentially trying to just build the framework. It's almost like you're building the scaffolding and then you're letting them use that to go empower the types of community experiences that they want to have with their other members. I like that analogy too, when they use that. One of the things I thought was really interesting was your Twitter thread that you started back in looks like November 17th, where you got some exciting news that you were going to be reporting to your CEO as part of a change in the organization, that community was getting a big, a big boost inside of Venafi. It felt like this was just a huge, just reading in between the lines felt like this was just a huge moment for you because you think probably felt validated and vindicated that we're going to make any progress we need to, but you mentioned it earlier. Sometimes community lives in marketing, sometimes it might live in customer. Maybe, I don't know, talk about a little bit, maybe we'll start with why you're so excited to report to the CEO and like what you think that's going to bring. We'll have to start there and then want to ask you maybe a couple other questions.

Holly Firestone: To start, I think, I can't remember how exactly you phrased. I think you said that when I found out on November 17th, I tweeted, it is very important to note that I found out well before that it was well before that, that I started working on this to make it happen. It wasn't magic. I didn't find out I worked for this, so very important thing. It wasn't someone came to me like inaudible.

Host: Definitely not minimized. I'm sorry.

Holly Firestone: No, no. It's funny. Now, I forgot what your question was.

Host: As you start thinking about now, just how that change came about. What has you so energized and excited just to kind of report to the CEO and like what you think that's going to bring to you and your position and into what you think it's going to bring to your community members as well?

Holly Firestone: It's really exciting first and foremost for the community industry. I think you used the word validation. Historically, a lot of people in community roles have not had that validation. Underpaid under- titled, a lot of responsibility, other things being thrown at them, or it's a side job. This is a really important step in the right direction. I think for a lot of community professionals, we've got a North star of chief community officer that there is someone that has a seat at the table, just as much as a marketing professional chief customer officer. You have influence over the business with the community perspective in mind. I think that's the first piece of this is just being really excited about what this does for the industry. Hopefully, setting example that other companies will use and how they set up their community teams. Then the way that I look at this is that it's an opportunity, it's an opportunity to really think about with everything's set up in the right way, what can you do with community? For me, thinking about I actually, instead of having my community goals, focus on whatever organization that I am in really thinking about our business goals. Top line business goals, what can the community do to help us get there? That may shift from year to year, of course, it just really depends on, on what we're trying to do and what we're trying to help our community achieve. I'm thinking about how we build this out for different audiences and then for different business values. There's just so much opportunity and it's really a blank slate and I'm really excited to see with a blank slate and with the resources and with the right team structure, what happens next. It's an exciting thing. I love to build and I get to do that.

Host: I love the point you mentioned too, it has to start somewhere in terms of starting to set the precedent or expectation in the software world about how this can actually report to the CEO. It can be a strategic position. I love that point first and foremost in it of itself. I think one of the things that comes to mind for me too, is how much credibility can lend to your customer base. This isn't to your point, I think sometimes customers might look at where some initiatives live and say," Oh, let's talk to marketing. Oh, I can understand what's going to happen there. They're just going to try to market the shit out of me or they're going to try and drive upsell, cross, sell through community, whatever it might be. I think it lends itself to a lot of credibility, just to your point of clearly that this is an important enough initiative that it reports to the CEO, that there's going to be visibility to board members. There's going to be visibility to actually achieving business outcomes. We're going to be held accountable by the person who's held accountable at the very top of the organization. I think that in of itself lends credibility that your customers hopefully will see as a positive too that. You know, there's going to be good results that they can drive from this, but there's going to be investment resources, there's actual backing.

Holly Firestone: I couldn't agree with you more. The email that, that Jeff, our CEO, he wrote when he was announcing this to everybody, it brought that up, actually. It was like, this sends the message we want to send our customers. They're the most important. Something along those lines. I couldn't agree with you more. I believe that especially about marketing, but you put community marketing. That's an interesting message that you send. I agree.

Host: As you look at, it sounds like applying 2021 for you. You have to go into a building phase and as you start, is there a framework that comes to mind for you about where do you start? How do you go about this? I don't know at a high level you can give. What's the forefront of your mind right now? What are some of the early steps that you're trying to take to get the community up and going or starting that process?

Holly Firestone: The very first thing that I did is I went on a listening tour and I talked to everybody on executive team and it wasn't that I sat down and had a conversation with them about what community is and what community can do for them. I already presented my vision to them at that point as a group, but sat down and really wanted to understand their business. What were they thinking about? What were they thinking about in the next year? What are they thinking about in the next three years, five years? Not just their goals, but like their challenges. What are they think about for their teams? You name it and it didn't have to have anything to do with community. It gives me a really well- rounded understanding of the challenges that they're facing and the things that they're trying to do. Then eventually, as part of the community strategy, we'll figure out how all that fits together. I think the listening tour is huge and really it's a listening tour. I'm not doing a ton of talking, excuse me. I think that that was very, very important and that they would recommend other people on their team for me to talk too. They're really, really deep conversations. I think that I learned a lot from them. Then the next piece of that is that every single team will have a shared goal with community at the exec level. Head of support, head of sales, I mean, everybody will have some shared goal with community shared OKR.

Host: I love that. I was writing that down. I love that. Like how every team has a role to play and listening too becomes so critical too, because you start to hear, I think sometimes people will often tell you what you want to hear. I think sometimes when you're actually just listening, you hear some other things where it's like, actually I think community can help there. Here's some other little ancillary areas that they have been thinking of where we can actually play a role or play a benefit. That's where I think it comes in like so deep in terms of just listening.

Holly Firestone: Absolutely. Some people went into the conversations with this is what I think we can do with community. I was like," No, we're not talking about community actually." People come in with their preconceived notions about what community is or what it can do. Being the community expert at the company, I really want to better understand what they're facing and then work together with them to decide what fits what they're trying to do and how community can play a role there.

Host: I've only been at Higher Logic for, I guess, five months now or six months, but one of the first things we did was we did a 50/ 50 tour. We went to listen to 50 customers in 50 days, which was really impactful. Since then we also have put five customer calls in our set, just as a director of CS, our chief customer officer. Just five calls in our calendars, roughly every week to talk with customers. Just to try and hear the language they're using here are the challenges, opportunities. More so to listen than us to prescribe anything. I love that concept internally too, that's internal, external, how can you bring those qualitative sources together? Then I'm sure at some point, there's data and quantitative that comes along with that as well as you start getting into that.

Holly Firestone: It's an interesting exercise, of course, because I feel even though I've been at Venafi close to a year now, I learned so much that I had no idea about here different, just different perspectives about what was going on. It was definitely very, very valuable for me. Then we'll pull together everything that I learned gathered some key insights and then build out a strategy from there. I have a general idea of the roadmap and the timing on everything, but really better understanding where we're going to prioritize because we could do something with community, for everything and everybody and every audience, but we can't do it all at once. It has to get prioritized.

Host: I guess in the forefront of your mind right now, thinking about community and all the different types of interactions or engagements we can have, is there anything in the front of your mind right now that's just like... I don't want to say easy pickings, but is there a one or two that you're just like," Man, if we can just go do this really quickly, really easily, get it off the ground, it's going to catch like wildfire."

Holly Firestone: That's an interesting question. I don't know if I've been thinking about it like that. I think so many things take a little bit of time to build. I also think, Venafi we didn't talk about this, Venafi is a machine identity management company. We are dealing with dealing with, but the people that we're talking to every day are, they're insecurity, they're on security teams. I think that that's a unique audience and it's a unique audience to build a community board because there's a lot of conversations that need to be protected essentially. There's some interesting stuff there to work around. I don't think that it means we can't do stuff that'll catch on like wildfire, but if you're really thoughtful about every step along the way to make sure that there is no trust lost. I think that goes for any community, but this one's especially, we just have to be really, really thoughtful about that. On the same thread there because they're security professionals, they don't necessarily have a lot of other people that do what they do that they could talk to so the community becomes very, very valuable for them. Historically, nobody talks to the security teams until something goes wrong and then it's not a happy conversation. This is a really, really awesome opportunity for them to connect to each other. That's the reason I took this job is because I thought this was a really great audience to build a community for because they want to connect with other people. They need to connect with other people. Historically, don't have the professional development resources that a lot of other teams have.

Host: I also love the answer because it goes back to we don't know exactly what to build yet because you also have to go and make sure you do the research and make sure you actually talk and see what's going to be valuable for them. Just to your point, because one type of strategy or communication or platform worked for a community elsewhere, it doesn't mean it's not going to work for this audience as well. Thinking about how those personas might be different.

Holly Firestone: Definitely that, of course and then what I've been doing up until this point of Venafi is I was in marketing and really focused on building the audience. We don't have a customer marketing person right now. We've not even built this audience yet. It's taking some time to identify who they are, each of these companies, what they're looking for, how bring them into a community, what they're looking for from a community. That's been an interesting exercise, but we have a customer summit once a year and that's the big recruiting event for me. It was only two months after I started last year. This coming one will be started this year. The next one, what year is it? I don't know. The next one is 2021 will be an awesome opportunity to really push the community in a way that we haven't before. Right now, it's just building, building that audience and then we're really going to invest now, we're definitely really going to invest a lot of time in building out a very robust community with a lot of different programs and opportunities attached to it.

Host: Well, I'm hoping that event is in person. Hopefully, sad. One day we'll hope to get a beer like normal, we'll go out and see friends, see people one day as soon, hopefully it'll come to fruition. Well, last question. Then I'll let you hop out of here. As you think about our audience, a lot of B2B SaaS leaders, customer success angle, a tough question to answer, because there's probably going to be a lot of like it depends. Where' the place to start if we don't have a community today, if it's glimmer in an ice situation? How do you even start that conversation? How do you even start to broach the subject and think about how this can actually impact your customer success org and the outcomes you want to drive retention and driving higher satisfaction, those types of things?

Holly Firestone: I think it depends. I don't think you can do any of this without executive buy- in. I said it depends.

Host: That's why I was laughing because I know it's a tough question to answer, but I think you're, you're hitting on a couple of things.

Holly Firestone: inaudible Does not depend. You definitely need executive buy- in where you can do anything. That's really a good place to start. I wouldn't say, just jump right into it. Obviously, do your due diligence come with examples, come with information about other communities that have been really successful. Especially or me, coming to Venafi, we're creating a category. Salesforce created the category and it's very important to build a community if you're doing that because you have an education element that's crucial for you to be able to succeed. Thinking about what the angle is for your company is going to be huge. What is it about a community, not just the basic, these are the top metrics, whatever that you can pull that from some website somewhere, but what makes it unique? What makes it unique for you? What is the identity of the community? What is the mission of the community and what does that mean? That's basically how I probably approach this. I was reporting to our CMO and she retired and I should have inaudible. You've known all along. I do not think that I should be in marketing. I really need be reporting to our CEO." We talked through it and I put together a deck and presentation and it really just talks about very high level ideas. I shared the vision, what that meant for us, why it was important for this to sit on top of everything in the organization report directly to our CEO. It wasn't," We're going to see X amount of support to black gender, or we're not going to. It was general. It was like," We're thinking about and we're thinking about all of these different things. They're just examples without getting too heavy into the metrics. I think it's selling the vision to your executive team first. Getting the buy- in, getting the resources and then you can move forward. I would say, don't go out of the womb. Find a community, an experienced community professional. If you can't find it, consultant that can come in and help train your team or help build a structure for you. I think that's a really important piece of this. I wouldn't say difficult, but having experience and knowing what to expect is really, really valuable when you're building community. When you build a community, if you lose your community's trust, it's very hard to get back. Taking the right approach in the first place, it takes I think an experienced community professional. Trying to find one and which is so hard right now, it's almost impossible because everybody inaudible but lots of great community consultants that can get you on the right track, too.

Host: Awesome. I love the message you just delivered there in the last part that I would add, or the only thing that I would think about where I think we got some, like what we did early on was even just, I think back to one of your earlier points, even to tell that story to your executive team. What are some small things that you might be able to do with a couple of customers, even just to start show how to start to show how that can actually work. Getting some of their direct feedback or start thinking about smaller ways that you could bridge the gap of community and say," We're starting this type of small interaction or engagement." I think even little things like that, you could bring as a part of that story that say," We've already tried a couple of these things we're seeing good progress." because I think sometimes people sometimes think about too much of customer wide." You have to push it to all customers all at one time and do it." I think like to your point, a lot of times, if you can bring the right story and just bring the right elements to that story that says," Here's why it's important. Here's our focus." We've already done a couple of things just to show that it might actually work. We've gotten some good feedback from these types of customers who maybe are important to us. That type of thing, I think also adds validity to that, that story that you can tell the executive team as well.

Holly Firestone: Absolutely. They want to see that they want to see how it relates directly to them too. Absolutely makes sense. It's late in the day. Selling them on a vision is really, really important. That's part of the vision is that this could be so much more, this could do so much more. It is so meaningful. Those examples is a great idea.

Host: Awesome. Well, Holly, there's a million other questions I want to ask because you just brought up this angle of education and how that folds it. There's so many things, but we'll leave that for another time. I feel like I've taken up enough time today, but I'm hoping that we get to do this again in the future. I just learned a lot. I wrote down a ton of things and my camera just went off, but I wrote down a ton of things that really beneficial. I appreciate you spending some time and my dogs are barking. This is where it ends.

Holly Firestone: It's perfect. One last thing is that I write a blog. It has tons of this information.

Host: Plug yourself, yes.

Holly Firestone: HollyFirestone. com, but it's not inaudible paid anything on medium. You can just go read all of it and always here to answer questions. If you want to ping me on Twitter, it's Holly Firestone.

Host: Awesome. I love it. I was going to mention make sure you plug yourself where people can find you. I follow you on Twitter now too. Good stuff. I feel in 2020, it's so odd to network, there's no ways to go have a coffee with people like,"I'm in your city." I feel like the new networking is like," I'm just going to follow you on LinkedIn or Twitter because I like your content. Then hopefully I get the chance to meet you one day through some connection that we have is the way I've approached 2020.

Holly Firestone: Is that the new way? It's been around since 2008. I don't know. I don't know.

Host: You're right. I think maybe I'm just slow to the game. I'm slow. I'm slow on the uptake. I'm just catching on. Now, I'm catching up. I don't know. You're probably 10 years ahead down. If you're on TikTok.

Holly Firestone: You think I'm old? I don't know what you're saying there.

Host: No. You brought up 2008, so now I'm thinking you're on TikTok.

Holly Firestone: I was alive in 2008 so there's that? No, not on TikTok. I can't get to TikTok because there's security issues as a whole thing. Have you read about it, whatever?

Host: I'm not on TikTok, that's probably the next platform for me is to go network with people on TikTok. It seems like.

Holly Firestone: I don't know if that's really a networking situation, but you do your thing.

Host: Well Holly, I appreciate you spend some time and looking forward to doing this again in the near future.

Holly Firestone: Sounds good. It was great chatting with you. Thanks for having me on.

Host: Hey guys, thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the Gain Grow Retain podcast. If you liked what you heard, please take a moment and share the podcast with your friends and colleagues and subscribe. We really appreciate it. Talk to you soon.


Holly Firestone joins us this week to talk about all things community, and the importance of listening to your community!

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Today's Host

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Jeff Breunsbach

|Director of Customer Experience at Higher Logic
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Jay Nathan

|Chief Customer Officer at Higher Logic

Today's Guests

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Holly Firestone

|Vice President of Community + Exec Team at Venafi