In 2008, two years after the Alteryx platform was released, Dean Stoecker went for a few customer meetings and learned that customers didn’t know how to use the product.
“I was embarrassed for myself, and I was embarrassed for the company, because we hadn't trained them. We hadn't shown them what the product could do. We didn't communicate its benefits or its ability to change their lives, or make their jobs easier,” he says.
At the time, the company was already hosting its Inspire conference but was struggling to figure out how to get people together. Dean, co-founder of Alteryx — the company, then known as SRC — began ramping up efforts around customer-first behaviors.
The company started hosting quarterly user group meetings to maintain the momentum of building connections throughout the year. The user groups grew to having representation in around 40 cities worldwide, with 100 people in each group. The next step was elevating people into the ACEs program — Alteryx Certified Experts.
“As we really started to break out, I knew that we had to do something different,” he says. “We were growing so fast, you couldn't scale linearly with support or marketing or product. We had to have the means to communicate with people and allow the community to communicate with each other and with us in meaningful ways. And so we launched the community.”
Alteryx brought in community consultant Brian Oblinger to build out the first version of the community and report directly to Dean. “I did that because I knew it had to have the messaging from the highest level in the organization so that employees and our customers and our partners knew that this was serious stuff and we meant business,” says Dean. “That it wasn't just about getting together once a year or once a quarter or naming ACEs. It was about putting together an environment where people could ideate, share ideas, and give us feedback. To me, it was the beginning of something very special.”
The platform’s goal is to make it easy for everyone from data analysts to C-level executives to understand and analyze data. “We took a complex area of data science and analytics and brought it to the people who drown in Excel and hate their jobs,” says Dean.
“But we knew that in order to elevate their skill sets — especially with a sophisticated, powerful platform like Alteryx — we had to have not just the traditional means but also new means to upskill them. Community became a critical component in that build out.”
One of the first decisions Dean made was to embed their community in the product. “We have a sophisticated platform. It’s got 260-plus building blocks that you can build out any analytic capability. That's 260 factorial, billions of combinations. No one's ever going to learn this thing if we don't allow them some frictionless environment to share and communicate with each other,” he says.
“The way we're going to do that, in part, is we're going to embed community in the product. Why should somebody have to leave the product they love to get to the community that they need?”
His biggest challenge, says Dean, was the pushback from the Product team, who thought that the community wasn’t software. “I said it’s a core component of product. And it's pretty clear based on usage and engagement and all the other measures for community that that was the right decision,” he says.
While the community metrics have validated that critical early decision, the business metrics show that the community has improved customer experience and contributed to business growth.
Dean says that two customer-facing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that have been critical for him at Alteryx are Net Promoter Scores (NPS) from customers and net expansion of revenue — and their Community-Led approach has positively impacted both.
“Customer trust defines the integrity of your company. And if they don't trust you, it's going to come out in very negative NPS scores,” says Dean. “I would argue that we've got probably twice the industry average for commercial B2B enterprise software plays in terms of our NPS scores.”
Alteryx's net expansion of revenue has consistently hovered around 120 across the entire customer base and for global 2,000 customers has been as high as 140, levels rarely seen in the SaaS world.
“A lot of that is attributed to the fact that we make the journey of getting, using, and loving Alteryx so incredibly powerful. Customers don't want to call up tech support and ask questions. They want to talk to experts in their field that may be in the same geography or in the exact same vertical with the same use case.”
The added benefit beyond building these connections, says Dean, is ticket deflection, so that tech support is free to handle the really tough challenges. “If you build community right, you should see no less than 80% ticket deflection. In our case, it’s north of 90% ticket deflection.”
Community can be a nebulous concept for stakeholders and investors to grasp, and translating it into these business metrics can help them understand its value.
“You've got to talk about the benefits of ticket deflection and customer engagement. About feedback to help your Product team — which is going to be a percentage of your total spend — which made them more efficient. It's got to be an economic conversation,” says Dean.
“We now know that community has a force multiplier effect. Customers who have their Alteryx users registered on community expand their Alteryx investment three times the level of what customers not on community spend.
“And we didn't browbeat anybody into spending that money. They figured out that, ‘If I can learn this, anyone can learn this’, and they started bringing their associates and doing larger contract deals. Because more questions exist in business than days in it to solve some of these problems.
“People are beginning to realize that you have to have a force multiplier effect, you can't scale linearly. If you want high-growth companies, you've got to have easier mechanisms to allow that to occur. Meanwhile, you are getting all the benefits that you thought you would also get: better retention, a larger expansion, ticket deflection, NPS scores, and all the benefits there.”
The community’s feedback for the Product team is something Alteryx takes seriously — it’s one of the key ways the company ideates to improve its platform.
“We've put in dozens of product features, even community features, based on customer feedback. And yes, you can have these meetings face-to-face, and you can have roundtables and premier customer programs. But you can also just listen to any customer who's having difficulty with the way the UI or UX works, or the integration of this part with this part,” says Dean.
“You’ve got to be willing to hear customers out and give them good feedback as to why you will or why you can't include a feature. We actually post which features have already been added, which ones are already on the roadmap, and which ones have either been declined or rejected for some specific reason.
“A lot of software companies, especially enterprise companies, don't want to hear their customers bitch and moan about difficulties with the product. But if you don't want to listen to customers then don't have a community, because it's an obligation at that point.”
Building a community can be difficult, especially when executives don’t see community as a benefit to an organization, Dean says. “[Community] is a perfect play for financials of an organization, so stick with it. Build out communities, share what you’ve done. Because ultimately, the software world is going to be dominated by great communities who will help companies build better products.”