The first version of the Gainsight community was launched in 2013 with happy hours at their 3,000-square-foot office in Mountain View, California.
The company had launched earlier that year, building software designed to help companies grow their business through customer success when only about 1,000 people were working in the profession.
The Gainsight team served wine and cheese, and Customer Success Managers (CSMs) showed up — repeatedly. “They clearly weren't showing up for the crappy cheese or the cheap grocery store wine. They were showing up because they wanted to. They felt like they were alone, and they wanted to meet other people like them,” says Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight. When he would ask them how the event was, he heard a pattern in their answers: “‘I feel a little less alone. I guess I'm not the only one going through this’.”
In May 2013, Gainsight turned these happy hours into Pulse, a conference for customer success professionals in San Francisco. They expected 50 people to attend — 300 did.
Fast forward nine years and Pulse has grown into an event that thousands of customer success professionals attend both in-person and virtually. “Yet, at every event even to this day, if you ask people about the value, they're like, ‘I guess I feel like I'm not alone. And I'm not the only one going through this’,” says Nick. “That's how community became the core of our company.”
If you'd like to hear his interview on The Community-Led show instead, listen here.
In 2014, well before Pulse had become the massive industry event it is today, Gainsight created an online community for CSMs worldwide to connect with one another and with the Gainsight team. Their Community Manager (CM) looks after this community, where power users share tips and best practices on customer success and the product.
But at Gainsight, community isn’t just the CM’s job — the whole team is involved in the community, says Nick.
“Community has specific tactics and functions, but it’s also a philosophy inside a company,” he says. “Everyone in Gainsight is in community, 100%.”
‘Everyone’ includes — in addition to their CM — a team member who helps lead an independent Slack community for customer success operations professionals, the marketing team that creates events that have community built-in, and employees who mentor people who reach out to them on LinkedIn, and even Nick himself.
“Software companies are now community companies,” says Nick. “That's the fundamental thing that’s changing. Whatever you build, somebody else is going to build it. The only long-term differentiator is your community that's using that software and making it better and helping to inform it.”
In fact, the team is so confident in the power of community that it acquired inSided, the company that built the platform the Gainsight community lives in.
“Our online community became a big source of innovation for us. Thousands of our product features came out of that community, and people really support each other and grow their careers,” says Nick. “We knew community was part of our strategy, and we heard over and over again from our customers about how they need to scale and drive more adoption through community.”
The Gainsight team knew the inSided team and product well, and in late 2021 the company acquired inSided to help the customer success community build stronger connections. “We’re trying to get more sophisticated about how [our various community efforts] can reinforce each other,” says Nick. “One of the things that Robin [van Lieshout], the founder of inSided, is helping us think about is the strategy to connect these things together over time.”
Gainsight sees community not just as an integral part of the company, but also of the customer success industry. “One of the most powerful ways to get a customer to do more with your product or service is to get them to talk to other customers,” says Nick.
“That could be a one-on-one conversation, a user group or online forum, a Slack group. It doesn't really matter what the modality is. Community is the superpower for customer success. It’s a way for customer success to scale.”
Companies can reach millions of potential customers thanks to the widespread scope of technology — but technology has also given customers many options to choose from. Retaining customers is a top priority for every company. “Net retention is one of the biggest drivers of evaluation in public companies. Everyone knows that if you can keep and grow your customers, your company's going to be worth a lot more,” says Nick.
The challenge arises when a company has millions or even thousands of customers, and its CSMs simply can’t help every single customer personally. The solution, Nick says, is community.
“Your community is the way to turbocharge net retention,” he says. “If your customers are getting really good at using your products and services, getting a lot of value, and then talking to other people and helping them along, that's how your customers will grow.”
Community-Led companies like Gainsight understand the power of community and the value it brings to the company and the industry. But not every community professional gets the same level of support to build and nurture a community. To get leadership buy-in, community professionals need to highlight the business value of community — both quantitative and qualitative.
“Every good community over time will have statistics that show there's a good correlation between people being active in the community, buying more, or adopting your software,” says Nick. These analytics are important — and so are the stories of your community members. “People get convinced by their mind and their heart. You can't just do one or the other, you’ve got to do both. What are those stories you can put in front of executives?”
Those stories can be anything from a community member who changed jobs and signed their new company as a customer, or a member who renewed because of the value of the community. Whatever the business case is, document those stories, says Nick, and share them regularly with the executive team.
“Make it practical and human. Have a slide with a person’s photo and get a quote from them,” he says. “We can't forget that behind every record in Salesforce, every website visitor, every opportunity, or every deal or renewal is a human being or set of human beings.
“And that's what I love about community. It’s really humanizing business.”