Whenever I connect with other founders and CEOs, there’s one question I get asked all the time:
“We have this amazing, thriving community — but how do we turn them into customers?”
I recently got this question from a CEO who heads up a company with a fast-growing 750-member community. Some of them were leaders from big-name companies, too, which had her understandably excited. “I would have killed to get on these people’s radars a few months ago — and now they’re just voluntarily joining and learning about us.”
A few weeks ago she asked me the same question, and I suggested she start by just reaching out and connecting more intentionally with her community. She did just that, and got in touch with 40 people to set up a call — all members who weren’t customers, but were her company’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
Of those 40, 19 people responded. For starters, this was astonishing to her. How else would she have been able to get in touch with 40 ideal customers, let alone get responses from almost 50% of them? To put that last data point into perspective, recent research puts the average cold email response rate at just 8.5%.
Another thing that surprised my CEO friend was the turnaround time. By the time she and I spoke, 10 members had made time to jump on a call with her within a week or two.
The conversations, too, were promising. Her company's product came up naturally in 8 of these chats, and it was mostly the members themselves who first mentioned it. Of those 8 people, 6 were clearly experiencing the pain point her product solved, and weren’t currently using a similar tool to help them fix it.
She didn't want to push them to buy right then and there, but they were the ideal customers. She knew her product could genuinely help them in their work.
So: she’d already seen how powerful community can be when it comes to getting a foot in the door. But what next? What were her next steps to Community-Led revenue?
First: There’s no one-size-fits-all model for converting community members into customers. But it helps enormously to understand the nuance of different members at different stages. I like to separate them into three buckets: hot, warm, and slow-burn.
My CEO friend had an advantage that most Sales teams would kill for. She was on a call with 6 members where:
In cases like these, my advice is straightforward: just ask them if they’re interested in your product. If you know that you can actually help your members solve a pain point right now — and they raised it without prompting — have that conversation.
Maybe they’d like a demo sometime. Or, better yet, maybe you could connect them to one of your product champions, a customer who can show them how they use the tool (creating a valuable connection for both customer and member, regardless of whether the latter buys or not).
I’m not saying you should whip out your pitch deck or immediately bring your first available salesperson into the call. But in these cases, an authentic conversation about your product won’t be seen as an imposition. You’re there to solve an actual problem they have, not sell to them in a high-pressure way (I’m looking at you, cold email sequences).
The ‘warm’ bucket is for your ‘organic influence’ leads. Members in this cohort might be your ICP, but the opportunity to showcase your product hasn’t presented itself organically the way it did with your ‘hot’ folks.
Here, as is the case with my CEO friend, the community gives you an advantage. If your potential customers are active in your community (even if you haven’t jumped on a 1-on-1 call with them), you‘ll learn a little bit more about them with every interaction. What questions are they asking? What problems are facing now?
Armed with this knowledge, there are other ways your company can provide value beyond your product: think content and events that show them how to solve their problems. Or an intentional connection with another member who might be able to help. You know what their pain points are — what resources do you have or can you create to help them?
Say, for example, Lucy, who comes from a company you know could really benefit from your product, is battling with moderation — and your product has a feature that can help her with this.
Your next step could be a series of content or events that showcase that specific piece of your product. A great way to showcase this could be to bring in a current customer to walk your members through their moderation strategy through a workshop or AMA.
It’s unlikely Lucy is the only member who will benefit from these resources — you may end up converting other members, too. You’re using your new knowledge of your members to drive awareness where there might not have been before.
This bucket applies to everyone else in the community, and it’s less passive than hot and warm.
This is where you lean into the power of a holistic, trust-building experience with your brand — and it’s where your community really shines.
Because unlike a traditional sales and marketing funnel, community members don’t disappear if they don’t move along the process.
Maybe a member doesn’t have any budget for a tool like yours. Maybe they already use another one. Hey, maybe they aren’t even your usual ICP. In the old funnel model, leads like these, who don’t move down the funnel, disappear into the ether of closed/lost.
But unlike leads, your members are still members. They’re still part of your ecosystem. They’re learning from your content, getting value from your events, tapping into the expertise of their fellow members, making meaningful connections with both them and your employees.
Through all of this, you’re building trust and brand authority, and showing that you genuinely care about helping them make their lives easier.
And when they’re ready to buy, you’ll be top-of-mind.
Even with the best Community-Led sales strategy, is my CEO friend going to convert all 750 members? Probably not. But, unlike in a traditional sales process, these members are creating value (and even revenue) for her company in countless ways — beyond actually buying their product.
Perhaps they’ll invite a friend into the community — and maybe that person will become a customer. Perhaps they’ll host an event — attended by another member who will become a customer. Perhaps they’ll forge an important relationship with another member, making your community a more valuable space for them — convincing them to become a customer.
There’s also the value of simply having access to a cohort of your ICP. Even if they’re not interested in the product right now, learning more about them likely helps you improve your product, your marketing, and so much more.
In traditional sales, if this cohort of people hadn’t been interested in the product, you’d never have gotten a conversation with them in the first place. You’d never find out why the product is not a good fit for them right now — you’re getting invaluable context that you’d never be able to tap into without the community.
I want to end here with an important caveat: your community should not exist for the sole purpose of selling. Think about it: would you join a community where you’re constantly hounded to buy a product? A community worth joining is one where members get real value in the form of genuine connections with their peers and content, resources, events, and more — not one where members are treated like fish in a barrel for salespeople.
Reaping all the benefits I’ve mentioned above starts with creating a safe, welcoming, valuable space or program for your members. The rest will follow.