Some of the world's biggest brands have succeeded in large part due to their strong communities of brand evangelists. With limited resources, how can a scrappy startup build and scale a community?
In this week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast, Nikki Nixon talks about building the #FlipMyFunnel community and what it took to take it from a small event sponsored by Terminus to a 7,000+ person movement focused on improving the effectiveness of B2B marketing, sales and customer success professionals.
From conferences and events, to a private Slack channel, blog contributor program, local meetups, and more, Nikki has built a variety of channels for community participation, all of which have contributed to the growth of FlipMyFunnel's passionate audience.
Listen to the podcast to learn how Nikki has grown the FlipMyFunnel community, or read the transcript below.
Nikki Nixon (guest): Thank you. Excited to be here.
Kathleen: I'm so excited to have you. You are actually the first community manager that I've had on this podcast. Your title's Director, but really your function is the person that brings the community together for FlipMyFunnel, and I'm very curious to hear all about it. Tell our listeners a little bit about what FlipMyFunnel is, who you are, your background, et cetera.
Nikki: FlipMyFunnel is a community for B2B practitioners, so that's marketing, sales, customer success, anyone really who has a role in the B2B customer journey. So that's why we exist. We're here purely to serve, and really help those folks make sure that they have the resources they need to really excel in their roles. And so we just want to help to make them successful. We actually get really excited when we see people in the community get promoted, because that means that we have done our job in helping them to really excel in their roles. So that's really why FlipMyFunnel exists, and who it's for.
I was actually employee number six at Terminus. So I was the first marketer of Terminus as well. And it really started as a way to help grow Terminus, and get Terminus off the ground.
If your listeners are not familiar with Terminus, we are an account based marketing platform. And at the time we entered the category it was a very young category, and there was only one key player in the market that was really the 800 pound gorilla in the market. And here we come. We're not even a silicon valley startup. We're actually based out of Atlanta. So we really had to challenge the status quo and really make a name for ourselves in a way that was unique, and had not really been done before. So we set out to create the category of account based marketing.
So that was how it started. And today, now, we are, we still exist within Terminus, but we are very focused on educating the practitioner as I mentioned before. So that's our primary goal, and what we set out to do every single day.
Kathleen: You started the community several years ago. Talk to me about what this community looks like. Where does it live? Where's home?
Nikki: Well, the physical home, we're based here in Atlanta, and that's actually where we started. And we do have a sizable group here in Atlanta that are all "Funnel Flippers" is what we call our community members. But what we realized as we started to go on this journey is that it wasn't just geographically based. And we learned this when we released the first FlipMyFunnel ABM survey report and we started to see downloads from all over the world. We realized, wow, this thing really has a global reach.
So it really started as events. And we started with our first event here in Atlanta, and then we went on to do them around the country. And what we realized is that events can only get you so far in terms of reach, in terms of the people that you're going to reach.
So we really started to hone in on our digital property and we built FlipMyFunnel.com. We launched the Slack community at a time when Slack communities really weren't a thing. It's actually funny. I get a lot of inquiries from people now who are trying to launch Slack communities. And they always ask me, "How long does it take to really get things going, and get engagement, and things like that?" And I say, "Look, when we built this, it wasn't even a thing. People were still doing LinkedIn groups." And they still are, but LinkedIn groups I think are fading away as well.
But what I realized is that our engagement initially in the Slack community was very slow. And I was starting to think, "Okay. Maybe this wasn't the right platform for us to choose. And probably about a year ago it really took off. We got flooded with requests for practitioners to come into the Slack community and we started to see it really just sort of grow organically. And the conversation was happening organically. We weren't even really proactively monitoring it anymore. It was really being led by the community, which was always our vision for it. But it took a couple of years longer than we actually thought. And now, looking back on it, what we realized is that it was way ahead of its time. And it was something that most people weren't doing, and they weren't even really considering.
So that was really the launch of our digital presence. And then we also built out our blog. Now we've moved it more from us writing articles... We do still publish some articles on our own, but we also have contributed articles as well, because we really do want this to be about the community. It's not about us. It's about them. And that's the approach that we take every single day.
Kathleen: So how large is the community? You have several different platforms that the community engages on. Tell me a little bit about the numbers on these different platforms.
Nikki: Yep. We look at our total community size, collectively, across every single touchpoint. And so we consider a touchpoint anything that someone signed up for or engages with us on. So that can be Slack. It can be a live event. It could be, we have circles now, which are basically like small round tables all over the country. So there's a lot of different things that are happening. And collectively we look at those in terms of the size of the community. And that number, we just crossed 7,000. So that's pretty exciting for us, and we obviously wanto to continue to grow that on and on.
Kathleen: All right. So let's break this down. You've got FlipMyFunnel.com, where you and some contributors are blogging. That website has an actual online community within it, that people can join.
Nikki: Yeah. So that's really the Slack community. And then also we have blog subscriptions as another touchpoint as well. But our community, where people really gather, I guess like our "online watering hole" if you will, is really the Slack community.
Kathleen: Who can join that? How do you join it?
Nikki: It actually lives right on the homepage, on FlipMyFunnel.com. So we wanna make it super easy for people to join the community. And anyone can join it really, anyone who's interested in B2B. Most of the people that are in there are marketing, sales, or customer success practitioners. We do have some C level folks, like CEOs, startup founders, things like that. But the bulk is really marketing, sales, and customer success practitioners.
Kathleen: And once you're in that Slack community, what would someone expect to find in there? What kinds of different channels are there, and what sorts of conversations are happening?
Nikki: So that's really interesting. We are kind of going through an evolution of our channels in the Slack community. We started initially with a channel for every stage of the flip funnel was our first thought on it. And what we realized is that the conversation was highly fragmented. So we really sort of evolved our channels into, there's an introductions channel, so you can come in and introduce yourself to the community, what you're about, what you're looking for. And then there's also a resources channel. So that's really where you can find different types of account based resources, B2B resources. There's an events channel where people post things about events that they're doing. And then there's also a ask me anything channel. And that's really where the organic conversation happens. And that's where community members will connect with one another. They'll post questions. And it's really cool to watch somebody post a question, and within a matter of moments, and I think this is the magic of a Slack channel. Within a matter of moments, the other community members will chime in and answer that person's question.
So we actually have a girl in the Slack community who will ask questions before she goes into a meeting with her boss, like the questions that she anticipates that her boss will ask, because she knows she's gonna get immediate answers. And then she'll walk in looking like a hero in front of her boss.
Kathleen: That is so smart. It kind of makes think, wow, how neat would it be if you could invent something where it was like a little earpiece, so you could make it into the meeting with your boss, and the Slack community, it would transcribe the questions in real time, and sort of getting to be very James Bond-y, and feed you the answers on your sunglasses.
Nikki: Yeah. So I think that's the magic of the Slack community is really just having that real time -- about as real time as it gets -- access to other practitioners who are doing what you're doing, and have been in the trenches like you're in the trenches, and know what you're going through and can help you work through pretty much any challenge you might be facing at a time.
Kathleen: And how have you grown that Slack community? You said it took a few years. What kinds of things were you doing to spread awareness of it, generate interest in it, and encourage people to actually join?
Nikki: It has been largely organic. I wish there was some silver bullet I could share with you. I think what happened when we really hit an inflection point of people starting to flood into this community was, the people who were in there really started to see the value of it. They started to realize the real time value of it, that they can get their questions answered in real time, and that it's a way that they can connect with other members of the community or funnel flippers in a way that is not possible in pretty much any other platform. And I think they started to see that and really, a lot of it was word of mouth. We started to get emails of, "Hey, I'm in the Slack community. Can you invite my three colleagues to the Slack community as well?" So we started to get a lot of those. And then also, a lot of it was organic. Like I said, it lives on the homepage, so it's one of the first things that people see when they land on FlipMyFunnel.com is the Slack community. So that's really helped as well to generate awareness around it.
Kathleen: And are there any particular strategies that you used to raise awareness for the website itself?
Nikki: A lot of that is inbound marketing. A lot of it is the content that we're publishing. Also, the ABM survey report is another asset that has gotten a lot of attention, that we've been able to draw a lot of people to the site with as well. A lot of people come there looking for that, 'cause it's essentially like a benchmarking report, so you can see really how you stack up compared to your peers in the industry. So that's another area that has really driven a lot of folks to the website as well.
Kathleen: So that's original research that's being carried out by FlipMyFunnel?
Nikki: Yep. We do that once a year, and we are actually about to do that again. We do it in Q1 of every year, and we try to publish the report around the March/April timeframe. So probably by the time this podcast actually goes live, we'll be in the midst of that as well. So I definitely would encourage your listeners to go to the site, take the survey, check out the survey report, and definitely be a part of that as well.
And it is fascinating, especially now that we have multiple years of research, it's fascinating to really see the differences between year to year.
Kathleen: I bet. And outside of that original research, any particular types of content that really perform for you in terms of attracting people and getting them to convert?
Nikki: I think that the Slack Group is probably the best. We also have built out hubs on the website as well. So we have a wealth of videos from all of the conferences we've done. We did 8 conferences in 18 months, which was crazy. And we recorded every session from every one of those conferences. We're actually still putting that content online, because there's so much content. But we started to build out hubs for each of the personas that we serve within the community. So there's a marketing hub, a sales hub, a customer success hub. The links to those all live on the homepage of FlipMyFunnel.com as well. So we're starting to add that content to that and also to our YouTube page as well.
Kathleen: So would you say that those hubs are kind of like a pillar content strategy, where they're the content home base on your site for that topic?
Nikki: Yeah. We realized that we were sitting on a lot of content, and we needed to find a way for people to easily access it when they come to the site. So if you're a marketer, you can go to the marketing hub, and you can find videos, you can find blog posts, you can find all sorts of different stuff, past webinars that we've done. We've also done recordings of those, so there's a lot there that people can ... I mean, you could go to marketing hub and probably spend hours watching stuff and reading things. Yeah. You could spend all day there if you wanted to.
Kathleen: That's great. So you have the community itself, and then the events are really an extension of that. And I can't believe you did, what was it, 8 conferences in 18 months?
Nikki: Yeah. 8 conferences.
Kathleen: Talk to me a little bit about this event strategy and what do these events look like? I'm thinking that you're Superwoman, or you have a clone out there or something.
Nikki: W started with our first event here in Atlanta, and we really just took the show on the road after that. Here's the interesting thing -- we never set out to do any of this. This has sort of evolved as we've gone on this journey, and we've seen it catch on, and we've seen the community grow. So it's really, in some ways, it's kind of just been flying by the seat of our pants a little bit. We started out with our first event here in Atlanta. We had 300 people. We actually out-trended Kim Kardashian that day on Twitter, which was pretty awesome. And I know there's differing opinions about Kim Kardashian, but-
Kathleen: You broke the internet.
Nikki: We broke the internet more than Kim that day. But what we realized is that we had a message that was really resonating with our audience, with the people in the market, and that sort of thing.
So we took it on the road. We went to Boston and Chicago and those were half day events that we did. We realized there's almost as much work to do a half day event as there is to do a full day event. And we get way more buzz, and hype, and excitement, and interest around a full day event. So we went to San Francisco, which is hands down my favorite event of all time. If you have any listeners in San Francisco, we were at 969 Market, which is a really awesome, garage-style venue in San Francisco. And I think that really just made the event super awesome. And we brought in a lot of cool furniture. We had some great speakers. We did some really interesting things from the experience standpoint. One of those was that we had protestors. We actually hired fake protesters outside of our own conference to really kind of draw people in, create buzz.
One funny story about that was that we didn't tell the security of the venue. The venue had really high security. And we tried to keep this thing a secret. We didn't even tell a lot of people inside Terminus.
Anyway, we get to the first day, and I realize, the security guy is like the FBI. He's got this earpiece, and he's got his little lapel mic, and so I realize, okay these people are coming, and he's probably going to shoo them away because they're trying to break into our conference. And we paid them to protest for the morning of our conference, so they had their picket signs. And I tell the guy, and he's totally confused, and he's like, "I don't get it." I was like, "Well just don't chase them away. Let them stay."
Anyway, I went down like an hour later to make sure everything was going as planned. And he was like, "You know," he's like, "I didn't get it when you first told me about it." He's like, "But now I do. And that's kind of interesting that you guys hired-"
Kathleen: I'm dying to know what their signs said. What did you have them protesting?
Nikki: They were basically protesting account based marketing, and advocating for like a lead-based approach. So that was kinda what their signs said. I don't remember exactly what the verbiage was on their signs because it's been a while. But that's basically it. And they got into it. I mean, it was a local events company that we hired, and they totally got into character, and they were walking around on the picket line, and so-
Kathleen: That's so funny.
Nikki: Yeah. And the other thing that we did that was really cool at that event is we did a lead graveyard. So we created this whole experience around saying goodbye to your bad leads, and we created these tombstones, and we basically had this room that we couldn't do anything else with, so we were like, what if we created a lead graveyard? We made a video that went along with it. We hired this company to do a lot of green screen stuff. And so what was interesting about that was we had the tombstones, and we had the up lights, and we had the green grass carpet, like literally it did look like a graveyard. And we put a rose on each person's chair. And we basically told them to take the rose down and drop it at one of the tombstones, and pay your last respects to your dead leads.
There were three levels in the building. So I go down there probably about halfway through the day, and I don't see any flowers down there, and I'm like, "Okay, maybe this idea isn't as entertaining as we thought it would be." So I was kinda bummed at that point. And then I see the cleaning lady. She comes by with a handful of roses, and she throws them in the trash. And I was like, where did she get those from? And she said, "I got them from downstairs," and I realized that she thought they were trash, because they were on the floor. So we had some really funny execution stories with that event, but the atmosphere was really awesome. The people were really great. So that's really why it was my favorite event.
Kathleen: That is amazing. I have to stop you for one second. That is amazing, and so creative. I absolutely love it. How do you top that?
Nikki: Well, we topped it really just by, I mean, we just kinda kept going. We went to Austin a couple of months after that. And in Austin we did like a festival thing, 'cause it's like South by Southwest. So we did a festival theme and we had food trucks in the lobby area. It really looked like downtown Austin in our expo area. That was something different that we did there.
Then we went to Boston again, and all the while, while we were doing this as well, one point that I wanna make, is we were also expanding our content. So about the time that we went into Austin, we realized that we had this account based marketing message, and we were talking about marketing and sales alignment. But we didn't have any sales content, and we weren't bringing sales into the conversation, into our reps. So Austin was the first place where we actually were very intentional about bringing in that sales content.
And then we came back to Atlanta, and then we went back to San Francisco again for Revenue Summit where we partnered with Sales Hacker. We kept growing our audience, but we also kept growing our content, and the audiences that we were serving as well.
So I think that it was kind of this evolution of just starting with this small, 300 person conference where it was just about B2B and account based marketing, and expanding it to expanding the content, the number of audiences we were serving, the people who were showing up. So yeah. It's just been, it's been an interesting evolution.
Kathleen: That is so fascinating. Now, tell me a little more about how you generated attendance for the events, because you started in Atlanta, but then you went to all these other cities. How did you make inroads there?
Nikki: A lot of it was through really sort of organic efforts. Some people had already known about the movement because they had seen the buzz online, particularly with Twitter. We keep everything under the hashtag #FlipMyFunnel, and we're very adamant about that, because we want to make sure that we continue to generate that audience. We did some paid advertising as well. A lot of it was on Twitter. Some of it was on LinkedIn.
We did also acquire some lists as well, to help with that, particularly in areas where we didn't already have a presence. Some cities were easier than others, I will say that. San Francisco was a little bit easier, just because there's more of a tech heavy audience there. Boston was easier because we had a lot of relationships in Boston. I would say Austin was a little bit harder, because we didn't have as many relationships in Austin, so we had to really kind of work harder to form those relationships, and so that helped as well.
A lot of it was relationship driven, people that we knew there, that really believed in what we were doing, and really wanted to help us out as well.
So that was part of it. One thing that we did in Austin that was pretty cool was we did a direct mail campaign with PFL. We had a list of enterprise companies that we wanted to invite, and we sent giant funnels to their office. These funnels were probably at least two feet tall. They were big.
Nikki: You could not miss these things. And basically it was this giant funnel that was like the flip funnel, and then on the back it had all the event information, and like a promo code at the bottom.
We ran the numbers on that. I think it was around 50% of the accounts that we sent it to had somebody at the conference. So that was a pretty successful campaign, and a way for us to really break through the noise.
In Austin, we also partnered with the Austin Technology Council, because they also had a lot of the relationships as well with some of these larger companies.
What's interesting is that when we went to Austin, there weren't very many tech conferences going to Austin. That was almost two years ago. Now I think every tech company has gone to Austin, and is doing events there now.
Kathleen:South by Southwest is almost bigger than the city of Austin at this point, and yeah, it's enormous.
Kathleen: That's amazing, the transformation that's taken place with that. You mentioned when it first started your conference it was a little 300 person conference. And now you have one coming up this fall in Boston. How big do you expect that to be?
Nikki: We expect at least a thousand practitioners there, so marketing and sales. And we're really excited about that. That'll actually be our third time in Boston. I'm excited about going back to Boston again. We'll be at the convention center. One interesting thing about the convention center is that's where INBOUND is held. We had it at the convention center last time as well, and we really went into it with this thought that if it's good enough for INBOUND, it's good enough for us. So we are taking over an additional floor this year in the convention center, so that's really exciting as well. We'll have the top floor, with all the ballroom space, as well as an additional wing.
Kathleen: That's a large facility.
Nikki: Yeah. Bring your walking shoes. You're going to FlipMyFunnel. It's probably not the day to wear your cute heels. Yeah.
Kathleen: It's so funny, because I have not been to FlipMyFunnel, although I should go this year, but I have been to INBOUND. There's always all these women who are wearing really high heels, and I think, "You are not gonna be able to walk by the end of the day."
Nikki: Oh yeah. For sure. Yeah, we're really excited about that. It's a really nice venue. In my opinion, it's the best venue in Boston. There's really no better place that we could do that.
Kathleen: That's great. And tell me a little bit about the vision for where you see the community going in the future.
Nikki: We are slowing down our events, in the sense that we're not going to do 8 in 18 months again. But what we are going to do is continue to build our marquee event, and have it once a year, and really just make that event the absolute best event, one that's on everybody's calendar. And I think to some degree it already is. We're starting to hear that more and more, that people just look forward to FlipMyFunnel events.
In terms of the event, we really do wanna grow that. We would love to be in the thousands, or sorry, the upper thousands. We'd love to fill up the entire convention center and have just tons and tons of sessions, and have a multi-day conference. But also, I think another important thing for us as well is, we want to continue to grow the online community as well. There are people who may never attend our conferences. We hope they will, but they may be on the other side of the world. They may not be able to make the trip, but we'd still want them to be able to benefit from FlipMyFunnel. So I think that's where our online presence really comes in hand. We really do want to continue to grow our Slack community as well.
We're also investing in one property that I haven't really talked about very much, which is FlipMyFunnel.org. That is also an online platform, and we're determining the long term use of that. Right now, we're using it primarily for the conference, and voting on sessions and stuff like that. But that may also evolve into another property that we invest in down the line. So really just a massive B2B community.
I would love to see us expand more into the sales audience, because I do think there's opportunity for us to really serve both communities well. And I think the interesting thing about that is, while we do want them to be aligned, they also have unique needs as well, and they think differently, and they approach things differently. And so that always challenges us as well to really think about our approach, and make sure that we're really serving both communities.
Kathleen: Great. And one of the things I think that you all have done that's really smart is building your community in places where you really have control, like Slack. I mean, you really do own it. Because the danger with other platforms, whether it's a LinkedIn group or a Facebook group or what have you, is ultimately that those platforms can change the rules of the game on you, and that can erode so much of what you've created. I like that all of the different efforts that you all have put in are in areas where you have full control and you can really shape the direction it goes in the future.
Nikki: And I think what's really important to us as well, is that we put so much value into experience. We want someone to have a great experience, regardless of where they interact with us. And I think having those things on platforms that we own and that we have control over really allows us to optimize the experience in ways that we may not be able to in LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups. That's not to say that we may never do those things, but I think for right now it's serving us well to really be able to optimize the community and the experience.
Kathleen: So interesting. Two questions I always like to ask all of my guests. The first is, company or individual, who do you think is doing inbound marketing really well right now?
Nikki: One of my heroes is Maria Pergolino. She actually just started a new role as the CMO at Anaplan. She's just so smart, and she figures out these creative, innovative ways to do things that really are just the cutting edge of B2B. And I think even looking at stuff from her conferences and her events, I know that I really draw a lot of inspiration from there.
And the other company that I would say is doing really well, or person, is Dave Gerhardt at Drift. I think they've done a phenomenal job coming into a really crowded space. They didn't create a new category. They're really coming into a space where there were a lot of incumbents who had been there for a long time. And I think they've done an awesome job creating an inbound engine. And of course some of that I think has to do with the fact that they're both previously from HubSpot, and they know the inbound model, and they get it, so that plays a large part in it. But also, I think they're not afraid to try new things as well, and experiment with stuff. So I think those would be the two that I really admire the most.
Kathleen: You are the third person in a row I've interviewed for this podcast who's mentioned Dave Gerhardt at Drift. So I'm going to have to get him on.
Nikki:Dave Cancel too. Shout out to Dave. He definitely earned that promotion for sure.
Kathleen: There you go. That's another one of those "member of the community got promoted." I love it.
Kathleen: Second question for you is, with the world of marketing and particularly digital marketing changing so quickly, where do you go to stay up to date and to educate yourself?
Nikki: I'm gonna challenge the status quo on this question. I don't believe in playbooks, so I actually don't look at what a lot of people are doing, because I kind of have this belief that if you spend too much time looking at what other people are doing, you end up kinda just being them, versus really coming up with your own ideas and inspiration.
I would challenge a lot of marketers to do that as well. Maybe to not be so obsessed with what X company is doing or Y company is doing, and really coming up with your own way to do things. And I think that's why I admire Dave Gerhardt so much, and Maria as well -- they are really the ones who are leading the charge and coming up with fresh, new ideas, that are not the same tried and true things that everyone else is doing.
That being said, I draw a lot of inspiration from my environment, and where I'm at. And it could be a lot of random things. I could read a book that's completely unrelated to marketing and I start thinking, "Oh, well that's a really interesting way to approach that." I will say along the lines of books, one book that I read that I think any person in business should absolutely read is Shoe Dog. And it's the story of Nike, and how Phil Knight boot strapped the business. There are things in there about sales, marketing, customer success, supplier relationships -- you name it. If you're in business, and you read that book, there is absolutely something that you can learn from that. He even talks about things like sponsorships and relationships and things like that.
So I think my answer there is probably a little more non-traditional than most. But I think that's how I sort of keep things fresh is really just drawing inspiration from non-marketing places.
Kathleen: I like it. And obviously you're somebody who's come up with creative ideas, because the whole hired protesters, and graveyard and roses are very original. So it's working, clearly.
Nikki: I actually can't take credit for the protesters. That was Sangram. So Sangram also is pretty fresh with his ideas, so I'll give him credit for that one. He came up with that.
Kathleen: That's great. Well, thank you so much. This has been really fascinating for me. If people have questions or want to reach out to you for more information, what's the best was for them to get in touch?
Nikki: They can tweet at me. I live on Twitter. So @techmarketerATL is my Twitter handle. Or you can find me on LinkedIn, Nikki Nixon. It's pretty easy to find. Nikki Nixon Atlanta. If you Google it too, you'll probably find all the properties.
Kathleen: And I'll put those links in the show notes as well.
Nikki: Thank you. Appreciate you having me. This was fun.
Kathleen:It was fun. And if you enjoyed listening to this episode, please give the podcast a review on the platform of your choice. That helps us a lot.If you know somebody who's doing really kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at@WorkMommyWorkbecause I would love to interview them. That's it for this week. Thank you.
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