In the spotlight: Robbie Kellman Baxter, Author, “The Membership Economy”
The fastest growing businesses today have a powerful secret weapon: superusers. This special group of customers goes far beyond using your services regularly and paying promptly. In fact, by evangelizing, educating, onboarding, engaging with new customers, and offering crucial feedback, they can grow your brand into an empire. Further, superusers provide trustworthy validation of your products or services, which, in our age of cynicism, is far more powerful than any ad you could run yourself.
Superusers profoundly impact the success of many brands today. They are also a key to success in the Membership Economy—an emerging model in which businesses create a customer-centric strategy using tactics like subscription pricing, inclusiveness, and digital community. Membership economy expert Robbie Kellman Baxter says that if you can convert your brand’s regular members into superusers, you will gain a distinct edge in today’s competitive market.
“Your superusers are those customers who show up a lot, send you support requests, submit the most comments in your brand’s community, speak at your events, serve as references, and send tons of new members your way,” explains Baxter, author of The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue (McGraw-Hill Education). “These valuable members do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Imagine how much more successful you could be if more of your members evolved into superusers.”
As an example, Baxter says that the CrossFit community has more deeply embraced the Membership Economy, and its emphasis on long-term relationships both with and among customers, than nearly any other exercise organization. As a result, they have built a passionate league of superusers.
First, CrossFit makes membership easy by offering one program to everyone, in the form of a short but challenging hour-long workout. Each WOD, or workout of the day, is published on their website, and every CrossFit “box” (what they call their gyms) in the world does the same WOD each day. Even if you can’t make it to the box, you can find the WOD and do it on your own. Second, they make it personal by assigning each new member to a small group that works out together, three times a week. These groups really get to know each other, as no one can leave a workout until everyone has successfully completed all exercises. They cheer one another on in their efforts to achieve personal records—not “best in the gym” but “my own best performance” and build deep relationships characterized by trust and support.
“When managed well, your superusers can take a lot of pressure off your sales and marketing teams, while also building a rabid ‘fan’ culture that gives you confidence in making future investments,” says Baxter. “But first, you have to nurture your existing superusers while also developing new ones. The trouble is, many brands don’t know how their existing superusers ‘happened’ in the first place. Nor are they sure how to create more of them.”
She offers the following tips:
First, evaluate what your superusers do for you now
Superusers selflessly invest their energy in helping your business grow. Common ways they contribute are by recruiting new customers, training them by acting as “experts,” posting or leading sections in online communities, volunteering to help with events, participating in focus groups and surveys, testing new products and services, and allowing journalists to contact them. Define what those best behaviors are for your organization.
Understand what your superusers have in common
Make a list of some of your customers who behave like superusers and look for patterns among them. Do they share demographic similarities? Do they onboard in the same way? What behaviors are shared? When you can identify their similarities, you can often anticipate where your next batch of superusers may be hiding.
“When you look closely, you may find unexpected trends among your superusers,” says Baxter. “One of my clients discovered that his most demanding customers were consistently the ones who ended up recruiting many new customers and helping with product development. It goes to show that you shouldn’t discount the value of any of your members—even difficult customers might be superusers if you take the time to understand what drives them.”
Figure out what’s in it for them
Superusers engage with your brand because it fills a need of theirs. Citing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Baxter observes that after having their basic physiological needs met, people try to mitigate risk, achieve belonging and status for their contributions and achievements, and ultimately reach their full potential. Most likely, part of the reason that your superusers are so engaged with your brand is that they are getting some of these needs met, particularly belonging, recognition, or self-actualization.
“What are your superusers getting in return for their generosity?” asks Baxter. “Are they finding their own Cheers hangout where everybody knows their name? Or better yet, are they achieving a reputation within the community as an expert, or perhaps as a generous soul? If you don’t know why your superusers do what they do, ask them. You might be surprised by their answers.”
Start with your existing customers and look for those who share key attributes with your superusers but aren’t yet behaving like superusers. Are there any key differences between the two groups? The differences may be structural and give you more insight as to what inclines a member to transform. Or the differences could be minute and provide you the opportunity to develop these “on-the-cusp” members into full-fledged superusers. You may even discover another key attribute that superusers share (that lookalikes don’t share) and can then further refine your business model accordingly.
Build a path to superuser status
Once you know what your superusers have in common, what makes them different from your other customers, what they do for your business, and what motivates them, you have all you need to recruit more of them. Here are a few tactics to try:
- Analyze the value of your superusers.This allows you to prove to yourself and your colleagues that superusers are worth the investment. Incorporate the value of referrals, the lifetime customer spend, the market insights, and the marketing support that you receive from them.
- Target your marketing funds. Invest more of your marketing dollars in the channels and messages that were the source of your superusers.
- Refine your onboarding sequence. Develop an onboarding sequence that demonstrates how customers can get more out of being part of your community by inviting them to engage in the activities that define your superusers.
- Set up a mentorship program. Invite your superusers to mentor your highest priority (read: future superusers) new customers.
- Reward them.Identify new ways to reward superusers and recognize their contributions. This strategy helps you engage your existing superusers while inspiring new ones. You don’t need to “pay” them; in fact, you should be careful not to make them feel like their engagement with your brand is a “job.” Instead find ways to recognize them for their contributions—maybe with a unique t-shirt, an inexpensive but one-of-a-kind gift, lunch with your product team, or a chance to speak at your annual meeting. The reward should deepen the benefits of belonging, status, and fulfillment that they’re already getting from their engagement.
- Educate your organization. Teach your organization about the value of superusers and incorporate your learnings from them across all departments. Over time you can adjust the way you build products, provide better support, and measure success in your organization.
“Superusers are the ideal customer and then some,” concludes Baxter. “If you want your brand to excel, explore the ways you can incorporate your superusers as the flywheel for your business growth. You might just unlock some substantial hidden value, resulting in more customers, better insights, and greater loyalty.”
Robbie Kellman Baxter is the author of “The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue.” She is the founder of Peninsula Strategies, a consulting firm based in Menlo Park, CA, that helps companies excel in the Membership Economy.