How to Create a Strong Community of Practitioners

Episode #033: Guilda Hilaire, Senior Manager of Product Marketing at Salesforce

Sometimes we as marketers are so focused on selling to our customers that we lose sight of what help they really need as a practitioner. 

In this episode, we chat with Guilda Hilaire, Senior Manager of Product Marketing at Salesforce. Over the last fifteen years, Guilda has spearheaded the use of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Pardot, Marketo, and Silverpop at companies like Aetna/CVS, Athenahealth, Boston Consulting Group, Liberty Mutual, and Johnson and Johnson.

We’re talking about what customers need to become strong practitioners of your product, why you should get your customers involved in content creation, the dos and don’ts of community building, and so much more.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. To create stronger brand advocates, we need to create more advanced content on how to use our product. It’s great to have basic help content but push your team to create strategic documentation.
  2. Get your community of customers involved in content creation. There are individuals who are eager to give feedback and make a difference for the brand.
  3. Do your research before starting a community. Have a discussion with people already in the weeds of the community.

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Episode Transcription

Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsessed about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there’s absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I’m your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I’ve pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truth about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. So, first question, tell me something about yourself that few people know.

Guilda Hilaire: Oh my God, few people know. So the other day, we have this How To SFMC Community Slack channel and I shared with the group,” This is my playlist of my favorite music.” Like when I am having like one of those tough days, I need to listen to music that’s going to like put me in that mood where I’m like banging through stuff, right? And I remember I started sharing my list and everyone was like,” Guilda, we never thought that you would like rock and roll or pop music.” They’re like,” You listen to pop music? Like you listened to like that heavy metal?” And I’m like,” Yes, I love Green Day. I love Imagine Dragons. I love Avicii and OneRepublic.” And Coldplay. I was like,” Coldplay is like one of my favorite bands.” And I’ve been dying to go to their concert. I guess people see me, they’re like,” Oh, maybe she just likes that soft rock and maybe she just likes the jazz.” And I’m like,” No. No, give me The Script.”

Stephanie Cox: Right?

Guilda Hilaire: “Give me Coldplay, give me some heavy metal rock music,” like that is me blasting it through the rooftop to the point where my daughter’s like,” Mom, I can’t hear myself think because you’re blasting your music.” When I’m cleaning, that’s what I listen to.

Stephanie Cox: It’s funny that you say that. I do the same thing. So when I need to get stuff done at work, and my kids, since we’re all oftentimes stuck at home, like we have been for the past year or so, my kids are like,” Mom, it’s too loud and stop singing. Like, we can hear you.” But it’s what I do. And it’s funny. It goes in cycles, a little bit like you were saying. Like right now, if I want to get work done, I am, for whatever reason, blasting Taylor Swift’s Reputation album, like in sequence. And that’s like my get shit done music right now. And it ebbs and flows with other people, but it’s true. It helps get you in the mood to like go faster.

Guilda Hilaire: Oh God, yeah. Like the rock, the punk rock, it just puts me in that mode. Like I could listen to Boulevard of Broken Dreams like five times in one day. And to me, the next time I play it, it’s still like a brand new song. 21 Guns and Basket Case, it just puts me in that fast paced, get it done, good mood. And that is something not a lot of people know about because they see me and they’re like,” Oh, she’s soft. She likes that soft music.” I’m like,” No. I love that soft rock,” But Madonna is one of my all time favorites. But when I need to get going, I go straight to that punk rock, dance punk, rock type music.

Stephanie Cox: I love that. We could probably talk all day about this, but I think what might be more interesting for all of our listeners is to talk a little bit about this idea that you and I talked about before we started the show, which is how do companies transition from selling to their customers to helping them, right? Cause sometimes when, especially when you’re in the software world, we’re all focused on getting our customers to buy our current product, upsell them to additional products. And sometimes we lose sight of what help they really need as a practitioner to use your product. And you know, what content is really available there. So I’d love to start to dive into that with you. Why is it so hard for companies to be able to create content that’s helpful for practitioners that goes beyond just kind of the basic information?

Guilda Hilaire: You know, I think that they almost forget that… It’s almost like, and I don’t want to use this word but I’m going to have to, it’s almost like when you first enter the software world, you’re going through a learning journey, right? And that learning journey is,” I’m brand new to product X,” right? So you need that introductory level type content and how- to videos, but then you want to grow your career. You want to be that subject matter expert. So how do you get there? I feel like it’s a missed opportunity now for software companies because they stop at that level 100 or level 101 material. Right? And that’s all they produce. And I almost feel like they leave it up to the practitioner to build that content, which I’m sure it’s fine for the practitioner, but a lot of these software companies are having releases and their updates. So what makes a little bit more difficult for the practitioner to understand programmatically, how to maximize utilization of the software. I feel like a lot of the software companies need to build that level 200, that level 300 documentation to help the practitioner, to help the end user better understand their software. It will also help that end user up- skill, right? It’ll help them with their career trajectory. And it’ll also help them become better brand advocates if they have that material, that level 200, level 300 material to help them along this learning journey. I feel like what’s happening now is, here’s that level 100, it stops there. Now I want to sell you another feature or another functionality. But as the end- user, you’re struggling because it’s like,” Why are you selling me X? Why are you selling me B when I’m still learning A?” Does that make sense? I feel like I see that happen a lot.

Stephanie Cox: Oh, we’ve probably both been that situation, right? Because I think one of the things that’s unique for the two of us is we’ve been a customer of a software company and then been an employee of it, and you have this different perspective because you’ve been the person that you’re selling to and marketing to or trying to educate as an end- user of your product. And for me, to your point around like that 200, 300 level content, yes the stuff that’s produced initially, that’s like 100, what’s the click path to do things, right? How do you get things set up? Like that’s great, but I want to talk and need help with… Like a simple example, what should my onboarding email journey look like? Right? What are some best practices? How are 10 other companies in my industry doing it? Not just how are they doing it in your tool, but how are they thinking about it strategically? How should I be thinking about that? And I think that’s the stuff that people forget, no matter how easy your software might be to use, what sometimes is the hard part is the strategy of how to best use it for your business. And I think sometimes that’s what we’re missing out on. I’d love to hear your perspective on, should this two, three-hundred level content be more tactical about how to do things or does it have to be more of that strategic level about how you start thinking about your entire experience and then how the software empowers that?

Guilda Hilaire: I almost want to say it’s a little bit of both because it depends on the role you play, right? There are certain roles that I feel I need to be more strategic in my role. So I need documentation that aligns with my overall strategy to correlate to your product. Right? But there may be other roles in the organization that’s more focused on that technical aspect because in the business world, you have marketers and a lot of marketers wear multiple hats, but you might have developers or architects and they wear different hats, but I feel like you have to be more strategic and you also have to know the how- to stuff in order to maximize utilization. And also most importantly, how can I think big picture when I can only use a piece of this pie of the software, right? You’re not giving me enough information to help me build my strategy, to help me educate my team, to help me align with my goals and objectives, but yet I’m supposed to invest more in your product when there’s a lot of that stuff that’s not given to me to help me in my day to day. And when we think about marketing lows, we’re all unicorns. I cannot find one marketer who says,” Yeah, my job is just to be a marketer. And I do 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and that’s it.” Marketers now are all unicorns. Developers are unicorns. Architects are unicorns.

Stephanie Cox: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because it’s so true, right? How much of marketing has changed. And now you’re expected to not just know one thing, to know all the things, right? And all the things constantly change in terms of new channels that pop up, new tactics, things that used to work yesterday that no longer work today because consumer behavior has changed, et cetera. But getting back to your point around helping those people who are constantly a lot of times running at full speed, trying to figure everything out, where does that content creation lie? Like who in the company should do that? Is that a role that marketing should do? Is that a role that your training education teams does? Is it product marketing? Like who within a company should be creating this type of content? And what would you recommend that content be? Is that video content? Is it written? How do they think about really pulling together the resources to help practitioners with more advanced usage of the product as well as more advanced strategic thought processes?

Guilda Hilaire: Oh, I just love that question. You know, that’s a tough one, right? Because I want to say this includes a cross collaboration between all the teams, right? You should definitely have a team that’s focused on writing the content, but you need product to ensure that whatever is written aligns with the product. I have heard of a lot of cases where content is produced and there’s a step missing or this is incorrect. And it goes back to, before this content was launched to the rest of the world, did anybody from product sign off and review it? Did anybody from marketing take a look at it? Right? So I feel like, there definitely needs to be a team in any software company that’s focused on content, but is also aligned with marketing and product marketing and any other teams within the organization that touches on the product features and functionalities. The other thing that I think is extremely important is working closely with your community. What I mean by that is, I’m sure content is getting produced at a fast pace in the organization, but how are you validating that the content that you’re producing is what the community wants and needs, right? How are you validating that this content is helpful? If somebody from the community notices the contents inaccurate, is this information going back to the writer or is this going back to the product team or the marketing team? So for me, it’s like there has to be some sort of process in place where the community, or maybe it could be getting subject matter experts from the community, partnering with them to include them in this sort of review process. Right? But I think this helps overall with the community trusting your brand, trusting the content and being an advocate for you. So for me, it does include a cross collaboration internally, but it’s also aligning the content with your community. Because guess what? They know best the community, the practitioners, the business users, the marketers, developers, architects, data scientists, et cetera. They’re the ones that are living and breathing day in, day out, whatever it is that you’re producing.

Stephanie Cox: Well, and the one thing that I was thinking about as you’re talking about that is this whole thing around your customers, and sometimes we forget this, I think especially as marketers, are the ones that can give you the most insights. So you have to be talking to them on a weekly basis. And it’s funny how many marketers I talk to. When I asked them,” Well, when’s the last time you had a conversation with a customer?” Like they have to think about it because they don’t remember. Right? And it’s the easiest way to find out what would be helpful. And I think to your point, not just involving them and reviewing the content, but also asking them what content is helpful. Yes, you have maybe some data showing what people are searching for or what support tickets come in that you can use to create it, but part of it is just asking.

Guilda Hilaire: It is asking, and I feel like there are folks in the community that are chomping at the bit. Wanting to give feedback, raising their hand, willing to carve out time. I mean, if you think about it, a lot of that level 200 and three level information that a lot of the organizations need, they’re already being written by their brand advocates, by the practitioners. Right? And what better way to build stronger relationships than by reaching out to your community and involving them in the production of the content, right? The community loves this stuff. They want to feel that they’re making a difference for the brand. Right? So I completely agree. Like I remember myself as a customer, I wanted to help out because I felt like I was doing a good deed. I was helping my community out because I think that’s the most important thing is, we unite as one community. We stand as one community, regardless of where you are in your learning journey. Right? We want to make sure that you have the right information and the right information is created by the community. So why not partner with them? Sounds easy. Right?

Stephanie Cox: Sounds easy. Right? Like-

Guilda Hilaire: It’s easy.

Stephanie Cox: It sounds super easy, but it’s hard.

Guilda Hilaire: I think what happens…

Stephanie Cox: It’s hard, right? Like it’s hard and it’s not instantaneous. I think that’s one of these challenges that a lot of us face because we have so much going on because we are responsible as marketers for a lot of things. I’ve seen so many situations where people are like,” Oh, I reached out to get people to help write content or see if they want to be on a webinar with us and I didn’t get a response,” and then they never follow up. And they never like put in process this… Sometimes it takes multiple touches to get customers to engage and to help write content. Not because they’re not interested, but because… I say marketing and like the inbox is as a marketer, this weird time vortex, because I could read an email and I’m like,” Yes, I need to respond to that.” And then two weeks can go by. And I don’t realize two weeks have went by and I’ve not responded to the email. It feels like I just got it yesterday. So I think there’s this need for when you’re reaching out to customers who have a lot of stuff going on to make sure that you’re following up and giving them an opportunity to raise their hand and then remind them that they raised their hand in a polite way and get them to kind of come along with you because most marketers are not just sitting around waiting for things to do.

Guilda Hilaire: You know, you just said something, follow up. I also think following up is extremely important. It’s one of those things where you have a best friend and they call you and you’re like,” I’ll call you back-”

Stephanie Cox: And you never call them back.

Guilda Hilaire: Right? And I want to say the same respect you would give to your best friend is the same respect you would give to any customer, where if you do create that relationship with the community and you get their feedback on X, Y, and Z from a content perspective. And you’re like,” Oh, great. This is exactly the feedback we need.” Do something with the information, right? Don’t just sit on it because that customer took time out of their schedule to meet with you, give you their honest and open feedback. Trust me, they have their ears to the ground. So apply that feedback that they’re giving you with your roadmap. Don’t just take for granted that I just met with this customer, here’s some great feedback, and now we’re just going to set it to the side and not do anything about it.

Stephanie Cox: I feel like that happens so much, or like not doing anything with it for six months, right? Like this long period of time. Well, spoiler alert, my needs have changed now. So the feedback I gave you six months ago, it’s probably not valid because I’ve figured out what to do or how to make it work or how to just deal with it. So one of the other things that I think is important in this conversation is the difference between end users of your product and maybe decision makers or executive sponsors. Because I think one of the things that people forget often is that who you’re selling to sometimes in the sales process and who signs the contract, may be very different than who actually uses your product. And so we can’t create content or we can’t think about being helpful to both of them in the same ways. So I’d love to get your perspective on how do you think about the end user versus maybe the budget owner-

Guilda Hilaire: Oh gosh-

Stephanie Cox: …when they are different?

Guilda Hilaire: Yeah, they’re totally different. I think for me, my favorite’s always the end- user because before the ink dries on the contract, the end- user’s the one that is now tasked with implement on board train, make it work. I want to see the return on the investment right away. And I needed to have seen this yesterday and the ink is still drying on the contract. So for me, I feel like a lot of brands slash software companies, organizations, whatever we want to call them, you have to keep the end user, their experience half in mind. I mean, if the priority of the customer is truly important to you, you have to ensure that you’re listening to them and that you have documentation and videos in place. I know you had asked the question earlier on what sort of materials, I think it’s a combination of both. I think it’s documentation. It could also be documentation with videos included in it, because people consume information differently, but you have to keep – and this is just my opinion – the end user in mind, because they’re the ones that are day in, day out in the platform making magic.

Stephanie Cox: Exactly. And I think sometimes we forget, especially when you are so focused on like getting that initial deal, we forget that the person signing is probably oftentimes never going to log into your studio. And now while you’ve wooed them and won their excitement, now you have this group of people who are going to probably use it every single day. How do you surprise and delight them and their needs, which you may or may not have ever talked about during the sales cycle.

Guilda Hilaire: Yeah, and you’re absolutely right. I think this is where building a relationship with the team as a whole comes into play. I think a lot of software companies and brands, they need to formulate groups within the organization that does just that because you have a group that’s working with the contract team or legal, but once that contract is in place, who’s working with this other new group to ensure that the migration or implementation is happening? Who’s making sure that the end user is well- educated? But remember it goes back to that learning journey, right? So it could be something where three months or six months after they’ve just signed a contract. It could be,” Okay, we’re going to set up quarterly meetings just to check in with the group to make sure that they have everything that they need and that everything is going well.” Versus every quarter it’s buy, buy, buy, but it’s more of a,” Hey, how are you doing? I was just thinking of checking in, seeing how everything’s going with the project or the platform, and if you needed any help. If there’s anything that’s missing, anything that we can do better.” I think this is where building a relationship kicks in and maintaining a healthy relationship.

Stephanie Cox: So that kind of leads into my next question around community, right? We’ve talked a little bit about that. I know, for as long as I’ve known you which has been awhile, you’ve been passionate about being part of a community, helping build a community. So I’d love to talk about, how do you start to unite a community as well to maybe, as you mentioned, help create some of this content and be a resource for each other when maybe the brand they’re using isn’t doing that yet?

Guilda Hilaire: You know, one of my favorite communities right now is the Email Geeks Slack channel, and why it’s platform agnostic. Regardless of what platform you’re using, there are topics that are applicable to all of us. Strategy, best practices, tips, tricks, knowledge, sharing data, deliverability, reporting. Could be email build or a webpage design or web page build, HTML coding. Right? These are things that we all share a common knowledge on. And I feel like a lot of companies should start looking at it that way, right, versus competing. But it’s what content of documentation can we put so that as a whole, we’re supporting this digital marketing or email marketing community, which is one of the reasons why I started this Email Geeks hangout, Twitter space. It’s because I want to have these awesome, amazing, insightful conversations with friends in the community, regardless of what company you work for. Let’s talk about data, how data impacts all of us. Let’s talk about deliverability. Let’s talk about email best practices. Let’s talk about diversity in email, right? Because we all have something insightful to say on these particular topics, right? And we just have to be respectful of what company each other works at. But the most important thing is come in with an open mind to share knowledge on a topic that you are an expert in.

Stephanie Cox: So as you think about these communities and Email Geeks, what makes it so special? Because I think that’s one thing that brands, or just groups of people that are trying to start communities, and I’ve seen a lot of that happened in the last 15 months, is they miss that little spark that makes a community really take off. So what do you think that is? Like, what do you need to do to be successful in creating a community that people want to go to multiple times a week or even every day?

Guilda Hilaire: Man, it starts with seeing beyond the platform. And I think Dylan, I don’t remember his last name, but I know he is one of the founding members or maybe he’s the founder of the Email Geek Slack channel and I think they have well over like 10,000 members. And what I love about it, it’s beyond the platform. You’re part of a community where if you are at the start of your learning journey, or even at the advanced section of your learning journey, you can go to this Email Geeks and not feel like you’re in this island by yourself. I mean, 14, 15 years ago when I first started in my email marketing career, this community didn’t exist. I always felt like I was struggling in this island and didn’t really know where to go, who to go to. I didn’t really know who was a thought leader, who I can reach out to. And at times, you don’t feel comfortable, right? Because it’s that thing where you have a question to ask, but you don’t want to ask it cause you don’t want to sound stupid. When you think about like the Email Geeks community,” Hi, my name is… I’m brand new to the email world. I need help with HTML coding.” Boom, 20 responses later, everybody’s jumping in to help you. How amazing is that? Right? I’ve seen people say,” You know what? Let’s schedule a meeting. I’ll review the code with you.” I’ve seen people say,” Here’s my cheat sheet. Feel free to use it. Here’s my templates feel free to use it. Here’s my strategy document. Feel free to use it. Oh, let’s jump on a call.” The other thing is, I’ve seen people say,” Hey, I’m looking for somebody to co- present on this topic, who’s willing to help me?” Boom. Or I’ve seen people say,”Hey, I have a presentation that I’m getting ready for. Is anybody willing to listen to it?” Boom. Everybody kind of jumps in and supports one another. And that’s what a community is all about. It shouldn’t matter where you are in your learning journey. Doesn’t matter what company you work for. We’re one community that’s looking out for each other, that’s helping each other enough. That’s what really matters. And we’re not selling to each other. That’s the key-

Stephanie Cox: There we go.

Guilda Hilaire: That’s the key part, right? We’re not selling to each other and we’re not competing.

Stephanie Cox: I think what- Exactly. And I think what sometimes people don’t understand, whether it’s through community, whether it’s through content you create as a brand, when you help people, like authentically help people, they remember that and that gets rewarded. Whether that’s through sales in the future, whether that’s through relationships and people helping you in your career later down the road, but helping does have benefits. It’s not… And I think sometimes we’re so shortsighted that we don’t realize it.

Guilda Hilaire: We are, we are. It’s really all about… And the here’s the thing, I think it’s that authentic help, right? It’s people willing to raise their hands. Nobody’s forcing you to be part of this Email Geeks community. It’s happening organically. It’s happening naturally, authentically. Right? And that’s the value of it, right? It’s that there’s no force feeding. It’s not about,” Hi, I work at such and such brand. I’m the big dog here.” No, nobody cares. Right? All I care about is that I’m helping so- and- so be better at their job. Be better marketers. And that’s what a lot of brands, I think, forget as they look into building their communities. And it’s like put all that aside and think beyond that, beyond your product. Right? Think about building a community that’s platform agnostic because whether you’re at this brand or that brand, it’s the topics that all of us have to deal with, whether it’s the how- to content or that strategy content with different levels, it’s all the same across board.

Stephanie Cox: No, I couldn’t agree more. So one final question for you. If someone is wanting to start a community, what would be your recommendation for how they should go about getting it started?

Guilda Hilaire: Do your research first. Don’t just jump in right away. Do your research first. For example, when I decided to start, and I’m not saying the Email Geeks hangout on Twitter space is a community, but how I approached it was I actually reached out to a couple of Email Geek’s subject matter experts and I said to them,” This is what I want to do. What do you think?” I wasn’t afraid to reach out and get their opinion and feedback because I wanted their support. And I think that’s the most important thing is ensuring that there’s a need for this. And then setting up quick meetings with folks just to get their thoughts and feedback on this idea that you have before diving straight in. I wanted to make sure that I was meeting a need. And I think a lot of times we jump into doing something because it sounds because it sounds so great and then we wonder why it fails. Especially with a community like our marketing communities are so big. You want to make sure that you’re doing your research, you’re meeting and interviewing, not necessarily interviewing, but you’re having a discussion with people that are already in the weeds of the community. That’s what I did with the Email Geeks hangout is I met with a lot of folks first just to get their buy- in and their blessing, because I wanted to make sure that this was a need. I wasn’t stepping on anybody’s toes because you also want to be respectful and mindful of people’s times and other things that they have on their agenda. So that’s the advice I would give is before you rush in to start a community, you definitely want to make sure you’re doing your research.

Stephanie Cox: You’ve been listening to a Real Marketers. If you love what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And don’t forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing goodness, shouldn’t be kept a secret.