How to Understand Your Users' Needs and Build a Thriving Community Around Your SaaS Product
Your product is meant to solve a problem, or in other words, fulfill a need. However, growing products attract a wide array of users looking to fulfill very specific needs.
While your product was created to address a particular pain, you might often find users trying to solve completely different problems. This is particularly true for highly customizable products or tools that enable you to build stuff.
To understand a user’s needs, you need to know the user’s objective. And to know the user’s objective, you need to identify the type of user one is. The user types your product attracts depend a lot on your offerings.
However, I have identified some of the most common ones below.
Types of Users Attracted By Software Products
The growth of product discovery sites like Product Hunt has made it easy to attract software Enthusiasts — casual users who love trying out new tools but don’t have a specific need to fulfill.
Freemium products, in particular, attract a lot of Enthusiasts.
These users aren’t dependent on your product and won’t miss it if it’s gone. They might never even use your product, but ignoring these users is a bad idea.
While Enthusiasts don’t have a specific problem to solve, they are always on the lookout for good solutions and great experiences. They are savvier than the average user and are potential advocates of your product.
They are also the most critical of the lot. You can identify Enthusiasts by combining product analytics data with data from your support and engagement tools.
Enthusiasts usually meet the following criteria:
Explore and try out a lot of features in a short span of time
Don’t contact support unless something is broken
Don’t upgrade to a paid plan
Respond to in-app polls and surveys, as well as to emails seeking feedback
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that if you are able to activate Enthusiasts, you are doing a few things right with your onboarding.
Keeping them in the loop regarding product improvements and updates can help your product grow via word-of-mouth.
Impact on community
Enthusiasts usually like to participate in discussions around a product they are enthusiastic about. It is vital to provide a dedicated space for these discussions to take place enabling all users to easily find them and participate in them.
This is how a user community comes to life.
Enthusiasts who don’t even actively use the product may also engage with other users and prove to be immensely valuable by participating in discussions and answering questions about a product’s features and benefits.
Where a community should reside is a topic for another article, but it’s critical to a community’s success to be easily discoverable and accessible. Slack and Facebook Groups, and Discourse-based forums are popular choices.
Tinkerers are Enthusiasts who are in awe of your product and decide to either build something with it or get acquainted with it inside out to become an expert at it. They are the ones who spend the most time using your product.
Tinkerers may or may not become customers but are instrumental in your product’s success. They try to break your things, are quick to highlight issues and identify bugs, and share genuine feedback without expecting much in return. All they want is to be heard.
Tinkerers can help you inform your product roadmap and be of great value in helping shape your product’s direction. They are also potential affiliates or partners and can bring in significant revenue down the road.
Impact on community
As mentioned earlier, Tinkerers are like Enthusiasts and therefore meet all the same criteria. That said, identifying Tinkerers is super easy via a user community. They are the most active members and jump at every opportunity to troubleshoot issues, offer help, share feedback, etc.
Tinkerers are almost like an extension of a support team, often happy to volunteer to moderate the community and help keep bad actors at bay. It is becoming common practice to form an exclusive group for Tinkerers to enable them to:
Have more in-depth discussions with each other
Learn best practices
Test new features
Offer early feedback
These contributions can prove critical to a product’s success. The best way to keep Tinkerers engaged and motivated is to listen to what they have to say by providing direct access to the team.
Additionally, letting Tinkerers be the first ones to know about new releases, improvements, and big announcements allows them to have deeper conversations around the product’s future and be more invested in a product’s growth. This, in turn, has a direct positive impact on participation in the community.
3. Instant-gratification pursuers (IGs)
I had to resort to this made-up term for the lack of a better one to describe serious users looking to solve a very specific problem with your product.
They may or may not be the buyers but are usually savvy and willing to get their hands dirty.
They are the most critical users who need to be given the highest priority. Instant-gratification pursuers are usually in a rush; they know exactly what they want to achieve with your product and by helping them get there, you can turn them into happy customers and loyalists.
However, they are also the hardest to please and exert tremendous pressure on your support team. Like Enthusiasts, IGs can also be identified by combing through your user analytics data. They usually meet the following criteria:
Use core features only; the user journey is linear and predictable
Contact support multiple times if they are stuck
The time to value (TTV) is the shortest
Convert or become inactive rather quickly
The biggest need that IGs have is to receive fantastic support. They like to be educated about the product and be given the right resources at the right time. They usually don’t need to be sold; they either convert organically or don’t.
Impact on community
While these users rarely participate in discussions, having access to a thriving community of experts and enthusiasts is seen as a huge plus. IGs, if happy with a product, are also likely to hire experts for additional services or ongoing maintenance.
This again has a direct impact on the community’s growth as the presence of IGs acts as an incentive for Tinkerers to stay active and make themselves visible. Without the presence of IGs or folks who pay for expertise, the experts won’t be motivated to keep contributing, and may not even stick around for long.
Therefore, it is imperative that these users know about the presence of a community and the fact that they can easily find and hire experts when needed.
Unlike IGs, Evaluators don’t usually have a pressing need that must be fulfilled quickly. They are potential buyers of your product who have found it themselves or have been referred to it. Evaluators are usually not in a rush; however, they are the ones who can turn into big-ticket customers.
Evaluators might not be eventual users, but they need to understand if your product is the right fit to serve their current and future needs.
It’s important to keep in mind that Evaluators are usually focused on the long-term and are therefore likely to perform in-depth research by going through product reviews and asking a lot of questions.
Evaluators, like IGs, should be educated and not be sold to. A common mistake sales teams make is hard-selling and pitching their solution as the only one that can meet the needs of the Evaluator. They tend to forget that an Evaluator’s goal is to evaluate all the available solutions in the market and is therefore already familiar with the pros and cons of similar products.
Depending on the nature of your product, Evaluators may or may not try using your product. If they do, like Enthusiasts, they are likely to explore and try out a lot of features in a short span of time.
Evaluators almost always seek a demo and expect straightforward and concise answers to their questions even before they try out your product.
The only way to understand the needs of an Evaluator is by asking them explicitly what they are looking to achieve.
Impact on community
Pointing Evaluators to a thriving community not only instills trust but also acts as a priceless resource for an Evaluator to understand your product’s capabilities.
They are unlikely to engage in discussions but might get in touch with a Tinkerer for a second opinion on whether or not can the product meets their needs.
Additionally, this can also help convert Evaluators into customers as Tinkerers are likely to say good things about the product and possibly also offer an overview of the competitive landscape, often acting as an extension of your sales team.
Other tips to build a thriving community
There’s no magic formula for successful community-building; however, thriving communities share some common characteristics that are good to keep in mind.
Open and welcoming
Thriving communities are open to everyone and not just restricted to users or customers. Think about it, why would you want to restrict someone from joining your community?
All community platforms have controls to identify and remove bad actors; adding friction to the joining process doesn’t necessarily prevent them from joining. And even if someone is not a user or a customer, by letting them into your community, you can give them a taste of what you have to offer.
At Make, we thought hard about this and decided to make our community open to all with zero friction in the joining process.
Authentic and transparent
Authenticity and transparency are the two main pillars of a thriving and engaging community. Members of a community like to
Be informed about product updates before the rest of the world
Be consulted regarding changes to the product and its pricing
And most importantly, they expect transparency when it comes to outages and mishaps
All of these require a dedicated community manager who also acts as the face of the company in the community. Getting to know the people behind a company and being able to interact with them directly is one of the biggest incentives for community members. After all, people and not entities, make communities.
Responsive and helpful
From the very start, it is paramount to make it clear that the community is not an official support channel. Instead of expecting redressals to their issues, members should use the community as a place to initiate discussions and help each other.
That said, communities that are not responsive die a slow death. It is the community manager’s job to ensure that the posts are responded to sooner rather than later. He or she can recruit moderators and offer them incentives to be responsive to people’s queries.
If a post goes unanswered, the community manager should be able to offer help or at the very least, point the author in the right direction. It takes time to build momentum but eventually, an active community is able to attract experts and enthusiasts, and that’s when it starts to grow organically and exponentially.
Understanding who your users are will enable you to understand their needs and vice versa. By being methodical and diligent in the process, you can cater to your user’s needs and sow the seeds of a thriving community.