6 Community-building Lessons B2B Marketers Can Learn From a Cycling Class


The lights are dimmed. Candles are lit. Music starts pumping. And then the magic starts. I look around and see a roomful of kindred spirits — familiar faces, some new, but all focused on the same thing: dedicating the next hour to sweating their hearts out.

What is so addictive about this place? Sure, it’s an amazing workout, but so is the spin class at my local rec center for a hell of a lot less money. I’ve pondered this a lot, and here’s what I’ve figured out: what keeps me coming back here is the community — sharing a common goal, falling into the same rhythm, drawing inspiration from each other, and cheering each other on. We’re a group of different people, but once we’re together in that studio, we’re a community.

Community is integral to the brand, as evidenced by how leaders describe the SoulCycle experienceOpens a new window : “In that dark room, our riders share a Soul experience. We laugh, we cry, we grow — and we do it together, as a community.”

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What Community Means in B2B

There’s a lesson there for B2B marketers: Community is key if you want to build a brand that engenders enthusiasm, loyalty, evangelism, and, yes, spending. And, according to The Community RoundtableOpens a new window , an engaged community has additional, less obvious benefits such as:

  • Lower support costs
  • Increased revenue
  • Awareness and branding visibility
  • Higher product usage
  • Enhanced productivity, efficiency, and innovation

SoulCycle certainly enjoys all those benefits. So, what lesson can we learn from SoulCycle? A community doesn’t happen by accident. It must be central to your brand, and it takes effort to build. Many companies grasp the potential value but fail because they don’t dedicate the resources, energy or strategy necessary to help their communities flourish and grow.

Rules of Community-Building

Having built more than a few successful B2B communities myself (and a few flops, too), I often hear other CMOs ask for tips on community-building. Some of them have tried and watched their communities turn into online wastelands. Others haven’t known where to start.

Here’s my best advice to build a community that yields long-term gains for your brand, company, and your customers.

Rule #1: Cast a smaller net

When B2B communities wither and die, it’s usually because their focus is too broad. It’s actually better to have a community of five people who share something very relevant in common than 10,000 people with no common interests. Here’s an example: I’m one of the leaders of a group for B2B CMOs, called CMO Coffee Talk, where we gather once a week to share our challenges, wins, and best practices. Our engaging Slack channel of over 1,000 members is the place for hyper-relevant advice, feedback, and encouragement. These groups are open to CMOs only as we believe diluting that focus would weaken the community and decrease its chance of success.

Rule #2: The audience is the content

The community dictates — and largely creates — the content. This rule is both intimidating and liberating. It takes giving up some control, but it also means the pressure is off; you can set the ship sailing in the right direction, make adjustments when needed, and let the journey unfold. In CMO Coffee Talk, for instance, we survey members to decide which topics to cover each week. The more your members contribute, the more robust your community will be.

Rule #3: Never go it alone

There’s no me in a community, right? The word itself connotes coming together — and that doesn’t just apply to the members. It’s also the perfect opportunity to partner with other brands or leaders who will be additive to what you offer. Maybe they serve or care about the same audience but in a different way. For instance, in another group I help lead — Empowered CMO, a group all about elevating female CMOs — I partnered with an executive search professional. We love serving the same group — CMOs — but we offer very different perspectives.

Rule #4: Establish routines that’ll stick

When you’re thinking through how your community will connect, beware of the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. You don’t need to have local meetups, plus a Slack channel, plus a retreat, plus a newsletter to serve your community well. The key is to build a routine around whatever you offer. Having consistent and predictable engagement — whether that’s a weekly Zoom meeting or an annual retreat — creates the familiarity and comfort that’s essential to the community.

Rule #5: Never underestimate the power of surprise and delight

It’s important to keep the community at the forefront of members’ minds. Small gestures go a long way — receiving a branded coffee mug, community-branded Zoom backgrounds, or an ebook that pulls together all the insights from your annual conference — go a long way to delight and surprise community members. If it sparks joy and drives engagement, it’s good for the community.

Rule #6: Be prepared to put in the work

A well-oiled community feels effortless, but don’t mistake that for the behind-the-scenes truth. Communities take a lot of work, organization and dedicated resources. You’ll need someone to “own” the community, vet members and keep them engaged and curate content and discussions. Think of it as a garden: You can’t just toss some seeds in the dirt and forget about it. You need to plan, water, prune, and weed consistently to have that effortless-looking, thriving garden you envision.

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Go Forth and Connect

Building a community takes a lot of work and doesn’t produce immediate rewards. But is it worth it? Absolutely. I can attest to the fact that an engaged community builds both feel-good metrics like customer satisfaction and hard numbers like pipeline, retention and revenue.

SoulCycle knows it. B2B marketers would be wise to learn that same lesson: If you want that kind of customer and brand loyalty, it’s time to invest in the community.

Have you considered building a community to improve brand loyalty? What lessons can you borrow from this article? Let us know on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .