When a B2B (business-to-business) company starts an online community – like Shopify did with their Ecommerce University – one of the questions they might wrestle with is: how do we get our A players involved? In other words, how can we get our most successful customers into the community?

With Shopify, for example, you have a wide customer base. They power online stores that are just getting started, that have no revenue, and they power online stores that are generating millions of dollars. Why would the million dollar people want to join the community? Why would they want to talk with the people who are new? What value would they receive?

With their community, Shopify smartly makes it about business surrounding their product – not specifically their product. You don’t just talk about Shopify, you talk about ecommerce, marketing and subjects that are complementary to what Shopify users are interested in, as business owners. How does this help Shopify? When their customers get together, they share their knowledge and they get better at what they do. Ideally, they become better business people, which allows them to grow their sales, and Shopify makes more money.

Bringing in the A Players

But how can you get your most successful customers into the community? You can spotlight them, sure, and interview them. That’ll at least show them off, give people something to aspire to. You can invite them to answer questions in the community, tied to their interview, and maybe they’ll enjoy it and continue to come back. You can also identify discussions where a particular customer might be really well suited to answer, and then invite them to join in, expressing how valuable you believe their knowledge is.

You can’t get away from the fact that A players like to talk with A players. And that isn’t to make some point of elitism. Really, the point is that people like to talk shop with those who are at a similar level to them. There is usually more to gain from those interactions. You can commiserate and share what is and isn’t working for you and it’ll be helpful since you are both in a similar place.

Playing to this truth, what I would think carefully about is how you can connect these A players. There may not be much to gain for a million dollar customer talking with a brand new customer, but there can be a lot to gain if two million dollar customers connect and share tips. How can you facilitate that?

Keep the Structure Simple and Don’t Ask For Too Much

On a community level, you can facilitate it with private sections for them, where they can feel free to discuss business without the fear of it being in public. It’s a trade-off because you want their posts to be public, so you can get the search engine traffic and so that all can benefit from their knowledge. But if you can actually get them into the community, engaging, the trade-off is worth it because you’ll be creating value for your biggest customers and building a deeper relationship with them.

Besides, who’s to say that if you find a customer who made a particular wonderful point, you couldn’t ask them if you could share it in public and attribute it to them. Since they are now in the community, they may even begin to engage with people outside of the private section.

Outside of the community, you can encourage your top customers to get together over through web streaming events or through offline networking events – perhaps at conferences where many of them are present.


This idea is not all positive. In general, I am not a huge fan of tiered communities – where you separate veterans from new people in a meaningful way. The potential to create second class citizens is very real. It can alienate people and drive new participants away. I mean, a private forum here or there is fine, but having a substantial section of your community as off limits to most can be damaging to the overall health of your community. I generally like to encourage people to all participate on equal footing. But I encourage that more so on communities dedicated to specific hobbies, interests or passions, not so much a B2B community.

That said, it isn’t for everyone and it may not work for all. I imagine some people don’t really want their best customers to talk because what if a few big ones got together and all decided to demand something unreasonable or leave for a competitor? However, if you are really good at what you do, most likely you shouldn’t fear that possibility and, in any case, nothing is stopping them from doing that, anyway, as long as they can find each other.

Getting Started

I would start by simply emailing some of your best customers and asking them if they’d be interested in participating in the community with an exclusive group. You are looking for people who will help you in that they will be the first to take the plunge. Once you have a group, you can begin to facilitate the interaction by providing them with a space and by encouraging conversation yourself through questions and replies.

From there it becomes a process of identifying new customers who reach that tier, inviting them to the group and encouraging further participation. Then, with permission, you can filter some of the lessons down to customers who are beneath the tier and hopefully some of these highly successful customers will also choose to participate in the areas of the community that are accessible to everyone.