How to run customer meetups (and why they matter)

by Steli Efti
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I always felt like customer meetups were a luxury. They helped you look good on social media—“Look at all the fun we’re having with our customers!”—but they didn't actually generate much value.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about this.

It’s hard to believe, but we didn’t host our first customer meetup until 2017. And even then, we only hosted four events last year. Considering how often I talk about visiting customers, that’s not a huge number. This year, however, we’re planning to host twelve. That’s how valuable these meetups have been.

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Why have they been so valuable for us?

Let’s talk about a few of the benefits.

  • Meetups create customer intimacy. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: whoever understands the customer best wins. Hanging out with your customers inevitably leads to a better understanding of their day-to-day challenges. Once you truly understand where they’re coming from, you’ll know how to create a product your customers love.
  • Meetups create brand loyalty. When you meet with customers in-person, you form a bond that’s more powerful than any feature. Sharing pizza and engaging in honest conversations goes a long way toward establishing brand loyalty—and that’s a huge advantage, especially in a competitive market like SaaS.
  • Meetups create opportunities. You interact with prospects. You meet the perfect candidate for that Product Marketer position. You find a quick solution for a customer who’s thinking about leaving. Every time you meet with customers—and their friends and colleagues—you have an opportunity to make your company stronger.

Now that we’ve hosted a few customer meetups, I thought it’d be a good idea to share some of our early learnings, so that you can start hosting meetups, too.

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What’s the ideal number of customers?

You can probably run a customer meetup once you have 20–30 customers in a given city. If that feels like a stretch, feel free to invite prospects, investors, and friends, too. For us, we look for at least 50 customers. That’s our benchmark for 2018.

If 100 people say they plan to attend your meetup, there’s a good chance only 30–40 will show up. It’s not because they don’t care or they’ve changed their minds about you. Things just happen. Meetings run long, deadlines get moved. Don’t take it personally. Be realistic about your attendance goals, and focus on the people who did show up.

What about the venue?

We usually host meetups at our customers’ offices, especially if we have a close relationship and there’s a conference room available. If that’s not an option, we find a nearby coworking space and book that for the day.

As I mentioned earlier, expect a smaller audience, even if 100 people say they’re going to attend. There’s no need to set up 100 seats. Instead, set up 30. As the seats fill up, grab some folding chairs and add rows, as needed.

Also, it’s important to keep the room cool. People get tired and lose focus when a room gets too warm. A roomful of people will increase the overall temperature, anyway, so set the thermostat a little colder than you’d like. It’s going to keep people feeling fresh and energized.

We occasionally order pizzas, but we’ve also just brought in beer, water, and a few snacks. Don’t overcomplicate things. Meetups are opportunities to learn from each other—they’re not all-you-can-eat buffets.

When should you announce the meetup?

Email your customers (and prospects) a month before the meetup. This gives them plenty of time to make room in their schedules. It’s also a good idea to send at least one reminder email, usually a week before the event.

What format should you follow?

Give people an extra 30 minutes to arrive. Customers can use that time to mingle, network, grab a drink, and find a seat.

Start with a welcome. Thank people for attending, and give a shout-out to the venue and any customers co-hosting the event.

Next, introduce your team. Ideally, you want to bring one or two people from sales, support, and engineering, so you have plenty of experts on-site to answer questions and make connections with customers. Attendees have probably interacted with your team before, so it’ll be good to put faces to names. But it’s also nice for them to know who to approach with questions throughout the meetup.

Then give them a quick roadmap. Tell them what you’re currently working on and what you plan to work on in the future. You don’t need to cover the next five years. Focus on what you’ve accomplished in the last six months, and what you plan to accomplish in the next six.

From there, open the floor to questions. Be sure to moderate the conversation carefully. If a question gets too detailed or narrow—if a customer has a specific problem that doesn’t relate to the other people in the room—acknowledge the question, provide a high-level answer, and promise to follow up immediately after the meetup. That way you don’t waste time or lose momentum.

If you have a number of prospects at your meetup, you might also consider a brief interview with one of your current customers. This is especially effective when there’s a specific challenge or workflow to discuss. Panels work well, too, if a few of your customers can speak to a common issue or solution.

When the Q&A is over, wrap things up with another short networking session, and you’re done. It’s not a complicated process.

After the meetup…

  • Remember to post any photos and videos to your social media accounts.
  • Email attendees to thank them for joining you, and ask for their feedback. What could you have done better? What would have made the event even more valuable?
  • Share a few highlights with those people on your email list who signed up, but were unable to attend. Most companies forget this step, but it’s a great way to engage customers and recruit for future events.

It’s not always easy to carve out time for your customers

But if you want to create an amazing product, you need to know them better than anyone else. You need to make time for them. You need to create—and nurture—customer intimacy.

One of the best ways to do this is to meet with them—and give them opportunities to meet with each other. Take it from someone who was completely skeptical about customer meetups. I was totally wrong. These things really work.

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