Customer communities are widely used in both B2C and B2B to provide after-sales support—and by fostering brand advocacy, they can add value before the sale, too.
We recently described how Sonos uses its community of 300,000 as a marketing resource. B2B brands can take a similar approach and leverage their communities for advocate marketing.
Because communities invite authentic conversations, they’re ideal for building an advocacy program. And the case for advocacy is considerable: According to Forrester, B2B buyers rely on their peers more than any other information source when they’re making a purchase decision.
How can a community help you generate advocacy?
Think about the last time you searched for a flight, or booked a hotel. Odds are, you used a platform (e.g., TripAdvisor) that let you compare multiple options at once.
Transparency is increasingly becoming an expectation for consumers, and the same holds for B2B buyers. The reason is simple: Regardless of what they’re buying, people like to know what their options are, and the pros and cons of each.
Traditionally, though, B2B hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of transparency. Blogs like this one do help to close the gap, but communities go even further by encouraging real conversations. When brand representatives, customers, and prospects can interact, they’re able to share insights and ultimately make more informed decisions.
Communities are widely used for support because they empower anyone to ask (or answer) a question. Take the telecom industry as an example: On inSided’s telco communities, customers discuss the quality of their service, solicit phone recommendations, and seek to learn more about the devices they own.
Communities function the same way in B2B, allowing members to ask and answer questions about a company’s products or services.
Best of all, the questions and answers that get posted live on as evergreen content. That enhances SEO, while offering valuable information for visitors in the future.
Securing references is a constant challenge in B2B sales and marketing. Rely on happy customers too frequently for references and you risk frustrating them—or, in the worst-case scenario, even turning them into detractors.
Communities complement your dedicated reference program by helping you build a large and diverse pool of brand advocates. You can then encourage them to share their experiences on the community and converse with prospects.
The best advocates on a community are likely to be the community’s “super users”—customers who go above and beyond to post content, provide feedback, or help with moderation duties. Because they tend to be extremely knowledgeable about both the brand and the community, they’re an ideal pre-sales resource.
A faster sales process
Long sales cycles are common in B2B. Between compiling feature requirements, identifying and vetting vendors, securing budget, and negotiating on price, B2B sales can take months to close.
Under this status-quo framework, nobody benefits. Buyers struggle to find authentic, actionable information about the vendors they’re considering. Sellers, meanwhile, have to conduct multiple conversations with multiple stakeholders, with the very real possibility that their efforts won’t result in a sale.
By opening the floor for person-to-person engagement, communities speed the sales process considerably. Community content can supplant much of the diligence that B2B buyers must conduct; if they have additional questions, they can simply post them for other community members to answer.
At the same time, sales and marketing teams can monitor discussions in the community and jump in when appropriate. That turns sales from a negotiation to a conversation, adding value for all sides.
By Ben Foster
Content Marketer at inSided. Having worked in B2B tech in San Francisco and Boston, Ben's now happy to be in New York City. He'll never root for the Yankees, though. Connect on Linkedin