If you’ve been working with me actively in the last year, you’ll know that I spent a lot of time focusing on how (and why) the long-standing sales process paradigm has shifted, and what that evolution means for salespeople and sales teams going forward.
As most of you have probably noticed, buyers no longer passively wait for salespeople to come to them. They perform independent research. They engage in solution development and qualification. And, when they feel fully prepared, they reach out to you first, instead of the other way around.
Which leads me to my top prediction for the year:
The most successful organizations this year will jump headlong into their buyers’ journey, proactively creating and participating in buyer communities, delivering unique knowledge and insight to them, and positioning themselves in those communities as true experts.
So, what exactly does that entail?
This community-driven sales strategy could manifest itself in many ways, but it generally means creating or making yourself part of buyer communities.
Doing that will not only allow you to attract the best customers, it will also ensure that you reduce the length of your sales cycle, retain and upsell existing customers, and differentiate your business in the marketplace.
Types of Communities Your Business Needs to Create
OK, so let’s talk about what building and participating in these communities really involves.
There are many different mediums, forums, and arenas in which you can develop communities. However, the ones that resonate best with your target customers will largely depend on what you sell, how your customers buy, and what information your buyers need most to move forward in their buying process.
Recognizing that might be a little vague, let’s dive a bit deeper into four specific types of communities that can help you regain control of the sales process in 2013:
1. Knowledge communities
Many businesses are already building these types of communities to better engage their prospects and customers. They’re posting videos, publishing case studies, developing whitepapers and eBooks, and posting fresh ideas to their blogs.
They are becoming publishers.
These knowledge communities (or knowledge environments) allow businesses to be ubiquitous in their marketplace, helping clients solve problems by consistently answering a very simple question: How can we do, say, or deliver knowledge, expertise, or information that improves our client’s condition?
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to publish 500-page eBooks or in-depth research reports to create a knowledge community. In fact, you’d be surprised how powerful a handful of simple blog posts, webinars, teleseminars, or podcasts can be in convincing prospects to engage with you and keep you on their short lists.
Knowledge communities help to nurture prospect relationships by building trust and proving your competence.
2. Expert communities
This type of community is similar to a knowledge community, but it differs in one key way: the information you deliver is progressively more complex and specific, continuing to address buyers’ evolving questions as they move through the sales process.
For example, maybe you’ve written a blog post that offered five basic tips for improving outbound calling campaigns. That content likely answered a very high-level question for buyers that are early in their product or solution research process. So why not take one of those tips and dive deeper with a whitepaper webinar or conference? You could provide stats, figures, and tactical tips, or host a Q&A that answers more complex questions about a specific topic.
In addition, expert communities include experts from outside your company. They provide your clients with the best thinking related to their issues and position you as a thought leader capable of providing a broad but detailed level of information
So, this year, make it your goal to get clients to stop thinking of you as sellers or suppliers, and start thinking about you as thought leaders and experts in your specific industry. Because when you’re deemed the expert, people will come to you when they’re ready to buy.
3. Corporate communities
Inside almost any organization, there’s more than one buying influencer. And I truly believe that the most important thing you can remind yourself is that every conversation is a good conversation — whether it’s with a CEO or a gatekeeper.
There’s no such thing as a bad contact, whether they’re a decision maker, decision influencer (or information provider), or organizational spy who can provide you insight into buying decisions. Each of those people play a role in the sales process, and you will never lose business by forming relationships with too many of them. You will lose business, however, if you fail to engage too few of them.
Building corporate communities with all influencers in an organization will ensure you develop a broad base of support and help you uncover critical information about their buying process, needs, and questions.
You never know what information a corporate community might be willing to share once you’ve gained its trust. And, when a buying decision is made, the more people that you have in your corner, the better your chances will be of winning an account.
4. Learning communities
This type of community varies from knowledge or expert communities in that it is designed to retain and grow existing customers.
The idea is simply to engage or connect with buyers in an effort to constantly train and nurture them. You could do that through an online learning community where you consistently share blog posts, podcasts, or videos that illustrate ways to:
- Use your product better
- Leverage your product or service in new ways
- Navigate around common roadblocks
Your ultimate goal should be to ensure that your clients know how to use your product effectively and fully leverage its functionality. The stronger your user adoption and customer engagement is, the easier it will be to retain or upsell those existing customers.
The Importance of Creating a Sense of Community
As the metaphorical sales scale continues to tip in favor of buyers, it will become increasingly critical for your company to more proactively create and foster buyer communities.
The reason is simple: This year and beyond, you won’t meet or exceed your sales potential unless you’ve developed rapport with your customers, helped them learn and grow, and delivered value above and beyond what your product or service provides.
In the end, it’s critically important that you’re able to answer “yes” to each of these questions:
- Do my buyers like, know, and trust me?
- Do they view me as an expert?
- Am I sharing truly unique knowledge?
- Am I leaving my clients in a better place than they were before our interaction?
- Am I creating a broad base of support within each organization?
Now, this isn’t a transformation that’s going to happen overnight and it doesn’t mean in any way that you should stop making outbound calls.
In fact, you should view this community building process as a fantastic supplement to your calling efforts. Because, ultimately, we know that even if you’re getting tons of inbound calls, the most important thing you can do is turn around and call those prospects quickly.
(Don’t believe me? According to research from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and InsideSales.com, 78 percent of all sales go the company that responds to a client first.)
Of course, building and cultivating the communities I discussed above won’t guarantee that you’re the first seller through a buyer’s door. But it sure as heck won’t hurt your chances of getting out in front of the pack. And if you could do something to inexpensively improve the likelihood of closing more (and better) business this year, why wouldn’t you do it?