I’ve been thinking a lot about community these days. Or said another way: I’ve been thinking a lot about how the demand generation to sales prospecting model seems to be breaking down, and that the future of selling needs to be helping. And if I’m right it means we as B2B marketers need to shift our approach from reaching audiences and generating demand to supporting communities and serving hand-raisers.

That’s a lot to unpack.

Are You Tired of Being Sold To?

Let’s start with why I think the sales model needs to change. Simply put, none of us like being sold to. For example, having a sales development rep call before we’ve even started reading that whitepaper we just downloaded. Or getting appointment setting emails that try to guilt us with how disappointed the salesperson is by our lack of response. And don’t get me going on how sales reps hold us hostage through generic sales deck presentations without asking us any questions.

Is it any wonder we no longer answer phone calls from numbers we don’t recognize?

Meanwhile, too many of us are leaning into our marketing channels to blast our content, trumpet our brand and hopefully ensnare prospects in our gated forms. Plus, we’re turning to the ever-growing pile of technology solutions with the hope of squeezing ever-more out of our demand generation to sales process. I’m not implying we don’t need martech — of course we do. I’m just saying we should be investing in the human side of things, too.

Hence, community.

What do I mean by community? Your target contacts, your connections, your tribe coming together to solve common problems, up their game as professionals, and feel a part of something bigger. Add to that buyers today want to do business with brands they like and feel a human connection with. Imagine how much easier your marketing job would be if you were one of those brands!

But will investing in a community pay off?

Just ask the folks at Salesforce, Atlassian and Red Hat about the impact of community on increasing customer lifetime value and lowering customer acquisition costs. And for startups in particular, a community of passionate early adopters of your product can grow into a strategic advantage against even the largest marketplace incumbents.

Remember: brand advocacy is much more valuable than brand awareness!

Define Your Community Strategy

You’ll need a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish with your community before getting started. Answering these key questions will help:

  • Which community of people do you want to focus on? Maybe you have multiple buyer personas or sell to many different job titles. Look for the commonalities and pain points between these personas and job titles to come up with the community you want to serve.
  • How will you support this community? Notice I said support, not sell to. What is your mission when it comes to this community? What purpose will the community be excited to engage around, and how can your brand help with this purpose?
  • When do they come together? How will you bring community members together on a regular basis to engage around the topics and conversations you and they care about?
  • How will you foster communications between community members? Maybe a dedicated Slack channel, LinkedIn group, or Facebook group makes sense. Or maybe just leverage social media conversations and email communications to begin with.
Your Marketing Approach Will Have to Change

Embracing a community-oriented marketing strategy will have direct implications for many aspects of your marketing approach including:

  • Event marketing: Use virtual and in-person events as reasons to bring people together on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis to discuss the issues the community cares about.
  • Content marketing: Leverage your blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and executive bylines as opportunities to showcase community members and their stories.
  • Social media: Shift from a broadcast mindset to one of engaging and growing your community by amplifying member’s content, posting polls and questions to get feedback, and acknowledging, thanking, and shining the spotlight on others.

As you go down the community-building path, you’ll need to measure how you’re making progress. Here are some ways to do that:

  • House email lists: Don’t obsess about growing your database, instead obsess on your open rate.
  • Social media: Make your north star the total number of engagements.
  • Search marketing: Track the number of brand searches.
  • Number of community members: Calculate the number of people who have engaged with your brand (e.g., open emails and engaged on social media) over a specified period, such as the last 90 days.
  • Lead attribution: Measure the percentage of leads and referrals that are coming from community members each quarter.

Are these numbers improving over time? If you’re doing a good job with the community, they will.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you agree with investing in a community growth approach to B2B marketing? What tactics are you finding success with in growing your community?

This article was originally published on CMSWire.

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