5 Ways Sales and Marketing Teams Should Be Mining Their Online Community

Hunter Montgomery, CMO, Higher Logic

Businesses increasingly rely on online communities as a vital channel for communicating with customers and giving customers a chance to connect with each other. Yet, according to a recent study, “The Business Impact of Online Communities” conducted by Leader Networks, marketers are at the helm of the majority of corporate online communities today. This chain of command indicates that while online communities were considered useful, they were not thought of as a strategic tool. But as online community capabilities and offerings become more sophisticated and far reaching, they are generating tremendous amounts of customer activity data, and forward-thinking companies have begun tapping into them just as any data scientist would tap into a healthy data stream. But not all companies have figured out how to use their community as a data-driven listening channel that can deliver a strategic and competitive advantage while also helping to generate revenue. Here are some reasons to figure out how to tap into this data and how you can start.

You hold powerful data and can uplevel marketing’s role within the company. You run the community, you monitor the community, and because of that, you have access to a lot of data, significant data that can be very useful to departments throughout your company. Use that to your advantage. There are a few easy steps you can take in the beginning to start. For instance, scanning your community’s daily digests can help you track product issues that are showing up repeatedly. Sharing those issues with the product marketing and development teams is a great way to uplevel your relationship with them. When the product dev team can literally take direct feedback from customers and input it into spec sheets as justification for modifications, nothing gets lost in translation, and you’ve directly connected marketing to product development. With the right analytic tools you can then automate the process to get that information easily and sync it with larger marketing data warehouses.

Get to know your customer champions ...and detractors. “In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge and engagement with customers.” (Forrester) Indeed, keeping customers satisfied and coming back is the Holy Grail for businesses. And your online community gives you direct insight into champions and detractors. Again, plenty of tools exist to help you automate the process, and once you identify your corporate champions, gamification and advocacy programs are perfect fits to be run within a community. Give your supporters a voice and show them the path to become advocates for other customers. As for the detractors, the ability to track what they are saying online provides you a chance to address those concerns. Multiple sources say customer advocacy increases roughly 16% when complaints are addressed. When negative reviews are not addressed, advocacy declines an average of 37%. Also, client champions can be your most effective advocates to address the detractors. You will be surprised at how often a customer deflects the complaints of another customer. Champions can participate in many ways along the customer journey – answer questions, write a guest blog, be part of a case study, speak on a webinar or at the annual conference, etc.

“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”– Seth Godin. Use your customer community to get involved in product development. Products are always changing, no matter how great they are, and the community is one way to track new ways customers are using the products or to monitor for features they wish products had. Once you identify trends in the community, communicate them to the product/service development teams. Steve Jobs once said, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” Your online community is one of the best ways to do that.

Upselling is easier and more profitable than new sales. Your sales team might view the community as a marketing tool, but you know it’s also an upsell channel. Show them how. Educate your sales team about how to leverage the community to spot customer issues before sales calls, and how to be a hero and solve a problem even before a customer has raised it to sales. Sales can share with their customers and prospects examples posted in the community of how other customers have been successful with an additional or upgraded product or service. Why is this important? Because 80 percent, yes 80 percent, of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20 percent of your existing customers.(Gartner Group)

Make your marketing campaigns better. While you don’t use your community to run a campaign, tracking reactions on your community is a great way to gauge responses to campaigns and tweak them as you go along. Most community platforms integrate with your marketing automation platform. This allows you to use community engagement data as part of more sophisticated and targeted marketing campaigns. Think of it as lead scoring on steroids.

Hunter Montgomery is CMO of Higher Logic, an industry leader in cloud-based community platforms.