Online communities are becoming more mainstream every day, with many companies using them for customer support and retention. No question, they’re great for that.
However, there is another HUGE benefit you can get from your online community – increased sales. Are you ready to learn how? Here we go:
3 Ways Your Online Community Can Increase Sales
1. Attract Prospects
With the advent of marketing automation systems, companies are harnessing the power of the internet to draw customers to their site. To do that, you need content. You can create an eBook or offer a webinar to start fulfilling your content needs, but that takes time, and if you can’t do it yourself, it takes money.
An online community can help you cut down on the amount of time and money that goes into creating content while bringing more qualified prospects to your site. Many companies successfully attract prospects through the community by exposing certain discussion content to the public.
For B2B companies, there may be some discussions in your community that you don’t want the world to see; that’s normal, but usually there are some that would be just fine to expose. By sharing these discussion forums, you have instant and evergreen search engine optimization (SEO).
Once they’re public, the discussions can be indexed by search engines and found by prospects. They may even be better optimized than your marketing content, because the way a user asks a question in Google might be closer to the way users ask a question in a discussion forum.
Harness these constantly growing forums to help attract prospects to your site. As they show up via search, have prospects fill out a quick form to get limited access to your online community. This way you capture a lead and you can move on to the next step: tracking their activity.
2. Track Prospect Activity
If you’re not a web tracking/marketing automation user, the problem with many web forms is you can only see that one action they have taken. They downloaded an eBook, great – but what did they do after that? Did they search on a related topic? Did they go to an industry forum to ask a question?
The problem is, you don’t know. When you allow a prospect into your online community, you can serve up additional content a prospect may be interested in around your products and services. You can even give them access to a general forum to ask questions, and you can give them the ability to search your content.
When they do all of this in your online community, you can see it all! In fact, if you send the activities to your CRM, then you can contact prospects based on their actions in the community. This is a powerful way to be a resource for prospects and gain greater visibility into their buying process as well as the questions they ask when looking for your products and services.
Bonus: If you use marketing automation software in tandem with your online community software, you can use the data provided by your community to personalize a drip campaign for prospects. Marketing automation provides you with even more data through web tracking and helps you send a sequence of emails timed exactly right to increase the probability of conversion.
3. Identify Upsell Opportunities
Once a prospect becomes a customer, your online community can be a tremendous source of information for them. They can download product documentation, ask questions of other customers, and provide feedback to you on your product offerings to help speed up innovation. All of these things help reduce your support costs.
These actions also identify upsell opportunities. Since the community is tracking everything the customer is searching, downloading, and reading, all this information becomes very valuable to your sales team.
If a customer downloads product documentation on a product they don’t have – sales should be alerted.
If a customer start asking questions in a discussion forum on the benefits of upgrading their product version – sales should be alerted.
When you have your online community integrated with your CRM, upsell opportunities are easy to identify.
Combining Customer Support and Sales in Your Online Community
When you consider both the support AND increased sales benefits that an online community can offer, it is easy to see why companies are implementing online communities in droves.
Your sales team will benefit from the increased insights that online community provides across the sales cycle. Prospects can see your thought leadership through the community, and you can see their activity in the community, helping you understand how to appeal to their interests. And once they’re customers, your online community can encourage them to buy with you again.
VP, Commercial Sales
Paul is the VP of Commercial Sales at Higher Logic and co-founder of software company, Socious. Prior to Higher Logic, Paul spent much of his career in marketing and sales, with over 10 years of specific technical sales experience. In 1998, Paul became a founding partner of The Isadore Group, a PeopleSoft Higher Education consulting firm, which was acquired in the fall of 1999. When Paul is not working, he loves to coach his kids’ sports teams, spend time with his family, and work out.
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