Customer Communities: The Engagement Economy’s Best Kept Secret
In a time when our customers hold the power, when they don’t want to be marketed to, and when they want to be engaged with in a personal and authentic way, if you have a customer community, you already have an incredibly powerful tool at your fingertips with which to engage customers.
In Steve Lucas’ preview of his book, Engage To Win, which will be available later this year, he talks about the three-step process to create and deliver the kind of engagement your audience expects—Listen, Learn, and Engage. And when you think about it, a customer community is the perfect place to do all three, let’s take a look at why:
Step 1: Listen to Your Audience
We are now squarely in the Engagement Economy where we all need to meet our customers wherever they are with information they care about. A community is one of the many places your customers are. Meet them there and listen to what they’re saying. You’ll be amazed at what you learn!
I’ve been in plenty of organizations that did not have a community. When I wanted to listen to my customers, I often had to spend a lot of money and time on qualitative and quantitative research. Research can be a great tool but it only captures customer feedback at one point in time. That’s a problem in a world changing at lightening speed. Literally, what worked yesterday may no longer work or be relevant today.
With a community, you can be constantly listening to your customers as they continually evolve and change. And you don’t need a gated, proprietary community either (they are great, but do take resources to build), you can get started with a moderated group on a social platform like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Once you have a community—listen. What are they talking about? What words are they using to describe their pain points? How are they using your product or service? What do they wish they could do with your product or service? It’s amazing what you can learn, when you simply listen.
Many of the product managers at Marketo spend a certain portion of their week in the Marketing Nation Community looking at the questions and issues our customers raise and how they respond to their peers. The product managers consider this “listening” critical to their ability to do their jobs well.
Step 2: Learn from Your Customers
Now, take what you’ve heard and think about what it means for you and your business. Learn from it. Create insights you can share throughout your organization. Insights that will drive how you engage with customers.
The important part of learning from your customers and prospects is to let them lead the way. This is not the time to self-promote, to tell your product management team that your customers love your new product when they clearly don’t, or to convince yourself that you know best when it comes to your customers. If you do, you will not be successful. You will fail because your customers won’t find you relevant.
In fact, in recent research Marketo conducted, we discovered that 75% of B2B customers think that brands need to have a deep understanding of their needs to engage successfully.
Step 3: Engage with Your Community
You’ve listened to your customers. You’ve learned from them. Time to act. Take the insights you gained and start to truly engage. Here are some of my learnings about engaging with customers in our Marketing Nation Community:
- It takes a village: You can’t do this alone. You will fail. You need the support of most, if not, all your organization. Everybody needs to engage with your customers.
- Content is king: Whether it’s documents or discussions or videos or blogs, a community is only as good as the freshness and value of the content available there for people.
- Share openly with members: Be authentic. You don’t have to have all the answers. For example, when a customer asks me about something I don’t know how to do, I let them know I don’t know but will look into it. And I do.
- Build advocates: Your customer community is a wonderful place to identify those customers who are advocates of your brand and nurture them. When you see them “raising their hand,” do something about it. At Marketo, we have several programs such as our Champion program and Purple Select to which we invite those who bleed purple!
- Strive to continuously improve: Your community is a living, breathing thing. If you’re truly listening to your customers, you will always find ways to improve the community to better serve their needs. One of the things that I have been doing recently in the Marketing Nation Community is simplifying our structure and organization based on research I did. I plan improvements in phases and always let our customers know about the changes ahead of time.
Other parts of your organization may not realize how much goodness is in your customer community. Which is why it’s probably your best-kept secret.
Time to shout it from the mountaintop! No matter what part of the business they work in, all employees in your organization can benefit from taking the opportunity to listen to your customers in your community. This helps everyone in your organization develop their “outside-in” muscle. And, it is this perspective that is critical if you’re going to win in the Engagement Economy.