By 2025, 80% of sales interactions will occur in digital channels, according to research by Gartner. Some are calling it a ‘digital doomsday’ – but for others, it’s an opportunity. For B2B brands with an active digital presence, there are countless ways to create a thriving pipeline through online interactions – and online communities are proving to be a powerful tool in this process.
Through online communities, B2B brands are able to transform their audience into a living, breathing community – and a pipeline for new or repeat business. With the right content, conversations and processes, you can open a door between your B2B brand and your prospects, not only engaging but building trust through targeted content and authentic conversations. In a recent interview, Laura Bineviciute, Head of Content & Community at Data Leaders, stated, “the Data Leaders hub has helped us to drive 90% client retention and net growth across our customer base,” a testament to the commercial lead power of online communities.
Whether you are a B2B brand with a product, service or technology to offer, or a B2B media platform looking to add value to sponsors and paid partnerships, your online community can act as a valuable way to inform, influence and convert customers.
From funnel to flywheel
In our Community-led growth playbook, we explain how customer interactions no longer fit into the traditional ‘funnel’ model. It’s not a linear process, with customers moving towards an end-goal of purchase or sign up. It’s more of a constant evolution and deepening engagement that keeps customers returning to a brand and, in turn, becoming advocates for it. In our increasingly digital society, every customer can become a digital mouthpiece for a brand, and communities can help you to extract value from this.
- Awareness: attract initial awareness through content generation and brand building,
- Engagement: leverage social proof and community-enabled prospecting, delivering peer-generated answers and support.
- Acquisition: enable customer-to-customer support, listen to product feedback, and continue to educate customers past the ‘purchase’.
- Advocacy: Using the engagement and interaction from the above stages, build loyalty and turn customers into advocates for your brand who will participate in awareness, engagement and acquisition phases of the prospect journey. As a result, they are more likely to continue their own relationship with your brand, as they feel connected and engaged.
Here are our tips to help B2B brands tackle each of these phases of the journey, to build a pipeline and influence decision-making with an online community.
Focus on quality conversations
When it comes to using your community to build your pipeline, it’s about the quality not the quantity of conversations. Instead of trying to generate a high volume of active discussions, think instead about what specific conversations will benefit your community and guide them to the information they need. Addressing repetition is one important, but often overlooked, method of doing this. By directing new conversations to existing threads, you can streamline conversations and generate in-depth discussions that allow members of your community to exchange ideas and insights. These richer, more interactive conversations can aid in building your pipeline, by giving community members a way to hear experiences that relate to their own, ask questions and keep track of discussions that are relevant to them.
Think about your prospect journey
While your community should never be purely sales focussed, with the right structure it can form part of a journey that guides prospects through the decision-making process, creating a pipeline through feeding the right information and support at the right time. Whether you’re building a pipeline for your own product or service, or generating interest on behalf of sponsors or partners, you can create a prospect journey that takes people from the awareness and information stage, through to desire, action and, ultimately, loyalty. Think back to that flywheel: this is less about reaching a definitive ‘end point’ in your customer journey, and more about continuing to develop customer’s engagement, strengthening the value they see in your brand.
Serve quality, targeted content
The best way to snag attention is with good quality content. This journey will usually start on your website – whether it’s an online publication, blog or resources page – but if you can create clear steps from content to community discussions, you can guide readers to a more immersive and informative experience. With carefully collated wraparound content – ‘behind-the-story’ insight from authors, interviews, video Q&As, etc – you can start to address different aspects of the decision-making process at different stages of the customer journey.
Give a platform to advocates
Peer-to-peer recommendation will always be one the best ways to build a pipeline – but with an online community, that doesn’t need to be limited to word of mouth. Your community gives a platform to brand advocates in your B2B community: encourage this by reaching out to request posts from specific sectors, industries or job titles, and reward their participation (this could be through simple recognition or via a loyalty scheme). The more active your brand advocates, the more newcomers will see the value of your offering and see tangible benefits to their business.
Segment into groups
Whether you have a large, mature community or are still in the early stages of building one, segmenting can be a powerful tool to develop your pipeline. By creating areas or zones of specific interest, you can guide members to networks or conversations that are relevant to them. These segments don’t need to feature hundreds of people – in fact in some instances, smaller, more focused segments can create a close-knit network, forging stronger connections and sparke authentic discussions. Creating a close-knit space online was one of the driving factors of building an online community for the team at IT Pack. As Brooke Van Sickle, Community Manager at IT Pack, explains: “We wanted to bring our community into one space online, so they can share and collaborate with each other. To engage with like minds, and to get trusted, verified information.” As a pipeline exercise, grouping allows new community members to instantly connect with others in the same job role, department or field, who are approaching your B2B offering from a similar perspective and want to share specialist knowledge and information.
Help your community find the information they need to make a decision on your product or service. Create dedicated learning and support channels, with community managers actively providing problem-solving content and pointing people in the right direction for both brand-led and peer-to-peer support. These channels can include easy to digest content on benefits and challenges, or more in-depth discussion topics around the practicalities of your offering.
Community comes first
Above all, never forget that to successfully build a pipeline within your online community, the community aspect has to come first. Focus on gaining trust with authentic, not sales-led, content, and make sure that you are delivering real value to your members, not just your business or your sponsors. The more you build trust with your content and conversations, the more your community members will naturally move into your pipeline as informed, engaged prospects, armed with the support and first-person recommendations they need to influence their decision-making.
If you want more tips and practical advice on creating a pipeline in your B2B community, speak to one of our team: book a discovery call to find out how you can use Zapnito to add value to your brand and influence customer decision-making.