Where is the future of Community and Advocacy headed for Customer Marketers/Advocate Marketers/Customer Success professionals?
I’ll tell you, and yes, much of this is already happening, but it will soon compound and accelerate as more and more organizations understand how to approach it for their success.
First off, when the pandemic hit is when I personally feel many B2B organizations, who either weren't utilizing customer community and advocacy practices, or were doing so in a half-hearted piloted way, learned what the rest of us in our discipline already knew: taking care of/engaging/guiding current customers can lead to steady profits at a lower cost of acquisition.
Companies' backs were against the COVID wall. They needed to do something different to allow the business to survive and even thrive on a new playing field. Organizations pivoted to invest more in retaining the current customers they had knowing the cost/time effort was too great (and frankly unknown at the time) for attracting enough net new customers. One seemingly "easy" and cost-effective way to double-down on current customers was to stand up a community, engage customers, and nurture them to advocacy where retention and profits grow. Easy solution. Right? Not really when approached out of desperation.
While many organizations emerged with innovative communities and great advocacy practices an equal, if not higher, amount thought just standing up a community would solve their short-sighted issues. Those who didn't pay attention and invest the necessary time, effort, and money into a well-established community experience for their customers are watching their competing peer organizations soar past them with continued success as they wonder why their community isn't working.
Part of the reason those communities are failing is because one can't just stand a community up and check the box that now the organization has one that nurtures customer advocacy. That just won't cut it, and if you're the one who suggested it in your organization, it's likely why you'll be let go. Furthermore, that organization will begin to believe that community and advocacy is a fad, like social media (sense my sarcasm), and doesn't work. Then the organization will fall further behind the current learning curve while their profits continue to decline in comparison to their competitors who figured out the magic of community and advocacy.
This was a similar phenomenon when company websites came on the scene, when social media for business came to the fore, and now with community and advocacy.
Enough with the recent history lesson, what's going on now and moving forward?
Community and Advocacy is now in full view of the C-suite. It was there before, but only about a quarter of the C-suite were paying any attention to it. If for some reason your C-suite is not on board, you may want to consider other employment options.
Today, in order for B2B companies to compete and/or have an advantage they have to embrace community and advocacy practices. Mainly, if they don't, they'll be left behind or just not even considered when potential customers are making a purchasing decision. Hint: buyers are looking for strong customer communities as an added value reason to make a purchase.
Companies that "get" Community and Advocacy are investing in providing added value to their customers beyond the core product purchased by having the power of a community to to help those customers with increased self-service, peer-to-peer crowd-sourced answers to their questions, and all in an online search engine style community site.
A customer community experience that makes your complex product easy to adopt, easy to own, and accelerates time-to-value WILL be engaged with, but it goes further...if you tap into the social/emotional aspect of your customers you can not only engage customers personally and professionally, but by doing so you'll promote empowerment, thought-leadership, recognition for individual and company successes, career advancement, a sense of purpose and belonging...a full-on positive brand culture if you will (all the building blocks of advocacy). Oh, and yes, you will experience retention from your customers and even expansion purchases for far less than the cost of acquiring net new customers.
Let's address net new customers for a second...with the kind of advocacy that results from your delivering value via your product and your awesome community, you'll have more successful customers willing to share their stories, more customers referring business to you because they love how your company helps them do their job better...your customers become your best sales and marketing team...because they're selling their outcomes to your prospects. Prospects who are after similar outcomes.
Why does all of this work? Because you have tapped into trust-building at scale. You're providing so much added value to customers by making easy the adoption of your product and their ability to be successful with it. Plus, because your community is online and the content is crowd-sourced by customers in addition to your organization's experts, the community information and value exponentially continues to grow. It becomes a better and better search engine that both your customers and your organization benefit from.
Creating a world class customer community experience will continue to be a differentiator for B2B organizations (especially XaaS companies) in the near future. It's not easy to do, which is why many organizations are currently in an arms race to thoughtfully stand up their communities. They recognize the sales, marketing, product dev., support, and customer success benefits of employing Community and Advocacy...do you?
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