Why Creating an Online Customer Community is the Ultimate Post-Sale Inbound Strategy
At this point, you’re probably tired of hearing about inbound strategies. However, there’s a reason inbound marketing, sales, and customer communication has changed the way people do business. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
Quite simply, they work.
We’re guessing the majority of information you hear about inbound strategies has to do with attracting customers and making the sale. Today, we’re taking a bit of a different spin on things and discussing an inbound strategy for after the sale.
Before we get too far into it, let’s back up for a minute.
What Exactly is an Inbound Strategy and Why is it so Popular?
Rather than disrupting prospective customers with advertisements and cold calls, inbound operates on the principle of helping, not selling. You attract customers with information and useful content that builds trust and promotes competency.
With an inbound strategy, you’re able to build lasting relationships with your people in your market and then lead them to become customers when they are looking for solutions to the problems that your products or services solve.
Content creation like blog posts, ebooks, videos, infographics, and slideshares gives you a platform on which you can be remarkable, get found by prospective customers, and spread your ideas. An inbound strategy is one of the most efficient ways your company can stand out from the competition and convert people into qualified opportunities by being uniquely human and helpful to your target audience.
Beyond how well it works, there’s another reason inbound strategies are so well liked by both executives and people in the tranches: they’re data driven. Take inbound marketing and sales, for instance. Data plays a significant role from the beginning to the end.
Marketers collect data about their target audiences’ behavior to determine what the right messages are for the right people at the right time. Throughout the process of generating leads and nurturing those leads toward a sale, data tells marketers and salespeople what’s working and what’s not, allowing them to adjust and optimize.
But what about what comes after the sale?
What Are Your Options for Post-sale Customer Management?
There are a few common choices companies usually choose for post-sale customer management. Typically, there is an account management team that reaches out to existing customers to promote new products, services, and training offers, with a goal of increasing customer satisfaction and encouraging a future sale.
This is usually done through emails and phone calls. Outreach by account managers is usually somewhat targeted based on known customer information housed in CRM systems.
In addition to account management, after the sale, product issues that customer are experiencing are usually handled through customer support tickets and call centers.
Lastly, when it comes to collecting product feedback and gathering data from your market, product managers often have to recreate the wheel to select the customers to survey and interview and then contact them to get them participate.
While all of these options, when used together or separately, can lead to effective post-sale customer management, none of them delight customers and deliver efficiency of “inbound.”
However, there’s one tactic we left off the list: online customer communities.
How Online Customer Communities Embody an Inbound Approach
Going back to our original assessment of inbound strategies, let’s see how online customer communities match up.
Online Customer Communities Work to Attract Customers
After the sale, there are certain things you’re going to want your customers to do. Common examples include:
- Simply learning and using your product
- Purchasing again or upgrading
- Helping other customers
- Provide product feedback
- Becoming an advocate for your company in the market
Regardless of your business’s priorities, products, and customer base, you’re going to want to find a way to keep them informed and engaged so that you have an easier time converting customers to take the actions that you want them to take.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get customers’ attention after the initial purchase. Creating an online community stocked with original, insightful, and helpful content gives your customers access to an ongoing support system. They can connect with industry experts, find partners to help them solve their problems faster, share ideas and suggestions, and help other customers with the issues with which they are wrestling.
You can’t force customers to consume and respond to your messages. By providing a platform where customers can access content, have conversations with other customers, and get advice from to experts, your online customer community acts as a magnet for customers looking for get more out of your products and services. When customers are engaged, your company has fewer barriers to getting customers to respond to your calls-to-action.
Online Customer Communities Are About Helping, Not Selling
Just as “ABH – Always Be Helping,” is a core value of inbound marketing and selling, this is a pillar of creating a successful online community. If customers think they’re being sold to through your community, they won’t bother to stick around or invest in the process.
From the start, you want your online customer community to become a central online destination where customers, partners, and employees help your customers, share their ideas, and answer each other’s questions.
In order to make your community worth your customers’ time, helping your customers find more success with your products and services needs to be at the very heart of everything you do.
Online Customer Communities Create Advocates
There will be different engagement levels throughout your community but, ultimately, you want to transition customers from new community members, to regular members, to contributing members, and then to senior members.
Eventually, the goal is to build advocates within your community and beyond. Customer advocates are more willing to spread your company’s vision and educate people on your solutions in the general market. Online communities help build customer advocacy and reference programs by maintaining relationship with your biggest fans, supports, and power users through the various engagement opportunities in your online community.
Smart businesses leverage their online customer community to make their customer advocates feel special, like they’re more of a partner than a customer, as well as keep them up-to-date on company news and product direction.
Active Online Customer Communities Are Inherently Remarkable
No two customer communities are the same, even within the same market or for companies with similar products. While a portion of this uniqueness is due to the many different combinations of features available in your customer community software, the real remarkability comes from the people involved.
Active participants in your online customer community can change the way you do business. Their unique insight and experiences can change the way other customers view your company. Their discussions and the content that they produce for the community helps position your online customer community as a differentiator in your market that other organizations cannot emulate. How the people in your community engage with each other and with your content helps to set your community apart.
Online Customer Communities Are Data-Driven
The key to a successful, thriving online community is how online community managers leverage the social activity data to steer the community.
Your company has access to everything that goes on in your online customer community. This allows you to identify and track common questions from your customers and analyze data from specific customer groups to make better business decisions.
Just like inbound marketing strategies leverage data about which resources prospective customers viewed on your website to get people to convert on marketing offers, when you know more about your customers, you can get them to do what you want them to do.
Whether it’s registering for a conference, attending a training session, renewing a subscription, upselling or upgrading, the social behavior data of your online community can help you provide the right message, to the right people, at the right time.
Post-Sale Inbound Customer Management Takeaway
Inbound strategies are popular because, quite simply, they work.
Just as marketers apply inbound principles to how they attract customers and convert leads to sales, your company can handle their post-sale customer communication with an inbound approach.
Among all the other post-sale customer management strategies, creating an online customer community is the only option that fully embraces inbound principles. They attract and help customers, create advocates, allow your company to be remarkable, and rely on data for optimized processes and post-sales conversion rates.
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at http://blog.socious.com.
Customer Think is a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. The site serves 80,000+ visitors per month from 200 countries.