Sales and Customer Community: Where’s The Bridge?

I’m perplexed by the disconnect between customer community and sales. Does your business connect community interaction to the sales process? How are you doing it? What are your results?

The keys to understanding your customer’s journey and having your sales team meet its quota can be found in your customer community.

The disconnect between sales and community is common. There are very few enterprise sales organizations making this connection. My experience with sales, marketing and community leadership suggests that there is money on the proverbial table if these business areas can align their goals and objectives. There is valuable data, interaction and talent in customer communities that is not being leveraged directly by sales. Customer community is typically owned by Customer Service or Marketing/Communications and is most often viewed as an instrument for reduction in churn rate and customer service cost. These goals result in bottom line impact however there are top-line revenue gains being missed.

There are companies that have a measure of integration with sales in place. Organizations that have sales as part of the customer community roadmap either:

a.) See community as a lead generation tool. Typically this means making some or all of the community open to the public, or,

b.) See community as a direct sales channel, stuffing the community with offers and sales interaction, eroding the customer-centric nature of the community.

I can game out the sales ratios and likely see a revenue gain in either case above. However, there is significant potential for middle-to-bottom of the funnel increases in effectiveness. Sales leadership understands how the modern digital sales funnel has evolved – making conversions in later stages of the sales relationship necessary to remain competitive. Online customer community must remain a non-threatening, non-transactional place. So, how do you get to the revenue gain?

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) Or How to Actually Operate at Digital Speed

“The Sales Process is not linear or cyclical,” 
Rachel Miller, Senior Social Strategist,

Customer Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are a critical puzzle piece that must plug into your sales enablement initiatives. Customer community can help increase sales and contribute to sales enablement success by developing direct relationships with active community SMEs. this serves top-line growth in the following ways:

  • Improve qualification rate
  • Improve the psychographic depth of customer persona(s)
  • Improve understanding of the customer journey and critical milestones
  • Correct the sales process to accurately reflect the customer journey
  • Improve sales stage accuracy and forecasting
  • Reduce Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

An SME can be an influencer but they don’t all want to be one. It’s the external SME that isn’t looking to influence as much as to contribute and advise. You get up-voted and popular in a customer community if your answers have value. Does that mean you’re an expert? Maybe. But there’s more to it than that. The Community Roundtable has helped deploy a variety of tactics to identify SMEs in the launch of new online communities. The work is predominantly in employee communities where there is some historical data and activity. Active communities engaged primarily in customer service and advocacy models may have a more challenging time finding out who, externally, can help. HOW to identify and engage the SME is a tactical exercise to be explored further and it’s critical that you get this right.

Only the SME can help clarify your customer personas, customer journey and participate in your content strategy. Weaving SMEs in customer communities into sales enablement functions is a path to a steadier flow of up-sells and renewals, increasing Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR).

What is being Measured?

Community reporting and analytics do not relate to sales. Most online community KPIs are connected to traffic and engagement and not to metrics that could help refine sales process and content strategy around the customer journey. Valuable communities require engagement, contribution and problem solving. It’s important to measure these attributes to ensure the communities’ continued success. It’s not enough though, to get to the potential ROI from digital community that builds prosperous relationships.

Marketing is interested in who can further the message. Advocacy is the highest level of customer participation. Community KPIs are built around customer service and/or marketing objectives, missing the mark in acquisition and institutional adoption which are critical to meeting revenue goals.

Drawing stronger lines from Community Management strategy to Sales Enablement, such as length of the sales cycle, conversion rates in the funnel and sales velocity (how fast leads are becoming customers) is a path to growth through better customer relationships and understanding.

Community Sales Integration Framework 

Sales gears turning graphic

I am driving toward proper integration of digital community with sales enablement and sales processes. There is evidence that, at a minimum, the tools exist to allow for better measurement, to arrive at a process for reducing sales cycle times and to produce content that is more effective both in the middle and bottom of the sales funnel. Doing this now will produce a tremendous competitive advantage. Putting the framework in place and piloting some existing communities will help establish a maturity model and best practices.

Propel It Forward

Perhaps you have some evidence of this being done at some level of maturity that can be shared? Are you as a Sales or Community leader? Do you work in an organization where community activity relates more closely and in better cooperation with sales strategy that I’m seeing? What would integrating your community into the sales enablement process mean to you?

[1] The Community Sales Integration Framework and Maturity Index is due to be released in early Fall, 2019 by C7group. We are actively seeking Community and Sales Enablement professionals to contribute insights, best practices and pitfalls to avoid.

This blog post was first published on LinkedIn here.

Related Posts:


Please leave your comments or suggestions:


Lets talk about sales! Call 916-538-3767

Content backlog? We can help.