Higher Logic Blog

3 Things You Should Know Before Planning an Online Customer Community

Written by Joshua Paul | July 5, 2011 at 2:25 PM

The expectations of B2B customers and the complexity of problems they are trying to solve have grown dramatically in the last decade. While your customers' businesses have become more multifaceted, the solutions that you have created to help them solve their problems have also become more intricate. This is one of the major reasons that online customer communities have evolved into the platform of choice for many B2B companies to maintain high customer satisfaction levels and collect data from their market.

I want to share with you a presentation recently published by Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of B2B online community consulting firm, Leader Networks. It outlines how B2B firms utilize online communities for their customers, how to determine if your business needs an online community, and how to build a thriving B2B online customer community.

Do you need an online community for your customers?

View more presentations from Leader Networks

Below are a three of the foundational concepts that I pulled out of the presentation to assist B2B executives who are just beginning to explore the impact that an online customer community can have on their business.

Thing You Need to Know #1: Online Customer Communities Are Still About Creating Value for the Customer

Though much of the community management talk online is about keeping members engaged, growing the community, and handling community management challenges such as conflict between community members, it is important to remember that both B2B and B2C businesses develop online communities to create value for their customers "“ before, during, and after the purchase. This value comes in the form of:

  • Easier access to information and people who can help them do their jobs
  • Faster answers to their questions
  • Products that solve their most urgent and pervasive problems more effectively

Vanessa does a nice job boiling down the reasons that B2B firms launch online customer communities into 6 categories, which I have further placed into 3 group. It is important to keep in mind that online community software is designed with the flexibility to address all or some of the reasons listed below.

Some companies launch online communities for customers to tackle their most critical of these challenges and then later expand their customer community into additional areas to furthercreate value for their customers and business.

Thing You Need to Know #2:
Why Do B2B Firms Launch Online Customer Communities?

Sales and Customer Retention

  1. Help customers become more successful with your products and services (get more value).
  2. Improve the effectiveness of their marketing, sales, and customer retention efforts.

Product Management and Innovation

  1. Create customer feedback loops to develop new market-driven products and services.
  2. Use market data to improve profitability and satisfaction with existing products.

Customer Service and Satisfaction

  1. Improve customer satisfaction while reducing the cost of servicing customers.
  2. Monitor, control, and proactively respond to conversations about your company, products, and services.

Thing You Need to Know #3:
B2B Customer Communities are About Being Helpful, Not Being Social

The following slide reinforces our approach to private social networks, where it is less about networking and more about helping your customers solve their problems. Though "social networking" gets the lion's share of the buzz right now, helping your customers do their jobs is the fastest way to create value and build a successful online customer community that keeps your customers engaged.

As you see from the presentation, B2B companies are using online communities to increase sales, create profitable product offerings, and exceed customers' expectations of the support and value they get from your products and services.