Sales teams often get a bad rap in the community world.
That’s probably not surprising — communities should be a safe space for members, and having products pushed on them can leave a bad taste in their mouths. And it's likely why, as data from our 2022 Community-Led Report shows, Sales are the least likely to understand the impact communities can have on their team.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
“When community professionals are wary about interacting with Sales, I do understand it,” says Colin Campbell, Head of Community at Outreach. “But like it or not, every company exists to sell a product. Even non-profits still need revenue.”
Ultimately, he adds, the more successful a Sales team is, the more successful the company is. And the more successful the company is, the more resources communities tied to that company have at their disposal.
If Sales and Community teams work together, they can create boundaries that maintain trust between members and the company. “There is fundamental alignment. Sometimes it just takes some work to find it. We’re all on the same team,” Colin says.
“A community should always be built for the sake of community, never for the sake of sales. That being said, there are ways for salespeople to engage with potential leads without losing their trust,” says Katrine Reddin, Head of Sales at Commsor.
In Communities of Product or Practice, the community space is a great place to find your best customers — and in turn, better understand their needs and problems you may be able to help them solve.
“Your community is a micro version of your marketplace, which means you have direct access to the type of folks you want to sell to,” Katrine says.
“That means you can observe what members are saying and what kind of help they’re asking in your community, and either build for those things, or incorporate them into your pitches. You can better understand how to solve your customers’ — and potential customers’ — needs.”
When it comes to identifying community-qualified leads, Katrine suggests figuring out a system that has the Community team in the driver’s seat.
“For example, it's a good idea to track which customers vs. prospects are in the community, and have the Community team decide whether or not it's the right time to engage a member,” she says.
“In this way, the Community team can help the Sales team determine when a member is ‘warmed up’ enough to be engaged in a product conversation. Ultimately, the Community team should remain in complete control.”
Taking it a step further and helping the Sales team understand members — are they a super user? Active? A lurker? — can inform how they approach the relationship, she adds.
“For example, a super user is much more likely to take a call with the Sales team because they are gaining and providing value in the community. But a lurker might be upset about getting ‘prospected’ because they are less likely to be super attached to and engaged in the community.
While community pros may be wary of having the Sales team active within the community, having trusted salespeople around — who know the products and industry inside out — can provide enormous value to members.
To do so, Katrine recommends Sales teams start by building strong, authentic relationships with members before even considering mentioning that product or service.
“Get to know the members, provide them with value, share content you think is relevant to them. Then as you get to know them better over time, it becomes easier to transition the conversation into a sales call,” she says.
“A great way of opening the ‘sales door’ with a lead in your community is by responding to a question they’ve asked, and reminding them that your product could help solve their problem.”
A community-qualified lead is one that originates from the community. This person’s first touchpoint with your company is the community, rather than someone on the Sales or Marketing team. “They engage, gain knowledge and value, and then may organically enter the sales funnel,” Katrine explains.
Community-Led Sales is a slow burn. The time between when a potential customer enters your company’s orbit (as a community-qualified lead), and when someone from the Sales team reaches out can be longer than in traditional sales outreach.
“However once the first sales call is booked, it’s much easier to progress a deal with an active community member, than a prospect who is not an active community member,” Katrine says.
Why? The community-qualified lead is likely already pretty clued up on your company’s products and services, thanks to time spent in your community.
“Plus, the lead is gaining value from being there, which means they are more likely to be serious about the opportunity when taking a call with the Sales team, vs. a cold outreach opportunity,” Katrine explains. “That person doesn’t know you or your company and when it comes to building rapport, you’re starting from scratch."
Colin, who heads up a Sales community at Outreach, offers some help for Community teams who want to work more closely with Sales.
“You may already have sellers who understand how to ‘play the long game’ and interact in a community in a value-add way, rather than clogging your community up with pitches. Find these sellers and help them. You have valuable knowledge and connections you can use to help them achieve their goals."
“Ask to shadow calls, listen to recordings of their demos, and attend some of their stand-up meetings with the goal of helping folks un-clog deals with what you know from your experience. I've even seen community professionals take on cold-call training."
“Enable, enable, enable. Sometimes we get so side-tracked by trying to teach our Sales teams what they can't do in our communities, we forget to teach them what they can do. Show your Sales teams where they have skin in the game, and teach them how to use the community to hit their goals (in a way that adds value to the community). Use the salesperson you found in tip #1 as an example.”
“Set up a low-lift program that is specifically for your Sales teams. If you worry about sellers muddying the waters in a forum, or attending events only to pitch every face they see, give them a place where it's allowed and expected. It's OK if it's a small program. For example, you can hold an ‘information session’ where you have a one-to-many, low-pressure overview of the services and products your company offers — think those steak dinners hosted by financial advisors.”
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