How B2B Companies Are Using Online Communities to Get Closer To Their Clients

Vanessa DiMauro
Vanessa DiMauro CEO, Leader Networks

Posted on February 23rd 2011

How B2B Companies Are Using Online Communities to Get Closer To Their Clients

Business-to-business companies have always needed closer relationships with their customers than business-to-consumer firms. It makes sense, since strong relationships help generate repeat business. Most B2B firms expend significant resources on relationship-building assets such as highly trained sales forces, lavish trade show exhibits and sponsorships, focus group research, private seminars, white-glove service and support, and glossy customer-oriented magazines.

More recently, a small but fast-growing group of B2B companies are using a new technique to nurture customer relationships: online communities. These firms, which include business information provider LexisNexis, enterprise software giant SAP, consulting firm Palladium Group and recruiting software vendor Taleo, are finding their virtual customer communities have significant impact. These leading-edge firms help their customers get more value from their products and services; develop better new products and services; deliver better after-sale service; generate more effective marketing and selling programs through educational content rather than promotional messages; and gain more control over what the market is saying about the company.

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting a 40-minute webinar on this topic with BroadVision, which covered these key areas:

  • The types of companies that would benefit most from online communities;
  • Three community models to help companies choose the best strategy;
  • Advice based on the experiences of companies with vibrant and valuable B2B customer communities.

We had a super turnout and a lot of questions and comments. Thanks to all who attended!

In addition to the webinar, we will be sharing more of the case studies we have developed on these pioneering customer communities. They will suggest the possibilities and awake the imaginations of those firms who seek to work more closely and collaboratively with their customers through online customer communities. It's an exciting time!

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Vanessa DiMauro

Vanessa DiMauro

CEO, Leader Networks

Vanessa DiMauro is a trusted business advisor, and founder and CEO of Leader Networks, LLC, the world’s premier B2B social business consultancy. Vanessa helps organizations drive top line growth through innovative digital strategy design and thoughtful execution. Her experience as a social business executive spans over 15 years and her award-winning track-record is fueled by passion, experience and consistency.  Vanessa's work has been covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CIO Magazine and she was recently named a Social Marketing Master by Forbes. She is serves on the board at a number of leading organizations such as Social Media Today, The Society of New Communication Research and is a former Executive In Residence at Babson College - Olin School of Management. 

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Comments

Really exciting to see online communities looked at more and more frequently as an effective tactic for business-to-business organizations as well. Done right, they can provide really valuable insights - those "aha moments" that can drive everything from new product innovation to customer service to marketing and advertising concept validation. Did the webinar cover the difference between engaging private and public online communities, or did it focus mainly on public?

ChrisO,

Thanks for your comment.  This webinar focuses on customer communities - some public and some private but the commonality is that they are all dedicated to serving the B2B agenda.  In a older webinar I have covered the differences as I see them between building B2B and B2C online communities. 

While online communities have been around for quite some time (think ARPAnet) they have recently been gaining quite a bit of media attention. But the problem with the information being discussed is that it often doesn't differentiate between the different types of communities and there are big differences between consumer and business models. While both seek to influence brand - consumer communities are intended to project or influence outwardly with the focus being on influencer markets and brand evangelism. Meanwhile, business to business communities are more focused on bringing the clients and the company closer together in partnership. Technical support communities fall somewhere in between the two models.

Consumer communities are typically large in number because they most often have a revenue model that is ad supported. Scale is essential to financial success. The more eyes that are on an ad the better. When successful, they are quick to scale but members tend to have weaker ties between them. Sure, there are some core members who are always present in the forums or on the community, but the majority of users collaborate and evaporate. There are few predictable and reliable user relationships over time.

With B2B communities, membership matters more. They are often gated or have authenticated user acceptance policies. A while back,  BusinessWeek did a nice article showcasing elite or private communities for doctors, mobile executives and a few others. Because a membership threshold exists - a member must be a client, or a specific kind of professional or persona – there tends to be fewer members but the relationships between members and the organization are stronger because they are engaging over time. The members also tend to know each other IRL (in real life) so there are greater dependencies among the group.

This is just the most apparent difference – tools, content needs, interaction design all offer important differences that are not interchangeable when creating professional communities.