Their ability to communicate, to interact. To be helpful. To be a diplomat and a conversationalist and a steward of the brand. But because it's so often a taboo subject in social media, we miss talking about a pivotal skill that I think community professionals need to have.
Is sales the sole focus of our job? Absolutely not. Are we or should we be held to traditional ideas of sales performance like quotas and commissions alone? I don't think so, because it means that the transaction becomes the focus instead of all of the things that lead up to that, and the role needs to encompass many things.
But there's no denying that the community professionals that transcend the stereotypes of "forum babysitters" are the ones that have a solid slate of business skills. And let's face it. Bringing in business - or at least qualified leads - is one of them.
The key difference is that our roles have many facets other than the sales numbers, so we are defined not just by the deals we close, but the doors we open, the people we meet, the visibility we create, the problems we help solve, the bridges we build, the trust and familiarity that we engender with people. We're on the slow-burn side of the sales cycle, knowing that the work is spent on all the foundational activities of community building.
Sales are won (especially in B2B) because you've built a great offering, and spent the time to built affinity between your brand or company and the people who drive your business: your customers and prospects. Community management is relationship building at it's core. I've no doubt that my days in fundraising, business development, and client services have helped me succeed in my community role.
So let's be real. Community folks are on the front lines. A first point of contact. They're shaping customer experiences, providing information and education, answering questions, and connecting people. In cases like mine, they're out in public, speaking, representing the company, making connections and having conversations left and right.
If that's not sales, I don't know what is.
I think it's time we stop gasping when the notion of community and sales are uttered in the same sentence. I'm not here to pitch the people that reach out to me, but I'd better be prepared to shepherd them into the prospect cycle when the opportunity arises, and handle it in a way that makes them feel valued and appreciated.
We are salespeople along with all of the other things we do. We're the digital bards, the new interpreters, the tour guides for our company experience. And it's okay if we're good enough at our jobs that we help our businesses succeed along the way.
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