How to Sell Your Online Customer Community Strategy to the C-Suite

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You’ve done your research. You’ve developed a sound plan. Now, you must sell your online customer community strategy to your boss’s boss.

Getting a meeting with top-level executives is a great opportunity. While they are very busy people, setting up a block of time to talk to them about your online community strategy is critical to securing funding, solidifying buy-in, and setting expectations for the long haul that is community-building. You need to make sure that you are taking full advantage of it so that it is not a chance wasted.

You know all the reasons why a customer community is an essential tool for your business to grow over the next decade. It is up to you to make the executives in the C-suite see it that way too.

Here are seven tips that our customers have used to persuade senior management to invest in their online community strategy:

Use Flexibility of Online Communities to Align With Major Objectives

Online community software can be positioned at the center of a number of company goals. Look at what your organization’s objectives are and be prepared to show executives how a customer community can reinforce their business strategies and strengthen their performance. By showing them that you have done your research and understand what they need, you will establish your credibility and get a pass to continue the conversation.

Listen Carefully and Use What You Hear

C-level executives have an interesting superpower. Often times, they have more broad knowledge about your company and market that you do. So, if you come into their office with assumptions that don’t align with their understanding of the business, they can sense it right away. At best, they stop listening and in the worst case, they’ll fluster or embarrass you – setting back your project for months.

Be prepared with several questions for the executives that will validate your customer community strategy and get to the root of their problems. When you ask a specific question, stop and listen to their response carefully.

Conversations where executives do most of the explaining, answering and talking can be very valuable. If you listen strategically, you can tailor your pitch to align with their priorities when it is your turn to speak. There is no way you can come up with a solution to their problem until you fully understand their issues and problems.

Show a Clear Implementation and Management Plan

Once your executive team comes around to understanding the results that can be achieved, they’ll want to know how you’re going to make it happen and sustain it over time. Do your homework about the company’s priorities and work with your preferred online community software provider to draw up a plan that is realistic, but does not drain too many resources from other initiatives.

Be prepared to answer logistical questions that executives might have. This is not a time for pie-in-the-sky. Talk about strategies that have worked for your organization in the past and show the C-suite how your plan will get to the results they want.

Don’t Forget About Indirect Benefits

Give your executive team an idea of what they can expect from having an online customer community outside of the traditional benefits of increased sales, better customer retention, and lower support costs.

What are Some Indirect benefits of Online Customer Communities?

This could include boosting employee productivity by having a better way for employees to collaborate. Your customer community could also help your company gathering better market data to create more profitable products and services. Instead of just talking about creating repeat customers, explain how your customer community can increase the number of brand advocates out in the market. Your business will also be able to build a stronger network of engaged partners and suppliers.

Show Real ROI Projections

Executive’s business minds move quickly. As soon as they understand the basic concept of an online community, they’ll want to know how you are going to make it happen. As soon as they understand your implementation and community management plans, their minds will move on to the big picture return on investment (the oder of these may be different for your company).

Use a proven customer community ROI model and be clear about your assumptions so the expectation in the C-suite are appropriately set. Having your senior management understand the factors that go into a successful community can clear the way to get the resources you need to make the ROI model work.

Demonstrate Using Other Business Stories

Talk to current and past businesses that have implemented a private online community as a part of their customer relationship management strategy (any online community software company can point you in the right direction). Find out the specifics of their success stories, the results, and improvements that they have seen throughout the community’s lifecycle.

Point to these examples as you meet with executives so that they can get a clearer picture of the feasibility of your customer community plan through the results that various other companies have seen.

Online Customer Community Takeaway

When presenting to the C-suite, credibility is vital to telling your full story and getting the backing that you came for. Keys to developing this credibility include showing senior management that:

  • You understand the business and market
  • This strategy beats other strategies
  • You have their interests in mind (financial and otherwise)
  • You have a proven plan and have thought through the nuances

If you’ve done all the above in the proper manner, you’ll be in a much better position to get the budget, executive sponsorship, and resources you need to bring your online customer community strategy to fruition.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at http://blog.socious.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. One of the mistakes I see is that the people pitching to the C-Suite are not the best people to do it. Frequently, it’s the online or social advocates who damage their own credibility by being so clearly biased that it damages their “pitch”, and calls the projections into suspicion. One thing about the C-Suite, there’s one heck of a BS detector operating.
    To me, though, the major issue is building credibility, and that’s something that has to occur BEFORE C-Suite contact that “counts”, not to mention during.
    There’s an article on building credibility at http://work911.com/articles/speakercredibility.htm that might be a fit here. It’s oriented towards presentations.

    In any event the first question is: Am I going as an advocate for a specific solution, or am I going as a person who’s primary concern is to SOLVE an problem.

  2. Robert, thanks for your comment and link. I agree that credibility is key. It is an asset that cannot be taken lightly. As I pointed out, losing credibility can set your social strategy back months or even years. Social business professionals and advocates of a customer community strategy need to develop hardened discipline when it comes to talking to others in their company about their ideas and fully understand the biases of executives for or against any type of community-based customer relationship management approach.

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