Laura is at the forefront on the issue of how the rise of social media is changing, and will continue to change, B2B sales, marketing, and branding realities. Her take is that social media--far from being a threat due to increasing loss of control of the conversation--presents a great opportunity to engage customers and markets in a dynamic new way, through "community marketing." As you'll see in our interview below, a firm's customer references can--make that, must--play a key role.
Laura will be leading a panel at the 2010 Customer Reference Forum, March 2-3, Santa Clara, CA, USA. Panelists will include Jamie Grenney, Sr Director of Social Media, salesforce.com and Rhett Livengood, Director of Global Sales and Marketing, Intel. They'll talk about the practical "how to's" of moving references into a community marketing effort, with Laura providing big picture perspective on howForrester sees this dynamic trend playing out.
LEE: Thanks for joining us Laura. Forrester is showing
increasing interest in community marketing, so let’s start with a definition:
how do you define community marketing and how do you see the concept evolving?
RAMOS: We see
community marketing as the next frontier for B2B marketers to cross as we move
from marketing practices focused mainly on broadcast messaging – a practice founded
on years of outbound advertising and promotional activity -- to a blend of
traditional and digital, individual and group, prospect and customer marketing
approaches. Community marketing is
about using marketing to engage prospects, current customers, industry
insiders, and partners in dialog that transparently and collectively improves
the probability of creating effective solutions to the most pressing business
problems. It’s about bringing technology and services suppliers into customers’
adoption activities in support of better business outcomes. It’s how Web 2.0
technologies enable new ways to innovate, collaborate, and partner that create
more productive business operations.
LEE: What role do you see reference programs playing in
Community Marketing efforts?
RAMOS: Customer references validate product claims and
streamline the sales process, both vital activities in B2B marketing. Reference programs play a vital role in
Community Marketing because the community of a supplier’s current customers –
not individual accounts -- becomes the focal point for revenue generation activity. In the near future, the customer
community helps to attract, engage, persuade, support, and retain future buyers
of a supplier’s products and services.
As business buyers embrace the social Web, reference management can play
a breakout role in the transition from collecting testimony to building
LEE: Can reference programs add to the value that businesses
must provide to attract customers into their community marketing efforts? If
RAMOS: Customer reference programs can play a vital role in
executing a community-centered marketing strategy that not only attracts new
customers, but also turns your best customers into advocates within the
community. These programs transition from sales support to community build in 3
1) Reference customers make
community activity intimate and influential, not just interactive. Involving references in online, social
activities — like peer discussions, rating and voting on products, content
contribution, and so on —helps create positive product experiences and increases
the likelihood that buyers will, in turn, advocate to others.
2) Social referencing involves your
best customers in community building. Tapping reference customers predisposed
to sharing experiences and speaking on your firm’s behalf is the best way to
attract a community following. In B2B marketing, social media value will come
from using Web 2.0 tools to deepen
customer relationships after deals close and implementation challenges begin.
3) References deliver content that
creates conversation — and value for — buyers. Success stories and insight are
the currency needed to sustain ongoing community activity. Because they
participate readily, reference customers double their value when they energize
community activity and discuss best practices.
LEE: You’ve attended a couple of our conferences. What do
you see customer reference programs doing that is exciting? What can or should
they do to get better, and play a more important role in their businesses?
RAMOS: Today, I think the most exciting achievements happen
when marketers give back real value to reference customers. The biggest benefit
of advocating on behalf of a vendor should be membership in an exclusive
community of like-minded participants where interacting with each other, as
well as prospects and the public, is part of the draw and reward. To play a bigger role in business,
customer reference managers need to take advantage of emerging social business
behavior more. They need to move beyond the physical, group setting and let
references engage outside the boundaries of the formal program. Less than 30%
of respondents to our earlier survey of customer reference professionals enabled
their references to build profile pages, guest blog, rate community-contributed
content, or author wikis, activities that permit customers to strut their stuff
in the online, virtual world and create broader connections without having to
trip through the legal, communications, or approval cycles that plague the
production of more formal testimonial or case studies.
broaden our scope a bit to the concept of customer engagement—the full range of
ways that firms can interact and build relationships with their customers. How
do you see community marketing fitting in that broader effort? How do you see
reference programs fitting in to that broader effort?
RAMOS: In B2B marketing social media will have is greatest
impact on building vibrant customer communities, not on branding or lead
generation, which is where everyone seems focused today. Eventually, however, firms will create
successful communities in the same ways they successfully engage customers
today: by offering different levels of exclusive interaction in exchange for more
committed participation. Look at the range of activity – and value – customer
advisory boards, councils, user conferences, loyalty programs and the like
offer. All of this activity can be
extended through online, virtual means – many of which are still developing and
being invented by the industry today. In the end, it’s all integrated and
integral. We will continue to meet
with our customer face-to-face to learn from them, bond with them, and show our
appreciation. It will become easier to extend these relationships with offline,
virtual, asynchronous activities that meet both buyer and supplier goals.
LEE: A great deal is being written about the decline of
traditional media, including trade publications. Can you share some thoughts on
how community marketing efforts, and customer reference programs, might fill
the growing void of trusted, objective information about businesses?
RAMOS: In our research, Forrester sees a similar decline in
how B2B marketers view the effectiveness of some traditional mediRAMOS: However,
the top source buyers consistently turn to inform and validate purchase
decision making is their peers and colleagues. We see this in our research time
and again, and it is a result that hasn’t changed significantly in many years –
business people trust and rely on each other when deciding what to buy. I see Web 2.0 technologies give buyers
new ways to reach other like-minded individuals and communities become the
focal point for these interactions. As we figure out how community enables
better business outcomes, I see reference programs play a key role as these
programs evolve from supporting sales to sustaining community interactions. I
see them create real value for buyers who rely on the community to help them
solve business problems and implement new business capability by using the advice
of each other to implement products and services they buy to the fullest.
LEE: What advice would you leave customer reference managers
with as they prepare for the eventuality of community marketing?
I see the social Web uping the ante for customer reference
professionals, moving the function off of the sidelines and placing it squarely
in the center of the community marketing evolution. Customer reference
professionals must play a crucial role evolving reference programs from
solicited testimonials to interactive communities — where participants gain
more by joining the online conversation than by supporting the vendor’s agendRAMOS:
To start this transition on the right foot, there are 3 things customer
reference managers should focus on in 2010:
Keep the customer reference function in house.
While outsourcing may produce a short-term boost in reference participation,
marketers should not abdicate the opportunity to interact directly with your
firm’s most loyal and outspoken customers.
Upgrade their teams’ social media acumen and
look at the numbers. Start with the basics: Understand what Web 2.0 tools are
and how they can create new means for customers to reference in ways that they
may have been unwilling or unable to do so earlier.
Make community participation part of the
customer reference agendRAMOS: As you plan your 2010 customer reference
program, find those enthusiasts who have a vested interest in sustaining
vibrant community activity. Support their efforts by showing them how reference
customers can lend expertise or firsthand experience to their
community-building objectives. Leverage your customer reference assets to gain
a chair at the community marketing table.