Inbound 2014 took place last week in Boston and the atmosphere was electrically infectious. The conference was organized by HubSpot and offered riveting speakers, exceptional learning opportunities, and an overdose of enthusiastic networking. It also drew thousands of innovative marketing and sales professionals from around the world to explore and discuss the impact that cutting edge marketing methods have on business.
One aspect of Inbound 2014 that really stood out to me was the sense of comradeship that existed within this massive, sometimes disparate gathering. Everyone I met and spoke with was eager to share their experiences, and they all possessed a great passion for helping build business success.
This high level of connectedness is indicative of the strong sense of community that HubSpot has managed to develop with its customers and fans. As a company, they have made an art form out of moving relationships beyond the ordinary and into the realm of the extraordinary.
There is a valuable lesson to be learned by business owners, as fostering a sense of community is a key component to building a successful business today. Over time, the best customer relationships can be developed and nurtured to the point of having a positive impact on your growth. This only occurs when a customer feels invested in and respected. In this way, building a community for business is actually a lot like building a community of friends: You need to respect individuals and solicit their input as well as their support.
It takes time to build such powerful relationships. While that may be a daunting prospect, especially for many small business owners, it’s important to remember that anything you do today can have a major impact down the road. With that in mind, here are five ways to start building your community of business champions immediately:
1. Join the online forums where your customers spend their time.
You can start by taking a passive approach. Listening in on conversations taking place via social media and forum threads, as well as updates through blog subscriptions and news feeds, offers great insight into what your customers need. A more active approach is to commit to daily participation in the Real Time Web. This means directly engaging in conversation and dialogue with your customers through active channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Doing so requires a time investment, but it also makes you accessible and authentic in the eyes of your customers.
2. Create content and make as much information as you can readily available.
Educating consumers about your products and services is monumentally important and traditional sales and marketing practices don’t cut it anymore. Consumers are accustomed to having tons of information at their fingertips and most do a lot of homework before they make contact with a business. Having the information they seek readily available and easily accessible helps establish trust with potential customers.
3. Groom an evangelist for your organization.
Evangelists spread the virtues of your company and product everywhere they go. While there is a fine line between evangelism and hype marketing, it is easily mitigated by being transparent and honest in your approach and partnerships. Having a charismatic persona, like former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki, as a central touchstone can accelerate your community building exponentially.
4. Value data, collect it whenever you can and deploy it wisely.
A simple example is getting a birthdate. This allows you to connect with a customer at a time that is important to them. Keep your interaction sincere if you really want to build a relationship. If you are offering a gift of some kind, it needs to be of real value to the recipient to be more than an empty gesture.
5. Bridge the communication gap between different generations and cultures.
There are now four generations in the workforce and the digital age has allowed the entire world to truly become global. Harness the power of the internet and integrate it into your work. You’ll soon discover that your community is location independent and that your customers are everywhere, just waiting to connect.