The Future of Sales: Create a community with a sense of belonging

This is the fifth column in a six part series on the future of sales that Colleen Francis wrote for the Adobe Document Cloud Blog.

To fully understand the future of work in sales, we must blow up assumptions about the marketplace that just aren’t true anymore. This includes one of the biggest ones: selling is about creating partnerships with your clients.

The truth is, buyers have been moving past partnerships for quite some time now. It began with a demand for customized, integrated solutions, a rallying-cry that had sellers scrambling to try and include buyers more tightly in the sales process. But, even then, this relationship treated the buyer as an outsider: someone or something to be managed. Nobody likes to feel that way.

Your customer wants to be treated as an insider.

When customers buy from you, they want more than a transactional relationship. They want to experience a sense of belonging: to be part of something that aligns with their values and expectations. The quality of that experience is just as important. Your best customers will pay premium prices for it, too, but only if what you offer is nothing short of platinum grade.

Build a community, define the experience

To succeed in sales now and the in the future, you must build a community that shapes the experience you want your customers to have every time they buy from you. That community has five defining traits:

  • They arise from groups of people who share a common experience or a common outlook.
  • They are equipped with tools that encourage members to learn from each other.
  • Those who join are self-identifying as members of that community. They choose to be part of it, you don’t decide that for them.
  • The members each contribute something that adds new value to the overall experience.
  • There’s a shared sense by all involved that they are contributing and making a difference (a trait that’s especially vital when trying to appeal to younger buyers).

Look at the marketplace today and you’ll see plenty of examples of companies who have built these kinds of communities. Visit an Apple Store on a Saturday morning: it’s usually the busiest place in the mall. Each location is packed with customers who treat it as a hub for creativity, to learn how to do new things with their devices and even just to hang out with people who think like them. Harley Davidson is another strong example of a company as community. Their customers are as devoted to shared values as they are to owning a motorcycle, and the proof is in the dizzying array of Harley-branded merchandise that customers devour with glee. 

How you, too, can make this happen

Building a community and a sense of belonging is critical for companies of all sizes who want to retain their clients and leverage them for higher profits. Even a website with an online forum, a members-only blog, a members-only LinkedIn group, or a well-executed e-newsletter can create that sense of community and of belonging. Proper execution is key.

  • Showcase your members—Use testimonials, case studies and references to show your prospects that your customers have something in common: they are a community of people who are experiencing similar things in the marketplace.
  • Create a desire to associate—Give your prospects an incentive to want to associate with your community. Create spaces where like-minded people can band together regularly either in-person or virtually to share experiences and learn from one another.
  • Knowledge sells—Field-tested insights are highly valuable commodities in today’s marketplace. People have a hunger for good ideas, so it’s important to share what you know. You can’t give away too much knowledge in this new selling environment.
  • Encourage free flow of ideas—Give your community members plenty of latitude to speak freely with each other. Don’t micromanage the conversations.
  • Segment where it makes sense—Create sub-groups within your community where customers who share a common challenge can gain access to specific problem-solving experts inside your company. Special access means privileged insight.
  • Keep building rapport—It’s vital to keep building a good corporate rapport between your customers and your team. People do business with other people, not with corporations. Leverage your community as a means of creating new connections and customer advocates.

So far in this series on the Future of Work in Sales, we’ve talked about creating teams and that sense of belonging required to create that insider experience that customers crave. Next up: we’re going to look at refocusing your insider selling skills—and why this is a must-do step moving forward.

Colleen Francis has been a successful sales leader for over 20 years. She is the author of Nonstop Sales Boom, and is recognized as a top tier sales consultant. She understands the challenges of selling in today’s market and that business leaders can no longer rely on approaches to sales based on techniques from decades ago. In this blog series she will share her experiences and predictions as she looks towards the evolving sales landscape. 

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