Resources  >> 3 Types of Communities That Can Grow Your Business

About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  December 01, 2009

3 Types of Communities That Can Grow Your Business

Originally published for RainToday.com

Thanks to social media, everyone’s atwitter (excuse the pun) about building a community of engaged and excited prospects. The ROI seems like a given; many of us know we want a community and know communities are important. The problem: many professional service firms are not clear about what exactly they want the community to do. And because of that lack of clarity, campaigns usually fail to meet the nebulous expectation.

Here are the three most common types of communities and how they can grow your business. These models are not necessarily mutually exclusive; there is some overlap. But keep in mind, every community has a primary objective.

Big Group, Big Buzz

Many professional service firms create what I call a Word of Mouth community. (This can happen by accident as a result of outreach campaigns that get a lot of attention but generate a few sales.) This is a community that has a smaller percentage of qualified buyers but has a lot of fans. Members are engaged via exchanging ideas and content. The experts have great ideas and a unique brand, and they’ve done a good job at wide distribution.

In spite of the low percentage of qualified buyers, this community is valuable. The biggest benefit is tangible — increased prominence and buzz, which drives speaking fees, book deals, joint ventures, professional service fees, media inquiries, etc. Because you have created a community of goodwill, you have cache — and in this crowded marketplace, that matters. Your good reputation can market you even when you’re not around.

Example: A while back, I had a high-fee client tell me, “When I was at XXX convention, I told people that I just hired you, and they were quite impressed! They saw me as a serious player because I’m working with you. You should mention that as a benefit of your work!” Folks, I couldn’t buy that kind of buzz.

Another benefit is more indirect, but just as potent. Associations now define “cool speakers” by how they can light up the tweet deck. It happened at a recent Video Marketing Expo. One of their speakers got so much buzz via Twitter that the conference organizers immediately rehired the guru for a second session — at the same expo. (That’s what I call repeat business 2.0!)

Moral of the story: it isn’t necessary for everybody in your community to buy from you. They do need to rave when someone mentions your name or when you make an appearance. Experts who lead with high-end services need a community such as this to reassure prospects that they’re safe to buy. Experts who also depend on prominence benefit the most with this community.

Small Group, Big Budgets

The second type of community is also attractive to high-fee firms: a group of people to pay for big-ticket projects. In this community, group size does not matter. Job titles and budgets are the defining factor. The personal touch builds this community, either through referrals, speaking audiences, networking, etc. Experts are well-connected and stay in touch discreetly with customized content such as executive briefings or original research findings.

Obviously, there will be a contingent who can’t afford the larger assignments. Very few are turned away outright; prospects are at different stages of readiness. But the resources, the campaigns, and the tactics are to find and engage big-budget buyers.

Do experts here have offerings at smaller price points? Absolutely. These revenue streams are ancillary to the big-fee projects. They are either “get to know us” campaigns or add-on offers to larger contracts. Example: a high-end coach might market a retreat by invitation only. Again, there can be overlap between these models.

These communities are for consulting firms, high-end coaches, or speakers — anyone who gets most of their revenue from high-ticket items.

Big Group, Small Purchases

The third community is built by marketing mavens. These groups are large and based on a very wide scope, such as an industry or even a job title. They are based on mass market strategy: small purchases made many times over. This strategy is all about the numbers. The larger the community, the better. And the more repeat buyers, the better.

Here’s a great example of this community in action: one of my clients specializes in lab safety. Her community buys from her every time she comes out with something new. They pay for it with their business credit card, which is paid by their company. Her profitable business is based on educational materials small enough to fly under the radar of purchasing departments. When she partnered with an industry association, she made five figures on one teleseminar. How? Her community showed up in droves, and her fun style brought new prospects to her group from the association’s community.

Here’s another twist: many of these communities not only sell their products and services but also promote related material from other experts. Internet or information marketers do this all the time with membership-based sites. The focus is creating a volume of opportunities to interact and educate.

This community model is best for mass marketers who know how to engage large groups and have systems in place to maintain the energy and excitement.

Know What You Want

Building a community can either be a bright shiny object to pour money into or a way to solidify your base of goodwill and even create some serious revenue. In this crowded market, it isn’t enough to wake up one day and say, “Hey, I think I want one of those communities everyone’s talking about. Let me go find my magic wand.”

The interactions needed to create a killer tribe have changed dramatically. Expectations and requirements for engagement are high, and it takes time to meet them. But when you clarify your top objective for your community, decisions regarding outreach campaigns become a lot easier — and more effective.

Filed Under: Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.