Have you ever heard a leader of a successful business proudly announce that they don’t much care about understanding their customers’ needs? Yeah, me neither.

The data from Forrester’s recent report, The State Of Customer Obsession In B2B, 2023, is clear on the value of knowing what drives your customers. Customer-obsessed organizations outperform their peers in growth, retention, and profitability, and a full 100% of them say that they prioritize customer needs when making product or process decisions and use the latest technology to provide better customer experiences. Among non-customer-obsessed companies, those figures are 72% and 71%, respectively.

To find, keep, and grow your customers, you must know your customers. To know your customers, you must listen to what they say and observe what they do. Part of the arsenal of tools that can help you accomplish this: online communities.

The Forrester Wave™: Community Management Software For B2B, Q4 2023

Communities check almost every box for B2B companies that want to enhance their customers’ experience, build trust, and deepen their understanding of what customers want and need. Our new Forrester Wave™ evaluation considers customer community platforms that deliver a breadth and depth of member experience while enabling B2B companies to communicate with, learn from, and better serve their customers.

As the Elvis song goes, conversation is still the backbone of communities, but now the companies hosting them can do so much more.

If you are new to the idea of B2B community or seeking to level up, here’s what to look for:

  • Connection. All of the vendors in this evaluation share a vision of a connected digital experience. The manifestations vary, but the message is clear: Communities are not limited to discussion boards living in a silo from the rest of the customer experience. Online communities can connect to any part of the customers’ digital experience where it’s helpful to “hide the seams,” as one reference customer noted. In this way, community becomes a hub for customers and much more useful for companies.
    What to do: The marketplace of integrations with communications tools, marketing automation, CRMs, customer success platforms, support platforms, and much more offers overwhelming options for extensibility. Community managers should prioritize those that most closely align with their community goals.
  • Clarity. Artificial intelligence has the potential to enhance community members’ experience and improve community managers’ capabilities. Among the many intriguing examples, consider AI-supported moderation that flags signs of abuse, stalking, and other inappropriate behaviors, relieving community managers of the discomfort of having to examine that language themselves. Other applications include, but are certainly not limited to, AI-assisted chat to help members find the information they need and AI-assisted content generation for discussion responses and summarization of relevant discussions.
    What to do: The caveat for community teams: Don’t mistake AI “headlines,” as one vendor called them, for AI reality. Insist on transparency regarding what really exists in the offering and the integrations and work effort required for implementation.
  • Coaching. All community platforms offer data on activities within the community. Higher-performing platforms in this report offer more tools and more coaching to help community managers tell the story of how their work saves costs, drives renewals, and surfaces ideas that lead to important enhancements. This includes proactive customer success management, education, a robust community of their own, and guidance on connecting community to impact.
    What to do: Insist that your vendor offer help beyond activity reports. Let every community manager aim to be like the reference customer we spoke to who stated of their vendor, “They are very invested in their customers being successful.”

Not every organization needs an online community. Companies with customer bases in which few or any individuals would want to engage online aren’t good candidates, nor are companies that see community as a side job and aren’t willing to invest in the technology and people to build an experience that truly benefits both the company and customers. For those who see potential in community, the options have evolved and will continue to do so.