• Today’s B2B ecosystem has produced valuable channels for both customer and company, like customer communities
  • Ensuring your organizations infrastructure and strategy reflects a modern B2B ecosystem is key to customer community development
  • B2B companies must look forward when it.comes to maximizing customer engagement

Step back in time for a moment. The year is 1990. East and West Berlin reunite. The U.S. enters into a deep recession. The Simpsons premieres.  Vanilla Ice is big.  And B2B customers have few ways to connect with companies or partners. Such was the state of interaction in the B2B ecosystem.

Engaging conversationThose of us who were in the business world back then didn’t realize we were at a marked disadvantage compared to today’s B2B ecosystem. The ways we engaged with customers were limited to offline channels such as executive events, user groups, regional events, training and support. Communication was less frequent and required more effort from both parties.

Contrast that scenario with today’s B2B ecosystem. Customers engage with company representatives, other customers, prospects and third-party influencers regularly and via a host of channels unknown to the 1990 customer. The advent of online channels such as customer communities, blended or social silos, and portals provide a veritable feast of options for interactions to occur. This results in all sorts of potential value for both customer and company including product/service insights, roadmap direction, customer advocacy and networking.

A comparison of the two scenarios above is not really a fair fight. Clearly, today’s B2B ecosystem is much more beneficial for a company and its customer base. But many companies have yet to realize that the ground has indeed shifted and still operate their customer community elements like it’s 1990. I suggest that these companies take a conscious look at their customer community elements and consider the following questions:

  1. What community elements currently exist? Potential community elements include user groups, online communities, customer advisory boards, partner groups, events and social media. What shape are these elements in? Are they providing value to customers and insights back to the company? What do customers say about each element?
  2. How do these community elements work together? Is there an integrated infrastructure, or are they operating independently and in an uncoordinated fashion?
  3. How is ownership of each community element structured? Are other internal departments allowed access?
  4. How is each community element’s value articulated to customers? Do customers understand the unique contributions of each community element?  Who is in charge of communicating this to the customer base?
  5. What’s the future for each community element?  Is someone responsible for leading its evolution? What technology investments need to be made to support future growth?

It’s hard to believe, but in 10 years or so, we’ll be looking back on today’s B2B ecosystem with the same “I can’t believe that’s the way it was” running through our heads as we do now when looking back at 1990. The velocity of change is even faster nowadays, so there will likely be ways for companies and customers to interact that are not even on our radar. It’s exciting, for sure. B2B companies should always keep an eye to the future to ensure they are facilitating ways for their customers to engage. One thing is certain: if you don’t provide ways for customers to engage, they will find their own ways (or worse, they will find another company that is more interested in facilitating engagement).