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How to experiment with a professional community

Mar 26 '15

professional community onlineSelling digital services to professionals can be a tricky endeavor. The jump from anonymous user to converted paying customer is a tough one if you have nothing in the middle. That’s where communities can help. Professional communities can be the engagement that sticks and converts anonymous users to prospects and eventually prospects into customers. So before you embark on another project to optimize your sales funnel with business users, think about experimenting with a community.

What is a professional community?

Well, it depends. I have designed digital solutions for doctors, lawyers, interior decorators, mechanics, dentists, and many more small service-based business types, and the community offering is always dependent on what resonates for the specific industry and enhances their professional communication.

Everyone loves new customers!

Consider community features that can connect your professional community members to new customers.  Some examples:

  • At Rocket Lawyer, users can complete a free legal document and then connect to a lawyer if they have questions.
  • At Houzz, interior designers can update and showcase their portfolios to millions of customers and attract interested prospects.
  • At Intuit, business users can connect with an accountant when they have questions.

Offering a free business profile in a directory is a good start for a professional community, but you really need to round it out with engaging features. Some ideas include:

  • Inspiration galleries with content provided by professionals
  • Case studies
  • Expert Q&A
  • Interesting blogs written by real pros
  • Free consultations

Helpful tools and information also works

Consider features that help business users navigate controversial subjects, learn, or just keep up with the trends:

  • SME advice: Craft helpful tips geared towards the largest sector of your audience.
  • Trending topics: Be the go-to site for what topics are trending.
  • Connection with other professionals - Help your customers create the networks that will move them forward.
  • Online learning and professional credits: Be a sponsor and proponent of continuing education, and help your professionals stay at the top of their game.
  • Advice on controversial topics: Be the neutral party that helps your audience navigate difficult terrain.
  • Interpret legislation: Help your customers understand important changes in their industry by putting legalese into layman’s terms and explaining possible impacts.
  • Technical product reviews: Gather important research in one place and save your audience hours of scouring the internet.

How should I get started?

Remember, there is no silver bullet. Sometimes you need to experiment to find the winning feature that speaks to your audience. So you may want to start with an experimental marketing-type budget rather than a million-dollar capitalized project.

What technologies should I use?

No need to build anything from scratch. With a mash-up of solutions like Salesforce Community Cloud CRM and Drupal or Wordpress CMS, and a vast number of third party plug-ins, you can quickly create an engaging community with a rich feature set.

So don’t hesitate. Jump in and get started. Try some different approaches through your professional community. In the meantime, your users will be actively engaging with you and each other, revealing the things that interest them most, and turning into a loyal audience.