Is your marketing and sales thinking, approach and strategy moving from List to Community yet?

Where is ‘the money’?

A few years ago I came across the expression ‘The Money is in the List’.

Then it was updated to ‘The money is in your relationship with your List’.

The contemporary version is ‘The money is in your relationship with your Community‘.

To me, these expressions neatly summarise the evolution that is underway; from a one-way broadcast approach to marketing, then into lead nurture and ongoing value-based contacts and now the importance of leading and facilitating a community, where customers are a vital part of your marketing communication.

The phrase ‘It’s not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you’ reflects the change.

And with Social Media ‘Every Company is a Public Company’ due to the visibility that exists through Social Networks.

So, what implications do these changes have on a business, on a business owner and on the sales and marketing team?

Why is has ‘the list’ become outdated?

This marginalizing of ‘the list’ reflects many things, including the recognition that:

  • buyers are people not merely data records
  • for most people and companies there has been an explosion of ‘lists’ with people’s details in your phone, your email and CRM systems, on social media networks and more
  • people have so many more choices about who to listen to, engage and follow
  • people have the power and ease to refer others to your content, who may then choose to listen, engage and follow
  • your contacts pool is much more fluid that ever it was when it was just ‘a list’, and includes people beyond your direct reach
  • increasing your audience (traditionally growing your list) is no longer just an outbound task, but there is the opportunity to mobilise people you’re in contact with to share your message with their contacts as well

The Communication Segmentation challenge

When your contact records were on lists you could manage the communications much more. You could have one set of messages for prospects, another for customers, and another for introducers and so on, and deliver them fairly precisely. Now, with more open channels it is more difficult to direct messages to your intended listener, and restrict what else they can hear. Although this does contribute to transparency it does also mean your readers need to filter what you say far more, to find what is relevant to them. This may be contributing to the information overload that is prevalent, and the ‘sound-bite’ communications in 140 character updates.

Constructing a blog post like this, with a ‘Start, Middle and End’ is still eminently possible. However who gets to read it is far less under the control of the author. People who I’d like to read this may not  see it, unless I saturate the interweb to grab their attention. Conversely, people who find it by accident may spend time reading this then realise it is not of specific value to them (if this applies to you then I apologise, but thanks for sticking with it).

The Multiple overlapping Community challenge

Developing this thought, we may actually be part of multiple communities that partially overlap. For myself I am part of the ‘Technology for Marketing and Sales community. I participate there to keep abreast with and contribute to developments and discussions at the forefront of Social Media (Social Business), CRM (Social CRM), email marketing (marketing automation) and related topics.

This also helps to raise my profile so if people check me out I have the social proof of being part of the ‘technology for sales’ community of thought leaders. It also helps to create professional connections with partners and potential introducers. And there is a set of concepts (nuances) and language (jargon) that applies within this trade community.

Another very important community for me are the mainstream businesses who are my prospects and customers. Attracting, communicating with and developing relationships with business owners, directors and entrepreneurs outside of the technology sector requires a different level of communication. This means relating the technology solutions to the typical business issues being faced on a day-to-day basis, such as lead generation, customer retention, sales productivity and results and similar essential aspects of running and growing a business. It also means keeping the jargon to a minimum and being careful about which concepts are raised and how they are conveyed.

The third community in this example is the personal one – for family and friends, for non-work and leisure activities, domestic life and so on.

Before the internet and social media it was relatively easy to keep a separation between these worlds, communities and people. Now the edges are much more blurred.

The Global Village challenge

Now it is hard to avoid being part of a Global Village, where everybody can know everyone elses business. This creates transparency but also a huge information and communications web.

There are several strategies that are emerging and developing to cope with this, such as:

  • Tune out from anything that is not absolutely essential
  • Work on a ‘Just-in-time’ basis, where anything new is just a Google Search away
  • Develop a network of people who we ‘Know, Like and Trust’ and whose communications we read regularly, whether via email, LinkedIn, Facebook or wherever, or who we talk to over the phone or skype or who we meet, where geography and travel allows and is justified.

From List to Community

The transition from List to Community also touches on the changes happening to the sales pipeline and sales funnel. The aspect of control that vendors had over buyers is being diminished as more information is in the public domain. This is not just product information but customer feedback too. Trying to avoid this is a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. If your competitors are making information freely available, and their customers are actively contributing and supporting them, by creating content, sharing content, providing endorsements, recommendations, testimonials, case studies and more, it’s going to be harder to compete. When customers start rallying to the defense of a supplier who comes under attack then the tide has truly turned.

Creating a community of loyal customers who recognise that there’s a win:win available, and a mutual gain, takes time. It also takes a mindset change, not just from a vendor perspective but by customers too. But in the same way that customers could be encouraged to provide referrals, if asked, so too some customers are likely to respond positively and work with you to build a community. Some of the pioneers in the IT industry, such as, are well down the path. Other examples include Harley Davidson Owners Group and some other ‘lifestyle’ products, where membership of the community is the goal, purchasing the product is just the entry ticket.

Networks and Systems that support and help us

Networks and Communications systems are emerging that help us to manage and sort through the maze and abundance of communication, such as:

  • Google+: where Circles provide a bridge between contacts in GMail and your Google+ Social Network contacts, along with calendars, task list and more, and email filtering techniques assist in separating what you want from what you don’t.

This whole area of managing your role and participation in your communities is set to develop VERY rapidly, through cloud applications and application integration. As an example, the job title of ‘Community Manager’ is starting to emerge.

Community Relationship Management (CRM)

What started out as ‘your list’ has, from a marketing, sales and business perspective gone through a 180 degree change. The challenge now is more around ‘Whose has got you in their community’, effectively having you on one of their priority lists.

Do you have sufficient value and relevance to be included in their personal priority community, over and above others they may choose instead?

And assuming you have, the next challenge is to monetize that value and relevance, but that is a topic for another day.

Perhaps, in conclusion,  the expression is something like ‘The money is in your relationship and place in other peoples communities’.

And maybe there is a subtle switch from Customer Relationship Management to Community Relationship Management.


I hope this has provided a valuable and relevant insight into something fairly fundamental that is changing subtly.

Does this change how you view your personal and business community, and your mindset about relationships?

And what you will do to identify, choose, approach and become established in other people’s communities in order to achieve your goals and objectives?

Post a comment below, Like or Share this post or drop me a line if you want to discuss any aspects it has raised.