The wonderful thing about Dreamforce is that it brings together attendees with roles across the business to discuss real-world problems and ways to address them. At past Dreamforce conferences I’ve attended, I felt that the content was rather siloed. That all changed this year.

As a CMO who also manages product strategy, I attend marketing, sales, product management, customer success, partner and Salesforce product sessions for a holistic Dreamforce experience. This allows me to connect the dots and clearly see what is happening in the market for B2B companies today. What was unique this year was the ubiquitous focus on the customer. Let me rephrase, it isn’t all that unique to have a theme for the conference, but this year there was ubiquity in the approach. Specifically, the culmination of communities.

The buyer has taken over

We all know the buyer has changed. Buyers are overwhelmed and only interested in products/services when they have a specific need identified. It is extremely difficult to break through with your message. This was clear in every sales session I attended where personalized and social selling was emphasized versus email campaigns and cold calling. And from the marketing sessions, it is obvious that demand generation is a real struggle for many companies as they are trying to find a silver bullet to break through the noise. Product management continues to struggle with getting user feedback. Customer success is still working to find operational efficiencies so they can scale the service and support they provide.

So how does this relate to communities? Simply put, they are the answer to solving these dilemmas.

Community Cloud is a melting pot of solutions

Salesforce has clearly focused innovation on the Community Cloud product. But they haven’t done it in a silo. They are bit by bit bringing all the great functionality from their various offerings into Community Cloud. In presentations I saw functionality from Pardot, Marketing Cloud, Wave, PRM, Service Cloud, eCommerce and much more all integrated into their Community Cloud offering.

Communities can be focused on customers, partners or employees. If you approach a community with the concept of creating a win-win for the company and its community members, you can leverage it to solve many of your business problems. Here’s how:

  • Building a community is a unifying project across department silos. It forces your company to work together across departments. And we all know good things come from this type of alignment.
  • With any type of community, if you provide value, you can make asks of your community like content and referrals. Customer and partner communities are ripe for this type of a program. And referrals are as close as marketing can get nowadays to a silver bullet for demand generation as they are proven to be the highest quality lead and fastest to move through the pipe.
  • Building a customer community can allow for product management to harvest point-in-time and real-time product feedback. They can do this with surveys, but more specifically triggers can be setup within a community to serve up certain surveys to certain users at predefined times or trigger. And certainly, setting up Q&A posting can provide a rich interaction and Chatter can allow for real-time discussion.
  • The possibilities for Customer success to scale with a customer community are incredible. Customer success can provide self-serve support as well as provide a fast-track to escalate issues and get real-time help with less overhead. And with the Service Cloud data integrations, everything is tracked.
  • Across departments and across community types, there is a desire to segment and “personalize” the experience. Community Cloud’s integration with Engagement Studio/Journey Builder technology allows administrators to setup unique experiences for community members so that the right information is served up to the right person at the right time. This is the nirvana for engagement and in my opinion is the key to communities being a game-changer for companies.
  • Salesforce has also focused on a Google Analytics integration with Community Cloud so that companies can collect all the relevant data to optimize their user experience as well as to better understand their community members. This means data that every department can use to understand their customers, partners and employees better.

Communities are now easy to launch

The big news from Dreamforce is that thanks to its ISV partners, it is now easier than ever to create a community. Salesforce partners have created community templates, called Lightning Bolts, which allow you to quickly start from a pre-built community that fits your needs (think WordPress themes).

And Salesforce isn’t stopping its innovation in this area anytime soon. The future of the community is to continue bringing the functionality from every cloud into community, continue to enhance the ability to deliver a personalized experience by turning on the capabilities of Einstein’s machine learning (Salesforce’s new AI platform) and much more. And while Salesforce didn’t mention this, I would predict that bringing data from IoT devices into Community Cloud is a logical future enhancement as well.

The benefits of communities are hard to ignore

With the functionality that Salesforce is building into Community Cloud, this is no longer a nice to have. Instead it is a strategic mechanism to building engagement with customers, partners and employees. The potential benefits to the business could be just what is needed to grow revenue. Keep in mind, you must make sure that you are adding value to your community members and that means you need to provide support, content, maybe even entertainment. If you get it right, you can expect the following outcomes from your community:

  • Better marketing content – user generated content (UGC) is the best type of content. It instills trust beyond what a brand can convey directly and is incredibly valuable for brand awareness and driving leads through the pipe.
  • Amazing leads – whether customers, partners or employees, all can generate referrals for you. And any sales person will tell you that referrals are by far the best leads.
  • A better product – the feedback from product users in a community (and partners) can be invaluable to product management to set priorities and focus on meaningful innovation that truly adds value in demonstrable ways.
  • Lower support costs – with all of the functionality to scale customer support and make it self-service, this can be a big cost savings.
  • Faster sales cycle – thanks to great leads from referrals and great user content, new business will move faster through the pipeline and keep the sales team highly productive.
  • Improved satisfaction – don’t just think customers on this one. Partners and employees too will be happier with your company when they are engaged with in a smart way in a community. Make it a win-win and think about their needs and your satisfaction metrics will go up.
  • Increased revenue – when you add up the other benefits, there is the potential for both cost savings and revenue generation. Combined, communities can make a big impact on the bottom line.

If you’re thinking about how to gain extra value through Community Cloud, start thinking about referral software for Salesforce.

Salesforce referral program