Saturday, 12 July 2008

Customer forums: the need for “physical touch” in an online world

And yet, people buy from other people, and given that our evolutionary (Darwinian) pace of change much slower than the shift to online- how do we fulfil our need for physical contact? the need to kick the tyres, to get to know who we are buying from, to engage with others who have done the same? This, I would argue is emerging as a bigger reason to invest in a customer forum.

SAP does Sapphire, Oracle does Oracle World, and many organizations that operate in the B2B space tend to get their customers together for a couple of days during the year. There is a lot of organization resources that gets spent (money, management time, ops, etc). What is the value? The value is in creating stronger relationships, and the consequent cross-sell and up-sell opportunities- in short, a revenue accelerator.

Historically, (early 90s), events were perhaps the best means to increase awareness and access the customers that b2b businesses wanted to sell to, and for the customers to find the businesses as well. However, with the advent of the internet, the ferocious change in how businesses and consumers court each other has been breathtaking. Hitherto, a lot of money was being spent in events, and in field sales, the emerging paradigm is to leverage the website and online channels to in the early phases of courtship (google search/ store fronts / free trials etc). This has resulted in a lot of interaction shifting online, and consequently, a significant reduction in person to person contact.

If we extend this notion a bit further, we should be creating a community, which will share, exchange ideas, and create value by interaction- and the physical event is an integral part of that.But beware- the online world is surely creeping up on this physical world too- there is a fundamental need to integrate online capability to create a richer "community experience" even in the events.

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