Community-Led Sales

Perhaps you have heard of the story of the frustrated sales rep? Every day he opens up his laptop at his work from home setup, a janky desk consisting of a plank held up by milk crates (just to clarify, not milk crates to climb on). He squints at his calendar and sees today announced in big, bold letters “PROSPECTING DAY”.

He sighs, slumps in his chair, and takes a swig of instant coffee. He launches his CRM app to see the prospecting list is already prepared, as always, and starts the process of dialing and emailing away. He mostly gets answering machines or out of office replies. On a few occasions, he speaks to an actual human being, either to get hung up on or told to drop dead. A good response is being informed that said person is not available.

As the day winds down, he looks at his results. One meeting booked for next week. Mostly it is another day of no’s, dead ends, rejection, and very angry people. On the bright side, that is one meeting more than last prospecting day. He stands up from his janky desk and stumbles as he re-enters non-work life, walking away from yet another humiliating day of failure.

This was exactly what I was feeling as a sales rep in my early career. I would ask myself, how can I connect consistently and with conviction to prospects and customers? No matter how hard I tried or tactics I used, my success rates in getting meetings never climbed above single digits.

The numbers on typical sales outreach do not lie. Here are some statistics I pulled from across different studies into sales effectiveness:

  • Cold calling has 2% success rate

  • Average email open rate is 22.15%

  • LinkedIn InMail CTR’s are 5%

We can quibble on data and sources, but no source I researched indicated that sales results were improving. In fact, as sales switched fully digital during the pandemic, prospecting results plummeted for most teams. 

What is driving these dismal stats is the changing nature of the buyer. They can easily do their own homework to get features and prices. The dynamic of buyer-seller is shifting more and more left towards the customer and what they need. How then can we as sales professionals connect with prospects and speak closer to their needs?

The first step is moving from push tactics to pull strategies. Historically, marketing and sales was about pushing a singular message to the customer through branding, mass marketing, and direct sales. This past decade, companies started to tap into the power of pull, inviting prospects to engage through insightful content, product design, and hyper-tailored account based marketing. But this is still not enough for most companies that are starved for leads.

This past decade also saw the rise of  social networks as a new channel. The value for sales was that it brought huge numbers of people together that were easier to connect with. Social however is also noisy and messy with the trolls, scammers, and fake influencers. Just take LinkedIn for example and complaints about social sales spam.

People are shifting away from big social. The pandemic has only accelerated the migration of people from public social sites to smaller, specific groups to authentically connect with others like minded people. Today’s trend is community, and it is going to be the main driver for how we engage, collaborate, and connect well into this decade.

What is community though? Community is simply a sense of identity about who we are and what we care about. Through community we develop trust and cultural norms that inform how we engage and communicate with each other. Community is also a force multiplier, where people are creating exponential value simply by connecting.

Community is not just a consumer dynamic. The pandemic also pushed businesses to transform how they conduct business. They have had to rethink everything from remote work, to digital transformation, to innovation. In lieu of in-person events, companies moved to virtual events and online communities for marketing, partnerships, and customer success needs.

The potential of community is also unlocking a new growth lever for companies that has been christened Community-Led Growth. Instead of sales and marketing initiating the connection, the community draws in prospects and customers. Rather than the 1:1 motion of sales or the one to many motion of marketing, community enables everyone to connect, communicate, and collaborate in a safe and trusted  environment.


Which leads to the obvious question, how do you, as the sales rep, tap into this new channel called community? There are three approaches you can take to turn the idea of Community-Led Growth into Community-Led Sales:

  • Join an existing community - There are probably already active communities that exist where your ideal customers are hanging out. For example, if your customers are software developers, you can find them and engage in communities that live on Discord, GitHub, or Stack Overflow.

  • Build your own community - This is what I did with a community I started called DEVBIZOPS as a way to bring thoughtful content to senior engineering leaders and CTO’s. This takes a lot of heavy lifting and time, but can be the most impactful of any approach with the least red tape or obstacles.

  • Support company owned community - This is the heaviest lift and can be the hardest to pull off, but gathering the company around the building and scaling a community has the most long-term and sustainable impact of any of the approaches here because it aligns the entire company behind the effort.

In the past, we would often go to in-person conferences or meetups. Sometimes our companies would host events to bring people together. The new paradigm is to seek or form communities and build experiences that are more engaging than the webinars and other broadcast oriented approaches to virtual events. What is missing is the authentic engagement with others!

Ask yourself this question, if you were in your prospects shoes, where would you go to get an answer to a question or to chat with someone about industry stuff? The next thing to ask is what would draw them to that place? In essence, that is the WIIFM question, or “What’s in it for me”. The answers to those questions can help guide what approach above is going to make the most sense for you to pursue.

Happy community selling this week!

Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum

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The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.