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Community is the new presales

Patrick Woods
Co-Founder & CEO
Community is the new presales
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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In a traditional sales process, presales includes tasks like prospecting, discovery calls, providing product demos, and qualifying and disqualifying leads, serving as a bridge between marketing and the eventual closed deal. 

Per HBR, “When it comes to driving sales growth, quality trumps quantity. And that requires companies to improve the quality of their presales engine.”

“Presales requires a dedicated team of experts split into roughly two-thirds for technical activities (crafting solutions to customers’ problems) and one-third for commercial activities (managing deal qualification and bid).”

HBR’s data indicates that a hands-on approach to solution customization and qualification leads to higher deal sizes and great retention. 

But what if you could benefit from the increased efficiency and ROI of a pre-sales process without staffing a large pre-sales team, all while creating value for your customers? 

A lot has changed since the HBR article’s publication in 2015. For one, software is no longer sold; it’s adopted, and winning companies focus on long-term value creation, and not just value capture. In an adoption-centric context, an engaged community can empower potential customers to explore and learn about a new product or technology on their own terms, serving as the perfect complement to a product-led go-to-market

But beware: business metrics like revenue and margin can only be understood as n-order effects of a healthy community, and community success should be defined and measured separately from core business metrics. 

The second-order effects of a high gravity community 

According to the Orbit Model, a high gravity community is one that excels at attracting and retaining members by providing an outstanding member experience. 

A high gravity community leads to all sorts of positive outcomes for the company and the community itself. This includes: 

  • More non-company members who can guest post on blogs
  • More guests for webinars and podcasts
  • More non-company members who can give talks at events
  • An engaged audience to invite to events
  • Successful users talking to struggling users
  • Successful users talking to potential users
  • Many-to-many conversations in forums and chat
  • An easily accessible pool of people to provide feedback and ideas
  • A candidate pool of people who know and love the product for case studies and quotes

These outcomes lead to assets that impact every stage of the sales and marketing funnel. Here are just a few examples:

  • More non-company members who can guest post on blogs → more thought leadership materials → increased awareness 
  • Successful users talking to potential users → organic self-qualification and objection handling → acquisition
  • Successful users talking to struggling users → community-led support discussions → adoption and retention

As you can see, among the outputs of an engaged community are the assets and interactions often handled by pre-sales teams. Potential buyers can learn from other users, and not just the marketing team. They can self-qualify into different packages and pricing plans. They can even work through difficult implementation questions that previously may have required the expertise of a solutions architect. 

All on their own terms, and as a second-order effect of the value-creating community. This should be seen as a win-win for the company and its customers. According to Forrester, nearly 75% of B2B buyers now say that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative. Further, 93% say that they prefer buying online rather than from a salesperson when they’ve decided what to buy. 

B2B buyers overwhelmingly prefer the self-serve approach enabled by a great product and a vibrant community. 

These communities create useful content, ask and answer meaningful questions, help new users onboard to the product, provide feedback to the product team, amplify messages, and more. In this way, the community replaces and upgrades a traditional pre-sales team and process, which is typically built on the sales and marketing funnel. 

Ultimately, in an adoption-centric worldview, the distinctions between pre-sales and post-sales dissolve. MQLs, SQLs, leads, and accounts, as concepts, feel less meaningful. 

Instead of building large teams to “generate demand,” companies playing by the new rules build vibrant communities that provide value to anyone interested in what they’re building–current customers, potential customers, or just folks driving by to learn something new. 

This is why we say community is the new pre-sales. Community members, especially the advocates, are the salespeople, and adoption is just community members selling to each other. 

It’s why companies now need strategies and tools for cultivating vibrant communities, but also for measuring those efforts across fragmented, ever-changing sets of channels.

It’s why we created the Orbit Model and the Orbit platform: to empower community builders with the tools and insights to build high gravity communities, and, when appropriate, connect those insights to other areas of the business. Getting to those insights is only going to become more challenging as community expands across a growing and fragmented set of tools and becomes more distributed.

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