Seminars, publications, market research, and customer care centers are some of the most important tools in every business-to-business firm’s toolbox for understanding, attracting, serving and keeping customers loyal. But in a world of fierce global price competition, increasing transparency of business practices, and ever-rising complexity, these customer interaction channels are no longer enough for many B2B companies.

Today, software companies such as SAP and Taleo, business information providers such as LexisNexis, and consulting firms such as Palladium Group have moved much of these interactions to online communities they have built for their customers. While they are still in the early stages, these online communities are providing these companies with a competitive advantage: the ability to get much closer and become more valuable to customers every day, around the clock.

In the first of a multi-part series, my colleague Bob Buday of the Bloom Group and I review the traditional ways that B2B companies have interacted with customers and their limitations in a world in which change has dramatically accelerated. We then discuss why a number of companies have launched online customer communities in the last few years, defining the core hallmarks of successful communities.

Download it here or view it online below:

In the next installment this winter, we will review best practices in online communities and the prescriptions on how to build and maintain a vibrant online customer community.  We hope you enjoy this article and look forward to your comments and questions. What do you think are the current limitations in the ways that B2B companies interact with customers and how do you think online communities can help?