In his new book, The Commitment Engine, author John Jantsch talks about the importance of community and how building a community around your company can help you sell your products or services. One key point Jantsch makes in this section is the concept of selling through teaching. This is also an idea he touched on in his last book, The Referral Engine (also a great read).

According to Jantsch, educating your community (which he defines as anyone who comes into contact with your company – your employees, your customers, or others in your industry) is the strongest way to differentiate your company in today’s business world. Why is a willingness to teach so important, though? There are several reasons.

– Teaching allows you to present your own perspective and your company’s “personality” while passing along objective, not promotional, information.

– A teacher/student relationship immediately puts your company in a position of expertise. If a person is deciding between your company and another company, your demonstration of industry knowledge may be the extra nudge that gets you the sale.

– Teaching shows you care. Anybody can promote a product. If you hand someone a message, they can read it or present it convincingly enough. But if you demonstrate a deep well of knowledge that your community can appreciate, they will understand that you aren’t just promoting a product. Rather, you are building a community of employees, customers, potential customers, and peers who all care about the same issues.

– Teaching makes you more accessible. People do not always feel the doors of communication are open when you are in a promotional mode of communication. However, when you open your hands and show a willingness to share information, you become more “human.” You are easier to approach and easier to understand.

How do you teach? What do you teach?

Perhaps you work in an industry where you think this whole concept of educating your community would not work. Maybe you feel your customers are just as knowledgeable as you, or perhaps your hunch is that your customers are simply too busy to be able to sit down and talk to you about hypotheticals. Factually, there is always information that can be passed along, but to further this idea you need to be willing to accept some out-of-the-box thinking. An examination of The Referral Engine is a great place to start. There, Jantsch suggests some ideas that might sound crazy to you at first. For example, he suggests that if there is a significant issue plaguing your industry, you get together with a competitor and pool resources to offer a really valuable educational experience for the entire industry. While this might seem risky on the surface, the fact that two competitive companies would come together to assist everyone will do wonders for both brands.

Another important consideration is that you can teach your community about things that may not relate directly to your exact business. Jantsch talks about an insurance agent who built an impressive business not by teaching people about insurance but rather by teaching his customers and potential customers how to use social media to promote their own businesses. By earning their trust and by spending time teaching them things that did not seem to benefit him directly, this insurance agent gained a lot of trust and a lot of credibility. When the people he taught needed to talk about insurance, guess who they called?

Think about your community – your employees, your peers, your customers, your prospects – and the obstacles they may encounter on a daily basis. Do you know ways to help eradicate those complexities? Do you know someone else who does? If a lot of your customers are nervous about the economic forecast for 2013, consider partnering with a bank to offer a financial class. If your customers are struggling to meet governmental safety standards, consider hosting an open house and a seminar on those standards. People are looking for ways to make their work and their lives easier. No matter what you teach them, you will earn their appreciation. You will stand out.

A few quick pointers

Remember that when you begin to establish yourself as a resource, you still must maintain your transparency. Ultimately you are a company that sells a product or service, and ultimately you are hoping that your efforts will result in increased sales. This should not be hidden from the people you are assisting. Whether you are offering a white paper, a webinar, a seminar, or a blog series, your audience should be aware that you are not just an independent consultant offering classes.

Along those same lines, make sure that you do not just give information away without covering your own company’s needs. If you are hoping to build business relationships, people will not be shocked if you invite them to sign up for your e-newsletter or if they see a mention of your products amidst the educational material you present. As long as your information is valuable, and as long as you are not too promotional, educating your community can be a win-win for all parties involved.

If you are thinking about incorporating a teaching facet into your marketing next year but have questions, let us know. We’d be happy to help you!

Note: This is our eighth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. To catch up on the whole series, just click here!

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