The modern buyer’s journey is more Jackson Pollock painting than straight line.
So how do industry-leading go-to-market teams spot the signal from the noise? By tapping into user communities—those owned and unowned spaces where your buyers live online—to pinpoint commercial intent and uncover business context.
Common Room's COO Jake Randall discussed that and much more with Kevin Van Gundy, COO at open-source cloud platform Vercel, and Will Allred, COO at AI-powered sales email platform Lavender (talk about a COO convention!), in our recent webinar: The new buyer’s journey: grow pipeline through real intent and context.
Read on for the top three takeaways from that conversation, including:
The days of linear, step-by-step sales funnels are long gone.
Part of the reason is geographic—at many companies, buying committees literally no longer occupy the same physical space. That makes it much harder to pitch your product to a boardroom full of eager buyers or bring your stakeholders together over a meal.
But most of it is our digital-first world. When buyers can take your product for a spin instead of watching you run through your sales deck—more than 60% of the top private software companies now have a product-led growth (PLG) strategy, after all—it can be difficult to know when or how to execute on a sales motion.
The simple fact is there’s a massive amount of marketing and sales pathways open to today’s digital-first buyers—and traditional sales strategies don't apply to them.
Modern buyers are asking product questions in Slack communities, swapping stories in subreddits, and outlining their pain points in LinkedIn posts—all before they fill out a demo request on your website. Without the right tactics and tools, this “dark funnel” of customer activity is invisible.
Communities are where product seekers become product buyers. According to Gartner, your sales reps now have just 5% of your customers’ time during the buyer’s journey.
“Our community is the thing that unlocked it,” Kevin said. “We had folks who said, ‘Hey, I've now moved to some XYZ Fortune 500 company. We now want to use Vercel [...] because of my exposure and my time spent thinking about Vercel….’”
Of course, it’s hard to be everywhere at once. It pays to focus your time and attention on the channels that resonate most with your ideal buyers. That’s why Vercel mapped out exactly who it wanted to reach—specific verticals, stages, and regions—when building out its community strategy.
“Because then we could say, ‘Okay, what are their watering holes and what are the messages that are going to be important to them?’" Kevin said. “Because a CIO of a Fortune 50 company in Middle America might have a radically different set of concerns than one sitting in Australia or in China or wherever it may be.”
User communities transform curiosity into conversions. Even better: Those opportunities tend to be of higher quality.
For example, our cohort-based analysis of top community-led companies showed that organizations that are engaged in a community adopt three times as many features as those that aren’t.
“[Community] shapes the mindset,” Will said. “I think about with our product, a lot of times our deals [...] you get a limited scope to start and then it expands out. So, thinking about from a community-led [perspective], they're already bought in, you get that expanded scope from the get-go.”
By digging into quality control metrics—such as behaviors that signal intent and the ideal customer profile fit of different community members—you can separate hot leads from cold ones. Ultimately, the quality of your pipeline is what separates vanity metrics from deals won.
“I mean, you could buy a lead list of 100 million names, spam everyone, maybe open up a bunch of sales cycles, maybe call it all stage one,” Kevin said. “Sure, you've got a bunch of open pipeline, but the way in which you continue to hold the organization accountable to building a healthy economic engine for the business is by looking at these [quality control] metrics.”
It’s important to take action based on where people are in their buying journey. Since communities create a positive feedback loop for Vercel, the company is happy to identify opportunities and nurture them instead of forcing a sales conversation.
“I can allow you to sit in that education phase longer, because I know I have this really nice self-feeding cycle of [community] and content that keeps them coming back,” Kevin said. “Such that when they are ready to buy, we say, ‘Awesome, let's go.’ We can fly them through with really short sales cycles because of that.”
The communities your customers congregate in don’t just generate deals—they help them close faster.
Our research showed that 72% of community-led deals closed within 90 days compared to only 42% of sales- and marketing-led deals.
The source of that speed? Part of it is buyers feeling confident in the product and empowered to make a decision, especially when companies employ a PLG model. Sales teams simply don't have to spend time trying to sell them.
“Everyone's got this big push for efficiency as part of their growth,” Will said. “Let's say the sales cycle for community-led and non-community-led is the exact same length. The amount of time that they're actually with the seller in that community-led [cycle] is going to feel ridiculously fast because they're already ready by the time they get to the end.”
But a lot of it comes down to equipping GTM teams with relevant context based on questions and feedback potential buyers have shared across community channels. When you have visibility into what value means for individual users, it makes it much easier to move the needle.
Don’t be too heavy-handed when you engage with your user community—it may come back to bite you. Instead, identify your product champions and empower them to lead the charge. They’re not just ideal prospects for your sales team—they’re sources of credibility and social proof.
“We saw Slack communities popping up left and right related to getting sellers together, having conversations,” Will said. “Every time I tried to talk about what we do, I got my wrist slapped. So our content strategy was actually shaped in large part by us getting our wrist slapped, talking about ourselves.”
Community-led growth isn’t a hot new sales hack—it’s today’s buying reality.
Your community is out there. Whether it drives faster, more efficient outcomes for you and your customers is up to you.