Brass tacks: Marketers and salespeople don’t have the kind of control over the buyer’s journey and sales process like they used to. B2B buyers are more empowered than ever. They conduct more research anonymously than ever before, and have access to robust tools that simply didn’t exist a decade ago, such as B2B product review sites.
These sites — like G2, TrustRadius and GetApp — have changed the game for buyers. According to G2, 92% of buyers are more likely to purchase a product or service after reading a trusted review. Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center found that an online review can increase a company’s conversion rate by as much as 270%.
This jibes with our own findings. In a recent survey of our 6sense customers:
- Nearly half said peer referrals were a “driving factor” behind their purchase of our solution
- Moreover, nearly 60% said they leveraged comparison sites to make their decision to select us as their ABM partner
- And nearly 40% of respondents solicited references from other customers of ours
These review sites are flipping the script for vendors, too — and not always in comfortable ways. Negative customer feedback can’t easily be removed from these sites. That can leave a mark … so much so that many vendors want nothing to do with them.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. This guide provides a spin-free look at these sites and why it’s generally challenging for B2B vendors to generate reviews on them. And we’ll offer several best practices you can use to improve your understanding of your customers and the feedback they might leave.
Review Sites are a Net Positive
First thing’s first. Overwhelming evidence suggests that B2B review sites are positive for companies — even when the reviews aren’t. Nearly 70% of buyers want to see a well-rounded mix of reviews for your product. As G2’s The Impact of Reviews on B2B Buyers and Sellers report states, “Having a few negatives in your reviews won’t kill you. In fact, the negatives add to your trustworthiness and credibility.”
Further, companies that incorporate reviews into their own content see an average uptick of 30% in their conversion rates.
Getting B2B Customer Reviews Is Hard
We all know that reviewing products in the B2C world is easy. If you want to know which robot vacuum to buy, it takes mere minutes to read user-generated reviews on Amazon, uncover Consumer Reports analysis, and watch YouTube personalities put various options to the test.
B2B buyers crave a similar experience — and many B2B solution providers are hungry to be reviewed, too. And while the adoption of B2B service / software reviews is increasing, it’s comparatively more challenging for B2B companies to receive them. Here’s why.
Buyers Play Their Cards Close to the Vest
For starters, B2B buyers are generally more prudent in offering public feedback about their vendors — even when the reviews might be positive. That’s because:
- People familiar with the solution and its purchase may not have — or feel they don’t have — authority to divulge what went into their selection process
- They may feel their company’s experience is privileged information
- They may feel uncomfortable speaking for everyone at their company
- This isn’t unreasonable since lots of opinions went into the initial purchase decision
- And more opinions will emerge as they continue to use the product or service
Buyers and Users Have Different Perspectives
The other factor is that buyers of B2B solutions and users of B2B solutions aren’t necessarily the same people.
- For instance, a buyer may know how a solution’s cost compares to others’, but won’t have a handle on the nuanced differences in value or ongoing service
- Meanwhile, a routine user can speak to features but can’t comment on how the pricing model is panning out, or whether it’s been a wise investment
The Flip Side
Thankfully, many B2B customers do share their opinions on review sites. They may have had a particularly good or bad experience that they’re inclined to share, or may be paying forward word-of-mouth insights that they too received when searching for a fit themselves.
Prospects Use Reviews to Qualify Solution Providers
Many marketers and salesfolk consider leveraging third-party validation (such as online reviews) and customer case studies near the Decision stage of the buyer’s journey. They reckon this is a prime time when customers compare final contenders and determine a winner.
But the data doesn’t bear that out. In fact, that might be too late in the journey. Our customer survey data suggests peer recognition is actually best used during the first two buying stages — Problem Identification and Solution Exploration — in at least 25% of our customer base.
That’s three to four times more than the consumption of other vital collateral like whitepapers, ebooks, and videos during those same stages.
If anything, this should be a reminder that many B2B buyers rely on external perspectives in multiple phases of their journey. They initially seek opinions to filter down their spectrum of choices, and then again rely on outside opinions later to validate which direction they’re leaning toward.
Treat Third-Party Sites with Care
This advice should sound familiar to ABM loyalists. If the parties that give prospects intel about your B2B offerings aren’t already customers themselves, they can be thought of as surrogates watching out for your customer’s interests.
Maybe they’re a review site comparing the time-to-result of your widget with those of your competitors. Maybe they’re a trade magazine writing a round-up piece on the durability of all available options.
In either case, they’re looking to obtain and share useful information about an aspect of your solution — just like various members of a prospect’s buying committee are scouting you in a specified way with the goal of bringing useful morsels back to the company.
As such, treat these third parties similar to how you’d treat ABM customers.
Coax, Don’t Coerce
Generally, members of B2B revenue teams easily resist the urge to react negatively to a pushy, controlling prospect. We take the high road. But things feel different when customers begin to critique your company — and then share their critique with others.
That stings. And within some organizations, it stirs up a frantic need to offset those negative words through shortsighted “damage control” countermeasures.
That’s rarely a smart move. Whatever you do, don’t use intermediaries to mislead customers and prospects. It backfires.
In 2013, the New York State AG’s office fined 19 SEO firms $350k for paying foreign freelancers to produce phony, positive reviews for its clients from unique IP addresses. And in Italy, the owner of Promo Salento was found guilty for concocting more than a thousand bogus TripAdvisor reviews. The sentence resulted in financial damages — and nine months in a jail cell.
Cultivate honest and meaningful reviews. Let outside parties know you care what they think and say, and always act with tact and dignity. A customer whose arm you’re twisting isn’t going to sing your praises as a reference. Better to focus that energy on delivering an exceptional audience experience.
B2B companies spend lots of time, money and effort to tap into the voice of their customers and prospects. But when online reviewers pop up uninvited and say something less than stellar about the business, many companies instinctively reach for the muzzle.
If companies truly want honest feedback and belong to organizations that value things like customer experience and continuous improvement, they should embrace all thoughtful input and seek solutions that can aggregate and make sense of them.
Perhaps a comment exposes a flaw in your solution that can be improved. Maybe it adds more contours to a particular pain point your audience experiences while it goes through the buying journey. Or maybe it draws attention to an entirely new market opportunity.