Using Ratings and Reviews Sites as a New B2B Marketing Channel
A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head. Just as consumers use Yelp and TripAdvisor, business buyers can check out G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Clutch.co, Capterra, and others.
These sites work best in fragmented markets, where it can be hard to stand out among the many competitors. No surprise, in the B2B world, it’s software where the bulk of the activity lies. But other categories are being served as well, like business services, and more are likely to come.
The value to buyers from these sites is obvious: Peer reviews are highly prized in the purchase decision process, not only for validating the claims of the seller, but for showing evidence of the product’s relevance to the buyer’s own industry.
They also point out otherwise unseen flaws. “The stakes are high in B2B,” says Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of TrustRadius. “Tech buyers need the whole truth before buying.” Think of the consequences that might accrue if, despite due diligence, you install HR software that produces a critical error, he points out.
On the seller side, it’s a mixed bag. Clearly, B2B sellers want to be found, and praised publicly by their fans. Chris Jeffers, founder of VisitorTrack, says his product’s strong reviews have resulted in inquiries from prospects, saying things like “I saw you on G2Crowd, and I’m calling because your reviews are better than the others I was looking at.”
The reviews also serve as mini-case studies and testimonials covering a variety of industries and applications that would have taken sellers enormous effort to assemble on their own. Injecting the voice of the customer into the selling process is a boon.
But bad reviews can be a challenge and are the nightmare of PR people everywhere. Review site managers make extra effort to validate reviewers, to ensure that the reviewer really uses the product, and if anonymous, is a real business person.
Wondering about the business model of these comparison sites? Most offer free listings to sellers, and free viewing of the ratings and reviews to all. They make their money from enhanced listings, from advertising, and from a mixture of marketing services, like data on visitors looking at reviews in the seller’s category. Many also offer support services, to help increase the number of customer reviews. Pricing ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.
Since their emergence in the early 2000s, these sites are becoming increasingly influential in the B2B buying and selling process. Users will write reviews whether the supplier likes it or not. So, sellers do well to jump in and proactively manage the channel to their advantage. Here’s how to get the most value from this new resource:
- Get in the game. Buyers are searching there. Your competitors are there. You need to be there, too. “Overcome your fear of loss of control,” says Mike Beares, founder of Clutch.
- Encourage your customers to leave reviews. “It’s a best practice to ask customers for a review just after a successful service call,” advises Tim Handorf, co-founder and president of G2Crowd.
- Test your way into the various upgrades and marketing services the site has to offer. Some are especially innovative, like offering data on companies that are reading reviews of your competitors. G2Crowd will produce an infographic for you based on pull quotes gathered from your reviews.
- Look into the site’s policies and practices in calculating rankings and authenticating reviews. TrustRadius, for example, rejects about 15% of reviews submitted. Also make sure you are comfortable with the methods they use to encourage users to post reviews. Site owners understand that trust is essential to their business models.
- “Embrace the transparency,” says G2Crowd’s Handorf. Recognize that your product may not be right for everyone. Respond to any negative comments with empathy, in an authentic voice.
- Consider these sites a customer service tool, which can surface unexpressed problems that you can solve proactively. Vinay Bhagat of TrustRadius suggests then asking the customer for a fresh review once the problem has been resolved.
- The reviews are also useful to product managers, to evaluate the popularity of various features, and uncover use cases you hadn’t thought of before. According to Bhagat, some sellers data-mine the reviews to measure sentiment, and gain insight into customer needs.
- Use the software reviews sites to support your own martech or business services purchasing.
This new channel is here to stay. It’s up to us business marketers to get the benefit.
A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.