Buyers use reviews to get an unbiased picture of how a product will perform based on previous user experiences. In some ways, this is a universal truth, but it has slightly different implications for B2C and B2B purchase cycles.
In a B2C purchase, reading reviews is often a final step that leads directly to the sale (i.e., give reviews a quick scan before clicking “add to cart”). For B2B purchases, on the other hand, reviews are part of a longer, more intricate research process. Buyers want to know if your solution has a proven track record. They want to know its strengths, its drawbacks, and what to expect during implementation.
All of this still drives toward a conversion, but it’s probably the conversion from prospect to lead. If the prospect finds enough evidence to harden their interest, they’ll initiate a known relationship by submitting their contact information (for example, to request a price quote).
ALSO READ: 10 Ways to Improve Your Lead Conversion Rate
If you think B2B buyers aren’t interested in product reviews, think again.
In a 2014 study by Spiceworks, 97 percent of IT buyers said they rely on peer recommendations, ratings, and reviews when choosing business software. Though it’s true that B2B purchases are typically made by a group of decision-influencers rather than one person, there’s still a demand for social proof. And what better way than to let your current and previous customers do the talking?
Amassing a list of real, unbiased online reviews gives your potential buyers a valuable resource and, more importantly, shows them you’re honest. Case studies are great, but we all know that case studies can be skewed. Too often, they focus exclusively on benefits and ROI and ignore drawbacks or limitations. It’s no wonder only 6 percent of B2B buyers say they are “very trusting” of vendor-created content. Another 57 percent say vendor content is too sales-oriented.
That doesn’t mean you need to stop writing celebratory case studies, but it does mean you need to complement your own product information with information generated by users — good, bad, or ugly. With the right approach, your prospects will find the insight they need faster, which clears the path to conversion, follow-up, consultation, and so on. And of course, a smoother buying process is good news for lead generation.
The Problem of Quantity
Here’s the problem: if you aren’t getting enough reviews from your current customers, the whole system crumbles.
But how do you fix that?
How do you catch up with competitors whose products are lauded by thousands of fans across every review site on the internet? Do you wait patiently and hope your product will speak for itself?
Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, and Quick Sprout, says that if brands don’t go out and request reviews, customers will only leave them for three reasons:
- They hate your product
- They love your product
- They’re somewhere in-between but would like to clear up confusion
That doesn’t make for a healthy balance. If you only have four reviews on your site (two are excellent, and two are terrible) your overall rating will be mediocre, not to mention the adverse effect on buyer confidence. Most people won’t buy a pair of shoes with mediocre reviews, let alone an enterprise IT solution.
If you want your reviews to impact lead generation, you need to achieve not only a higher quantity, but a healthier balance between positive and negative, analyst and end-user. This balance provides the most value to a potential buyer by painting an accurate, honest picture of your product.
Below are seven ways to get the conversation rolling.
1. Create a Dedicated Feedback Section on Your Site
This first step should be a no-brainer. People obviously can’t leave reviews on your site if there’s nowhere to submit them. They’re more likely to give feedback if they know that feedback will be seen by and helpful to the public.
It’ll take some work on the back end, but try to build out a section of your site dedicated to customer stories and feedback. A few common components to include:
- Case studies
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Links to third-party review sites (if your product is listed)
2. Use Content Marketing Channels
Instead of relying on the “if-you-built-it-they-will-come” mentality, use your content marketing tools to actively promote reviews. Your blog and social media accounts can be a great way to drive awareness and solicit reviews from a larger audience, but you can also use outbound tactics to solicit reviews from specific customers.
For example, you could use your CRM database to build a segmented list of customers, then send a batch email asking (politely) for a product review. Something along these lines:
We’ve appreciated serving your [vertical] needs over the past year and value your opinion about our product/service. Would you do us a solid and leave a product review on your website? Click below to submit.
3. Offer Incentives
Try motivating your customers with some kind of incentive. A prize drawing is usually a good choice since it keeps the award random and the reviews unbiased. Gift cards, vacations/getaways, or conference tickets can all prove enticing.
Prize drawings for product reviews are fairly common in B2C marketing, but there’s no reason a B2B brand can’t reap the same benefits. If anything, the right incentive can have a multiplying effect, inspiring multiple user reviews from a single account where you might have only gotten one.
4. List Your Product on Independent Review Site
In an ideal world, you’d be able to publish and moderate all product reviews through owned media. But customers don’t always leave (or read) reviews on a vendor site. As with Yelp, Amazon, UrbanSpoon, etc. in the consumer world, B2B customers often rate and review your product on third-party research sites.
TechnologyAdvice is one example. Buyers use our site to compare solutions, read reviews, and pick a vendor that’s best for their business.
Try to pick at least a couple of these sites that align with your business model and ask about a product listing. If the site already has one, great. You can provide additional product details (where necessary) and clear up any inaccuracies.
In addition to reaching a wider audience, these listings and reviews engender more trust because they aren’t skewed by vendor bias. A 2013 study by Avanade found that 61 percent of enterprise buyers value reviews on third-party sites over a direct conversation with the vendor.
5. Respond to Reviews
Too many vendors treat product reviews as a passive exercise. While you may not have a direct role in creating reviews, you can certainly choose to respond. When a customer leaves an especially thoughtful review (whether positive or negative), reach out and acknowledge their comments. This shows potential buyers that your company is responsive and communicative. People are more likely to contribute comments when they know the comments will be read and considered.
If you get a particularly positive review, you might consider sharing it on social media or featuring an excerpt on your testimonial page (with permission).
6. Get Dedicated Reviews from Experts and Influencers
Reviews from “the masses” are most valuable when they pass a certain threshold in quantity. I.e., one short review or anonymous rating isn’t very telling, but 15-20 short reviews and ratings start to paint a more accurate picture. This can be a major setback for vendors who fail to reach the threshold.
Another way to publish valuable product feedback is to ask for reviews from experts and social influencers in your industry. This could be an independent analyst, an agency, or a current customer. You’re looking for someone who will share an opinion (videos, written reviews, etc.) with their own audience. A dedicated review from a well-known analyst or brand is a valuable resource for a decision-maker. It may also inspire more users to write their own reviews.
Here’s an example of a software review video we created for Apptivo:
7. Try a Rewards-Based Advocacy Program
At their best, product reviews serve the larger purpose of advocate marketing: satisfied customers become enthusiasts, voice their enthusiasm, and advance your company’s mission through their interactions with others. Some vendors are actually able to accelerate this transition through rewards-based — or, dare we say, “gamified” — advocacy programs.
These programs are designed to find your best customers and motivate them to generate referrals and reviews. Influitive, for example, is a leading provider of advocate marketing software. Their solution uses gamification (levels, badges, rewards, and leaderboards) to cultivate advocacy and drive sales.
Influitive is only a few years old, but already running programs for top brands like Marketo, Intuit, and IBM.
While B2B product reviews don’t usually cause a sale, they’re an important component in the research and decision process for almost every buyer. You’ll get some good, some bad. That’s inevitable. But the more you push for reviews, the more visible and credible your product will become. Prospects will find the insight they need (and trust) faster, which means they’ll convert faster and have fewer reservations in early stages of the sales process.
Have a technique to add? Let us know in the comments!