You’re planning a family beach vacation and looking for a good resort.
You jump on Google and type in “beach vacation”. One of the first entries that pops up is TripAdvisor. You’ve used TripAdvisor before and you trust the reviews and candid pictures from fellow travelers more than the marketing from resorts themselves.
After some initial research, you zoom in on one region and start to research hotels. Since you’re traveling with your family, you filter the reviews to prioritize those submitted by family travelers. You identify a few properties with the most favorable family oriented reviews and visit their sites to compare price, availability and offers.
You’re looking for new social media management software for your company. As a marketing director, you’ve received promotional emails from vendors, seen ads and talked to colleagues, so you’re familiar with a few options. However, you know that the space moves quickly so you’re not sure who may the best choice for you today.
In days past, you’d probably have begun your search by visiting a few vendors’ websites, downloading collateral and initiating contact with sales. You might also have asked a few friends for recommendations. However, today’s B2B buyers act much more like consumers. Research by the Corporate Executive Board, indicates that B2B customers complete 60% of their purchasing process before having a conversation with a vendor. As a modern B2B buyer, you’re far more likely start with a Google Search than calling a vendor. Per DemandGen 78% of B2B buyers start their research with a web search.
If you’re early in your search and trying to identify vendors to evaluate, you’ll likely start with a broad search term like “social media management software”. You’ll see a bunch of different search results ranging from content from vendors to blogs from consultants. You might also stumble across an independent Buyer’s Guide like this.
If you know one product you’d like to evaluate (e.g. Hootsuite) and want to identify alternatives to build your short list, by searching for “Hootsuite alternatives” again you’ll likely see articles from vendors, blogs from consultants, or access a list like this in a software directory/ review site and add vendors like Sprout Social to your list.
As you research your shortlist, you want to hear first-hand experiences by other users, so just like in the beach resort example, you search for reviews. Per DemandGen, 50% of B2B buyers seek insights from social media and peer reviews. Just as the vacation traveler was most interested in reviews from people traveling with their families, software buyers, want to hear from people at similar sized companies, with similar use cases.
How Marketers Should Respond
As a B2B marketer you need to pay strong attention to this trend. You must learn from your B2C counterparts and assume that your products will be reviewed and discussed by customers in public forums, and that prospects will access these forums to conduct independent research.
Here are 3 immediate steps you can take:
- Pick a venue to focus on: Focus on the review site you believe your prospects will find most valuable — i.e., the one that has the most insightful content and can be found easily through search. You can evaluate the popularity of a site by its Alexa ranking, and the effectiveness of its search presence among your prospects, by running searches for your own product under terms like “product X review”, “product x vs. competitor y.”
- Invite authentic feedback: Encourage all customers to review you. While it’s tempting to cherry-pick known advocates to write reviews, prospective buyers will place more trust in a more comprehensive balance of perspectives than a few glowing testimonials. Reviews of your product need to include honest accounts of where you product can be improved and what it’s truly like to work with you, the vendor. As you invite customers to review you, express that you are looking for honest feedback. You should also message that they can review you anonymously should they prefer.
- Comment on your reviews: Inevitably not all feedback will be positive. Sometimes there will even be factual errors that need to be corrected. Just as managers for great hotels like the Ritz Carlton acknowledge feedback and respond on sites like TripAdvisor, it’s appropriate for you to also appropriately respond to reviews posted in relevant business review forums (where permitted), similar to how you engage and respond to comments on other social networks. Not only does commenting signal to customers that you take their feedback seriously, but it also demonstrates to others reading your reviews that you listen and adapt to feedback.
Last, but not least, reviews on your product will provide great content for you to leverage in your future content marketing efforts.
Are you ready for the Search and Social enabled buyer?