Why High-Growth Software Companies Are Investing in Online Reviews

The last 12 months has seen a significant escalation in the number of business software products reviewed online by their users. On TrustRadius alone, software users have contributed in-depth reviews for more than 1,200 products. This growth has come at an opportune time as more software buyers seek social proof as part of their evaluation process. Some vendors are starting to see the results:

“We do buyer’s journey research once a year. Two years ago, software reviews didn’t come up organically in the conversation, but when we prompted people, some had read reviews. We saw a dramatic increase when we refreshed the research this fall — about half of U.S. buyers were influenced by product reviews in their buying process.”

— Debbie Farese, Head of Sales Enablement, HubSpot

Yet today, only a minority of companies are actively driving reviews, and fewer still are incorporating them into their go to market approach, e.g. displaying them on their websites, referring to them in sales presentations, and using them for reference management and competitive differentiation.

In a recent survey about what B2B buyers value most on vendor websites, 52% of buyers said that product reviews were a must have item. When asked what information was most lacking on vendor websites, 43% responded product reviews.

Sales and Product Info Buyers Need Chart

Fig. 1 – Excerpt from 2015 B2B Web Usability Report, Huff/KoMarketing

I interviewed marketing leaders at a few fast growing software companies to ask them why they were investing in online reviews and what was working for them. Three clear themes emerged:

1) Traditional Analyst Coverage Doesn’t Meet Their Needs

Technology analysts still wield significant authority with certain software buyers like CIOs at large companies, particularly when considering mature software categories. However, they have far less influence in business functions outside of IT and in small to mid-sized companies. They have also been less effective at covering emerging or fast changing categories and startups.

Additionally, some vendors feel that their vision does not align well with how analysts categorize markets, and instead would rather be judged by their users.

“The whole analyst evaluation game is often based on just one side of the story. The issues and the criteria used often don’t match with what the user cares about. For us it’s been great to give the users a forum.”

— Kevin Young, VP Marketing, Monetate

“When you are an earlier stage company, working with traditional analysts is very expensive. And, often by the way they organize categories, their grading system is more favorable to established companies. Disruptive/early-stage companies can point to reviews instead, and it holds a lot of weight to say, ‘See what our customers are saying.’”

— Debbie Farese, Head of Sales Enablement, HubSpot

2) Social Proof is a Sales Differentiator

While many vendors view their presence on review sites as merely a way to drive leads and assure consideration in purchase cycles, progressive vendors are proactively harnessing reviews in their go-to-market efforts.

Some have enabled reps to leverage their user ratings in sales pitches. Others point prospects to targeted individual reviews or comparisons with competitors. Some have added social proof to their website, syndicating reviews, displaying badges, and use synopses of reviews as assets for demand generation.

“At Adaptive, customer satisfaction is a huge differentiator for us. TrustRadius provides the platform for our satisfied customers to share their honest feedback with prospective Adaptive customers. The result is a powerful tool for every stage of the buyer’s journey — from awareness, to being referenced by our sales team during sales engagements. We’ve also incorporated a review widget prominently in the customer section of our website which presents our latest reviews in real time.”

— Paul Turner, VP Marketing, Adaptive Insights

adaptive insights

Fig. 2 – TrustRadius Review Widget on Adaptive Insights Website

Our review presence is one of the proof points we use to express that our users have spoken, and done so on a third-party-verified site. The fact that users are speaking up is a selling point unto itself. It’s been most helpful from a sales perspective. We use it as a differentiator. It highlights that our product is easy to use. We stand out dramatically versus our competitors.”

— Kevin Young, VP Marketing, Monetate

trust radius

Fig. 3 – Monetate incorporating their A/B Testing leader badge as social proof on their website

HubSpot has gone a step further and enabled their reps to use individual reviews proactively as references. They have built a reference management system which is integrated to their CRM, and they plug links to third party reviews into the system.

“Initially, we just told prospects we have a high volume of reviewers that rate us favorably, so we’re a market leader. Now, we’ve evolved towards directing people to unique reviews. We’ve made reviews searchable by industry, geography, marketing challenge, and more. A review can be more powerful than a case study as it’s on a third party site.”

— Debbie Farese, Head of Sales Enablement, HubSpot

An in-depth review can be a great substitute or at minimum precursor for a reference call. Often, the questions prospects ask are generic and answered in a comprehensive review.

hubspot review trust radius

Moreover, prospects can ask follow-on questions via commenting on the review or by connecting via InConnect on TrustRadius to chat privately. Consequently, in-depth reviews can reduce the need for reference calls, saving time for references, and creating a lower friction path for sales.

hubspot review

3) Incremental Leads

Traffic to review sites is growing quickly. The majority of traffic is driven by web searches on key evaluation terms like product comparisons, reviews, alternatives, etc. As such, it represents a highly qualified audience with a strong purchasing propensity. Our surveys indicate that 90 percent of our audience is in active purchasing cycles, and 42 percent have not yet contacted any vendor.

“Review sites are good at SEO. Buyers start their research in Google and it’s really powerful when a third party review of your product is one of the first things to show up.”

— Debbie Farese, Head of Sales Enablement, HubSpot

We provide lead generation programs for vendors in certain categories, but routinely hear from vendors about leads that go to them directly, having found them on TrustRadius and been impressed with their reviews.

“We’re starting to get inbound requests because they saw us on TrustRadius. They discovered us on TrustRadius. Some of them come through the TrustRadius lead generation program and some direct.”

— Kevin Young, VP Marketing, Monetate

In conclusion, leading vendors are investing in scaling their review bases as they realize that . Some are also motivated to find judging forums alternative to analysts, where they are less constrained by the market focus of an individual analyst or which parameters the analyst deems as most important.

Progressive companies are also proactively harnessing their reviews as part of their go-to-market programs. They enable their reps to use reviews, pointing to their review base as a whole for high-level social proof, and to individual reviews as part of reference requests. They are syndicating reviews from TrustRadius to their own sites and incorporating badges where available to validate their performance.

Consequently, these vendors are able to amplify the positive sentiment associated with their product and customer experience, thereby streamlining their sales process by instilling confidence in buyers that they are the right choice.

Photo by m01229

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