Want to know how well a lawnmower performs, what kind of experience your peers had with their bank, or whether the warranty offered by a roofing contractor turned out to be worth the expense? It’s no secret that when consumers research the products and services they seek, they turn to user reviews for the insights they need to make informed decisions – and justify the cost of the decisions they make.
What’s less common knowledge is that the power of reviews and other user-generated content has dramatically increased in industry too. Buyers and vendors are connecting after they explore LinkedIn profiles and searched Twitter accounts. Companies are encouraging customers to provide user reviews on everything from accounting software to their R&D capacities. In the manufacturing space, it means big business when companies stop thinking of reviews and rankings as a B2C thing and learn to work it.
True, some of the traditional methods for B2B communications matter. A 2016 report by Demand Gen finds that 82 percent of survey respondents are reading white papers – still the highest choice by far when making their buying decisions – with another 73 percent choosing case studies and two out of three reading blog posts. At 95 percent, almost all of them said they’d consider content generated by the vendors themselves, and they of course do as they move on to corporate websites and social media.
But as the decision-making process becomes more complex, industry professionals are leveraging their technological savvy to connect directly with their peers and assess the experiences shared by colleagues. It’s not just the difference that mobile access makes, or the shift to millennial preferences in the market, although both factors are true. What’s really driving a B2B shift to user reviews and other peer-to-peer exchanges is the value of information in a research process that 80 percent of buyers say is taking more time. In most scenarios, it’s the methodical approach designed to support their case for the investment, underscoring that all the time they’re putting in is tied to ROI and the cost-conscious business climate.
“What we’re seeing is the kind of traffic that tells us virtually no decision gets made now without a hard look at companies and services,” said Jeev Trika, founder of CrowdReviews.com, a review and ranking site for software providers, financial services and other products geared toward the B2B environment.
“We tell companies looking for more visibility, more exposure and lead generation, that a completed profile on the review site ensures that they’re not missing that competitive edge. It’s how conversions happen now. People seek to reduce their risk in making decisions with a fair evaluation of reputation, and they always have. The user reviews offered by peers is an unbiased, data-driven way to do that.”
Trika points out that customer reviews are really just one form of user generated content, although the additional value of review platforms always includes a nod to their search engine friendly nature. User content is where information that leads to sales is growing. In fact, reviews provided by industry experts are preferred, according to a 2015 research report, but just barely. Respondents from manufacturing firms were in the top three groups, along with tech and professional services. Among them, 21 percent said they value expert insights most, but 20 percent said they trust that same information from peers.
More than half of the buyers surveyed said they connect through social media to get answers and opinions. After gathering enough information to identify potential vendors or providers, they’re ready to ask more specific questions about those targets. When they look for those answers, it’s online reviews at the top of the list of their go-to sources! That was the case for 90 percent of professionals researching their options, the influence of which they ranked just below pricing and ease of use for a given solution.
The value of peer reviews ranked higher than the expected deployment time for a given choice, or the level of experience the potential provider has within their specific industry. “It is clear that they value the unvarnished opinions of their colleagues,” the study authors note. On the other hand, networking – the old-school method of having an “in” at the company to do business – mattered for just 62 percent.
That’s a slightly different trend than analysts usually see in the B2C space, because people still trust the opinions of family and friends at least as much as they do a user review from a reputable ranking site. In both scenarios, although perhaps more so in business and manufacturing in particular because precision and data analysis are central to the organizational culture, people want to base their decisions on facts.
“Those facts, about whether project managers design and deliver on meaningful timelines, or whether a software provider’s support at launch was exceptional clear through training and post-implementation phases, are what people need to know,” Trika said. “They need to hear how responsive your company is, how cost-effective a peer’s decision really turned out to be, how hard it is to resolve an invoice issue.”
All of which means that B2B customers need to know that the review site they’ve chosen protects those facts. That doesn’t mean the absence of negative information, but if that negative information is true? It still isn’t something to fear, because some studies show that a mix of positive content and negative user experience delivers better results. In part, that’s because potential customers find the overall balance of information more trustworthy and realistic. In part, it’s because they have the chance to see companies resolve disputes and show their mettle when it comes to customer experience. Mostly, it’s because we all know there are pros and cons to making any real-world decision – and it shows in the user reviews.
Ultimately, what customers really want are facts they can trust, whether companies provide solid user experience on their own sites or make sure it’s on external review platforms – and it’s wise to do both.