In the last few years, studies from Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center, the Pew Research Center, Bazaarvoice, the Better Business Bureau, and others have shown the influence of online reviews on consumer purchases. The gist: most consumers check reviews before making a purchase, and reviews influence what they decide to buy, who they buy it from, and what they are willing to pay for it.
B2C studies gauge influence by asking consumers how often they use reviews, by measuring conversion rate at the point of sale, and by tracking amount spent. Some look at the percent of site visitors who buy a product when reviews are displayed on the page, which is greater than the percent who buy when there are no reviews. Others look at shoppers’ likelihood to buy a product that has reviews over other similar products that don’t have reviews on ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon.
But business technology investments are generally more complex and expensive purchases. The purchase process is longer, and there are multiple individuals involved. Since it is harder to pin down the influence reviews have over these decisions, we have run several surveys to uncover the impact of B2B reviews from various angles.
Reviews have a more distributed influence in B2B purchases
Based on our 2018 B2B Disconnect study, we know that reviews are among the most widely used information sources for B2B buyers, with over half utilizing reviews during the selection process. Buyers also rank reviews as more influential than traditional resources like analysts, media coverage, forums, customer references, case studies, and other vendor-produced collateral.
In another survey, 90% of buyers who were part of a buying group said reviews influenced other stakeholders as well. Some knew their fellow buyers were reading reviews on their own, while others said they circulated reviews they found or included review data in their recommendations to the committee.
Unlike B2C, reviews don’t necessarily appear just at the point of purchase in B2B. Buyers use them at multiple stages to get educated about the market, narrow things down, and make a confident decision. In a poll on TrustRadius.com, buyers identified on average about two stages in their process where they used reviews. 76% use reviews for discovery, 69% use reviews for evaluation, and 43% use reviews for selection.
4 ways reviews influence the B2B buying process
To understand more about the specific ways in which reviews influence individual buyers during different stages of the process, we recently conducted a site poll on TrustRadius.com. A total of 93% of buyers who responded to our poll said the reviews they found were influential in some way. On average, buyers selected 1.48 ways in which reviews were influencing them at that moment.
Based on a June 2018 poll of 192 buyers on TrustRadius.com
49% of buyers said the reviews they found influenced their list of products to consider.
In the initial stages of a buying project, reviews influence the list of products on a buyer’s radar. Reviews help them understand what their peers are using, and which products out there might meet their needs. These are the options they plan to research further.
Buyers using reviews on TrustRadius to build their list say the most influential pieces of information at this point are:
- The pros, cons, and use case answers in reviews
- Demographic information about reviewers
- Reviews across a variety of similar products, for comparison
“We wanted to understand the options that exist in the field of educational apps and platforms (since that field is changing rather fast, I was not up to speed on the current state of it). In addition, I wanted the opportunity to compare several different products I already was familiar with. The pros and cons mentioned in the reviews make it very easy to understand.” – Inga Kizilov, SW SA Analyst, Payworks Payroll Services Canada
“When I was researching options for a new LMS/CMS solution for a $4B worldwide retailer a few years ago, I needed to examine all the current options available and decide which providers to include in the RFP stage. Even at this early stage, user reviews can prove to be a valuable resource.” – Chris Salles, Director of Learning, Audible, Inc.
“I used the TrustRadius listings of web analytics vendors to put together a list of the top vendors that I would research. Then I used the reviews to find the pros and cons of each vendor, with respect to the objectives that mattered to my company.” – Engineer, Internet Company with 201-500 employees
45% of buyers said the reviews they found influenced their expectations around implementation, features, usability, and/or support.
As buyers evaluate their options, narrow it down to the lead contenders, get approval from economic stakeholders for their final choice, and even prepare to roll out a new product post-purchase, they want to know what they can realistically expect. Reviews are influential here because they contain input from users who have been through this experience already.
Buyers using reviews on TrustRadius to set their expectations say the most influential pieces of information at this point are:
- Pros and cons
- Reviews that are more in-depth
- Feedback on usability
- Feedback on specific features
- Feedback on support
- Feedback on implementation, change management, adoption, etc.
- Feedback on ROI/results achieved with the product
- Direct advice and recommendations (i.e. lessons learned, things to watch for)
“I’ve read reviews about pros and cons of each system and evaluated it against what I needed for reporting and our business. Not one system is perfect so I had to weight what is really necessary versus what is a nice to have feature in the system. Also, if it’s not a perfect system, [I had to consider] what I can compromise for the features that I need.” – Director in Finance and Accounting, Investment Management Company with 11-50 employees
“I look for reviews that go into details on the product in efforts to give possible future users a quick insight. There is nothing worse than setting up a program/product that I want to use to later find out that the product is unable to do exactly what I need it to do. Using TrustRadius, I was able to avoid this pitfall.” – Chardonae Ciarletta, Safety & HR Coordinator, Blythe Construction, Inc.
“We were using a lead generation product before but we were not happy with the quality of leads/product so we wanted to avoid buying something that won’t meet our needs. So anything about the quality of the product was of interest. Next, I looked at user-friendliness of the product, how it helped the reviewer, and if the customer service was of good quality.” – Salesperson, Information Technology and Services company with 51-200 employees
“Having credible reviews during the buying process provided invaluable insight allowing me to make the most accurate decision possible. By using these reviews, I was able to avoid wasted time ‘trying’ various products only to find limitations preventing implementation.” – Ken Sparks, Sr. Business Intelligence Developer, Manheim – A Cox Automotive company
“I use it to find pain points but also to reconfirm my decision. In the end, I usually go off of what I am experiencing while trying the product, but oftentimes you can see warning signs regarding support or features, and user reviews can help to confirm these suspicions.” – Alex Kim, Customer Success Manager, Zoom Video Communications
30% of buyers said the reviews they found influenced their selection decision or recommendation.
Though the purchase may not go through that instant (there are stakeholders to sign off on the decision, contracts to be drawn up, legal departments to navigate, etc.), a third of buyers said reviews came into play when they chose which product to go with. Because of the significant time and money that goes into the investment, their professional reputation is on the line. Buyers want to make sure they’re making the right choice for their business. Reviews help them validate their thinking, feel more confident, and even convince others that their process of evaluation was thorough and that the product they chose is a good fit.
Buyers using reviews on TrustRadius to make their final choice say the most influential pieces of information at this point are:
- Comparisons to other products, and reviews that highlight differences between products
- Pros and Cons
- Feedback on ROI/results achieved
- An unbiased, representative set of reviews
- Recent reviews
- Reviews and ratings data that speak to different personas, that can be shared to support a decision or recommendation to other stakeholders.
“I was working on researching automated web UI testing tools for my company. I was the ultimate decider of what kind of software to buy and TrustRadius was very helpful in comparing different solutions. TrustRadius guided me to our ultimate purchasing decision.” – Alexander Dougherty, Computer Software company with 11-50 employees
“As an IT professional, I’ve been using online reviews to evaluate products for over ten years. As a consumer, it’s been much longer than that. It’s difficult to imagine supporting a purchasing decision in these times without using online reviews.” – Tim Shores, Platform Analyst, VentureWell
“Having access to reviews makes it easier for me to differentiate products and make a faster decision on which vendor to recommend for my company.” – Engineer, Internet company with 201-500 employees
“It is incredibly valuable to have reviews that are recent, accurate and detailed to assist in the purchasing process. My experience would have been somewhat similar, but without reviews, I would have had to make a much harder case to my superiors as to the value of the platform I wanted to go with.” – Jason Hatfield, Guest Relations Coordinator, Great Wolf Lodge
“I used TrustRadius to obtain unbiased information about other customers’ mileage with vendors’ platforms and the quality of support provided during implementation. Digital Process Automation market is a very competitive space and flooded with shiny marketing materials that always promise quick results and high ROI. Despite such claims, not all vendors are able to deliver results to match their promise. Third party reviews were used as another major data point to support our final decision-making process.” – Engineer, Retail company with 10,001+ employees
17% of buyers said the reviews they found influenced their questions for vendors.
Once buyers are engaged in conversation with the vendor, they want to make sure they’re asking the right questions. They know you’re motivated to present your products and services in a positive light, showcasing the strongest features and the best case scenarios. They also know that any customer references you share will most likely be happy ones, with model use cases.
Reviews provide a more balanced perspective, with feedback on challenges and product limitations from a wider set of customers. Reviews inspire buyers to ask you about topics they might not have thought to bring up otherwise. Reviews also provide evidence buyers can use as ammunition in negotiations, to support any questions they have and make sure you address their doubts/concerns before they commit to working with you.
Buyers using reviews on TrustRadius to develop questions for vendors say the most influential pieces of information at this point are:
- The cons mentioned in reviews
- Use cases from reviewers who gave low ratings
“Online reviews help show potential weaknesses and sharpen the questions that need to be asked of the vendor before signing a contract.” – Dana Mortimer, Human Resources Manager, Milne Fruit Products
“User reviews absolutely help me form and shape the questions I ask vendors when seeking solutions. I’ll reference use cases, ask about their plans to remedy problems, etc.” – Chris Salles, Director of Learning, Audible, Inc.
“These reviews also help us to ask right questions to the vendor so we do not miss anything important that we should be aware of.” – Jay Kang, Marketing Manager, LG Electronics USA
Reviews can help vendors be more influential with buyers
Throughout the buying process, there’s a link between trust and influence. The more buyers trust a resource, the more influential it becomes–especially when the story it tells lines up with information from other sources. The holy grail for buyers is a complete picture of what using a particular product and working a particular vendor will be like. But typically, that’s hard to come by. It takes lots of research and hard work for buyers to piece together an unbiased view with the details that are most relevant to their use case.
Vendors can be more influential by loosening their control over marketing and sales messaging, and making it easier for buyers to get a complete picture. Research shows that very influential vendors are more upfront about product limitations, and are more likely to give their buyers access to customer perspectives. The key is to open the door to more voices that can speak to real life experience with your product.
One way to do this is to make it easier for buyers to find reviews. Reviews help buyers understand product limitations, know what to expect, and feel more confident in the decision they make. Reviews are a more trustworthy and more influential type of customer evidence than case studies or customer references, and they’re more scalable too.
First, vendors should make sure they have reviews on third-party sites, and that the reviews cover the topics that are important for their buyers. Some sites will ask only a few very general questions that solicit basic responses, while others delve deeper into use case details, ROI, usability, implementation, and other specific topics.
Then vendors should share insightful reviews and relevant quotes with buyers. There’s no need to wait for buyers to find the reviews on their own. Review content can be included in marketing assets, sales emails, company websites, and more. When vendors proactively get reviews in front of buyers, it positions them as a more transparent and authentic resource. Reviews help build a foundation of trust, and make life easier for buyers, who don’t have to work as hard to uncover the whole truth.
Here are some examples of how vendors have used reviews on TrustRadius and other third-party sites to be more influential with their buyers:
“TrustRadius has helped our sales cycle by increasing our credibility. Adaptive Insights is the easiest to use software for planning, modeling and reporting for finance teams. We can make that claim, but it is much more credible when our SDR and sales teams can send prospective clients to check out our reviews on the TrustRadius website. […] The custom questions we use allow us to highlight specific points of differentiation of our product and service, which helps prospective customers better understand the market and the factors they should think about in their decision process.” – Michael Freeman, Sr. Director, Demand Generation & Marketing Operations, Adaptive Insights
“We get so many fantastic sound bites from our TrustRadius reviews! […] Of course there are always things that I, as a marketer, might wish the customer had worded differently, but the value of completely transparent and honest reviews is priceless. It makes each review so much more credible from the perspective of others who may be researching the solutions we provide.” – Stacy Nawrocki, Director of Product Marketing, IBM Cloud Video
“I’ve been a CMO for twenty years. Over that time I’ve learned the value that honest, detailed, specific product reviews provide to prospective customers. We’ve used TrustRadius as a means to engage with prospects and to highlight on our own website the great experiences our customers are having with our products. TrustRadius provides definite value to companies who are evaluating products in our space. If you have a great product, TrustRadius user reviews can help showcase it in ways that your own marketing materials can’t.” – Joe Staples, Chief Marketing Office, Workfront, Inc.
Ready to put reviews to work at your company? Request a demo to learn how we can help.