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When & How Reviews Are Used Along the Buyer’s Journey

March 23rd, 2018 14 min read

We know a lot about which buyers use reviews, what they’re looking for, why they use them, and how. It’s time to answer the question of when buyers use reviews.

In a recent poll on TrustRadius, 76% of respondents said they were in an active buying cycle, using reviews and ratings data to help them discover, evaluate, or select products. Of those, 62% said they were early stage buyers in the discovery phase, 28% were mid-stage buyers working on evaluation, and 10% were late stage buyers at the point of selection.

stages graph

Source: November 2017 poll of 680 buyers on TrustRadius.com

We also asked buyers to identify all stages where they had used or intended to use reviews to inform their decision. This question saw a more even distribution, largely because buyers use reviews at multiple stages. On average, respondents identified 1.9 stages where they have either already used or plan to use reviews. Discovery and evaluation were the most common times for buyers to use reviews, at 75% and 69% respectively, and 43% said they did or plan to use reviews during the selection stage.

review use graph

Source: November 2017 poll of 680 buyers on TrustRadius.com

How buyers use reviews for discovery

Buyers who are just starting out with their research use review sites to learn more about a category and get the lay of the land. They are looking for orientation around the different options, specifically the relative market presence and user satisfaction of each product.

In surveys and interviews, buyers using reviews for discovery tell us they want to understand which products are widely used, which products are used by segments or industries like their own, which products are highly rated, and which lesser known alternatives they should consider.

“I use TrustRadius fairly early in the research process, to help me to know what are the best candidates to consider.”

“My company is looking for alternative software programs that compare with the one we are currently piloting internally.”

“We use TrustRadius to build product shortlists when approaching the market for a new system.”

How you can help buyers in discovery

  1. Make sure your product profiles are accurate and contains all the details important to buyers.
  2. Make sure your product has enough reviews.
  3. Use reviews as social proof on your site and in your marketing collateral to ensure buyers in discovery hear from your customers.

A few of the ways vendors currently use TrustRadius reviews in the discovery phase:

“Our Premium Profile serves as a hub for prospects to view a wide variety of Lifesize product reviews from a wide variety of roles and industries. You would be surprised how many of our website visitors visit our TrustRadius profile pre- and post-conversion.” – Mitch Holt, Demand Generation Manager at Lifesize

“Business buyers today look to objective resources online such as TrustRadius to do their vendor research. It’s critical to make sure you have a presence on TrustRadius if you want your prospective customers to see what others think of you. In our case, we have a great relationship with our customers and we are very proud to have our customers rate us a leader in the CPM space. TrustRadius helps build credibility and increase awareness – two components of any successful marketing strategy.” – Michael Freeman, Sr. Director of Demand Generation & Marketing Operations at Adaptive Insights

“Prospects trust the objective reviews of our customers, so maintaining a profile and investing in managing our profile on TrustRadius helps us to take control of our brand and to connect with potential customers. The ability to have CTAs pointing back to our site, as well as additional opportunities to upload screenshots and other materials, helps to fill out our profile to provide prospects with more information on our company and our product. We really appreciate having the ability to support our prospects during their research process. TrustQuotes helps us to leverage the detailed reviews of our customers on our own site, to add credibility and an outside perspective to what we are promoting about ourselves.” – Marketing manager at a software company

“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.” – Joe Staples, CMO at Workfront

How buyers use reviews during evaluation

The line between discovery and evaluation is fuzzy, particularly when it comes to building a short list of products. Some buyers use end-user feedback to narrow their options down before engaging with vendors, while others use peer feedback to further evaluate products after they’ve seen a demo or talked to the vendor.  

Buyers using reviews during evaluation say they want an efficient way to find specific details about how a product works in different situations, compare the strengths and weaknesses of products on their shortlist, and surface information that might not be shared by the vendor.

“I consult reviews in search of specific product information that is not always revealed by the product’s providers.”

“Is this the only mechanism I use to evaluate a provider? No. But it helps narrow down the list since there are usually so many vendors that do the same thing…”

“I didn’t have time to demo the products of all the vendors I was considering. [Reviews] helped me to create a short list.”

“Reviews helped determine who to send RFP to.”

How you can help buyers during evaluation

  1. Add review quotes to landing pages, especially those comparing your product to key competitors.
  2. Make it easy for sales reps to find and use review quotes from customers that are in the prospect’s same industry or of a similar size.
  3. Comment on your reviews, and be responsive to negative feedback in particular — acknowledge product limitations, provide solutions, or give an update on the product roadmap where applicable.

Some real-world examples of TrustRadius vendors using reviews to help buyers with evaluation:

“Our Marketing department has implemented TrustQuotes for Web on the main website as well as on individual SEM landing pages. We use this to efficiently manage and display customer quotes to establish trust with prospects and increase conversion rates on lead forms… While A/B testing form conversion for Paid Search landing pages, we saw up to an 18% increase in conversions at a lower cost-per-click.” – Alex Wesler, Director of Marketing Web Development at SmartRecruiters

“Buyers want to understand our strengths and weaknesses and how we compare to competition. TrustRadius gives us the ability to provide this information to them in an unbiased way.” – Shane Swiderek, Product Marketing Manager at TIBCO

“Our sales teams love the ability to compare different competitors side-by-side and send this comparison via URL to prospects comparing us to other competitors.” – Adelle Archer, Product Marketing Manager at TrendKite

“We have different verticals that we sell our products to (i.e. K-12, Higher Ed, Healthcare, etc…) so it is nice to be able to filter the reviews this way. Our sales reps have determined that it is important for prospects within a certain vertical, such as a school, to be able to see a review from another school.” – Carly Snyder, Associate Marketing Program Manager at Blackbaud

How buyers use reviews at the point of selection

Buyers return to user feedback again when it’s time to finalize their decision, especially if there are multiple buyers involved. They may share reviews with members of the buying committee or use evidence from reviews to overcome specific objections. Head-to-head comparisons can also help tip the scales toward one option over another if multiple products seem to fit the functional requirements. At this stage, factors like the quality of service, support, integrations, and onboarding experience become more important, as buyers start to envision life post-purchase. They want to know what it will be like to actually use the product, and what they can do to prepare for a smooth implementation.

In surveys and interviews, buyers at the point of selection tell us they use reviews to validate vendor claims and justify their recommendation to the buying committee or decision makers, as well as assess potential issues with adoption and implementation.

“[Reviews] helped us shortlist from a large list of potential vendors for marketing automation solutions and helped us make a more informed decision while negotiating with and finalizing on vendors .”

“[I used user reviews] Once a group of 3-4 [products] are whittled down and demos were done.”

“We were utilizing TrustRadius at the end of a buyer journey. We felt comfortable with the decision but we wanted to confirm that X was the best product as well as really a good fit for our company. Additionally we were trying to make the decision with open eyes; therefore, we were looking to learn of possible issues that may arise (i.e., risk factors).”

“[Reviews] helped narrow down our choice of software recommendations to executive management. Comprehensive, first hand use case experience with the product added value to our recommendation. Especially users that work in same industry as we do and are confronted with the same type of business problems requiring leading edge software solutions.”

How you can help buyers at the point of selection

  1. Use reviews to find customer reference candidates.
  2. Make it easy for sales reps to find and use review quotes that overcome specific objections.
  3. Arm prospects with review quotes to help them convince internal stakeholders and make a confident decision.

Vendors weigh in on leveraging reviews in the later stages of the sales cycle:

“In order for us to keep up with our rising demands for references, quotes, feedback, etc, and also be respectful of our customers’ time and ability to participate in advocacy activities, we need to keep growing our base of advocates. Having a steady stream of reviews coming in has really helped with that.” – Shery Arnold, Customer Advocacy Manager at Workfront 

“Prior to TrustRadius, we provided our sales people with customer testimonial videos and blog interviews. We still do these types of things, but the turnaround time to get one completed is pretty long. The TrustRadius reviews give our sales team FAST results and a LOT to choose from.” – Stacy Nawrocki, Director of Product Marketing at IBM

“We use the TrustRadius site for a variety of things. The first being for our Sales team to share reviews with prospects who are seeking a customer reference. Sometimes we pair up a review(s) along with the contact info so the prospect has both options.” – Tami Andrews, Sr. Customer Programs Manager at AlienVault

“I won a customer over with 10 quotes that projected every selling point I was using to our advantage, even though we were more expensive.” – Riley Gallivan, Commercial Sales Account Executive at Marketo

Vendors need a multi-touch strategy to enable buyers with reviews

While product discovery and evaluation are the most popular use cases, the data clearly shows that buyers value reviews throughout the funnel. Using reviews to enable buyers all along their journey can also help you build the relationship your buyers want. So don’t just drive more reviews — proactively bring that content to your buyers to build credibility and a strong business case for your products.

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