Before the days of social media and sites like Yelp and Amazon, customers had to rely on vendor advertisements and personal recommendations from family and friends to get information about products. Today, a quick Google search will populate reviews, ratings and comments from consumers and media outlets from around the Web, offering you a wealth of data about not only the product itself but how well it works and any issues that others have run into when using it.
There's no doubt that customer reviews have revolutionized the way people make purchasing decisions, especially in the tech and software industry. Though the B2B buying process is a little more complex and involves multiple individuals with different needs, businesses looking to purchase software also turn to third-party opinions to help make the best choice for them.
Like retail consumers, B2B purchasers often go through multiple channels to arrive at a purchasing decision, namely self-driven information searches and same-size industry peer sources, said Jay Ivey, customer relationship management (CRM) researcher at software review site Software Advice. Ivey noted that factors like referrals, reviews, testimonials, conversations on social media and demos can directly impact a software buyer's confidence in his or her purchase, as can the indirect influence of content like blog posts or videos from the vendors, as well as the buyer's general trust in the vendor. [5 Influential Review Sites That Matter to Your Reputation]
"Today's buyers are smarter, which really just means they have the tools to better inform themselves and to develop a certain level of understanding on their own," Ivey told Business News Daily. "In many cases, this means that buyers have nearly made up their minds before sales reps even have a chance to enter the conversation."
"The 'me too' factor is what influences buyers the most — that is, the fact that many peers have adopted the same solution before them," added Daniel Sarfati, founder and CEO of software analytics company Applango. "For software as a service, we see that the decision to buy comes from the line of business more than from a professional IT manager. This is especially true for professional applications that cover needs that are not IT-related, such as Salesforce, Workday, Service Now and others."
While a great product will earn you a lot of customer buzz and recommendations, there's more to earning a good review than the product itself. The overall sales experience is still one of the dominant factors that influence purchase decisions, according to a business-to-business sales study by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
"Businesses don't just buy software — they buy into relationships with their vendors," said Chuck Ganapathi, founder and CEO of sales data mobile app Tactile. "Investments in software are multiyear commitments between implementation, integration, training, etc. There needs to be trust with the vendor and the salesperson."
To build that trust and positive customer experience — and subsequently, buyer confidence — companies need to focus on encouraging authentic, honest customer feedback, and truly listening to it.
"Business are wary [of software vendors]," said Godard Abel, CEO of crowdsourced business software review site G2Crowd. Even though the demos may look great and the vendor may make great claims, buyers really need to hear from other people in order to get real insight into the product. This not only helps buyers make purchase decisions, but also gives vendors honest feedback on how to improve their products and services, Abel added.
Ganapathi agreed, noting that companies should be very attentive to their customers' problems, no matter what channels they use to express these issues.
"At the end of the day, they are paying you [to] solve their problems through software," Ganapathi said. "This creates value for the customer. As people, we always feel better about our decisions and purchases when we can clearly understand the value behind it."
Originally published on Business News Daily.