Gathering authentic feedback from product owners and making these opinions available to new shoppers has become table stakes in the B2C market. If a B2C brand doesn’t collect these opinions, the consumer will find them – and more often than not, buy – somewhere else.

On the B2B horizon, however, firms lag behind their B2C cousins in embracing the selling power of opinions from real product/service users. This void offers massive differentiation opportunity for the B2B firms that embrace social now, says Vinay Bhagat, CEO at TrustRadius, a forum for B2B buyer reviews and discussions. We asked Vinay to share his perspective on the B2B industry, and how encouraging buyers to give feedback on products and services will help progressive B2B brands stand apart.

How might opinions from peers influence decisions among B2B buyers?

Today’s consumers are empowered to do comprehensive research prior to a decision through peer reviews and forums. It is inevitable that business buyers will come to expect the same transparency they have as consumers.

Consumer driven marketing (word-of-mouth, online/offline reviews) is important for all stages from initial consideration to closure, but particularly so during the active evaluation phase, when a consumer has decided to buy a type of product, but has not yet decided on the specific brand. A recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision – researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on – before even having a conversation with a vendor.

What makes word of mouth marketing different for B2B than B2C?

The options for business professionals to get peer intelligence are far more limited than for consumers. Information exchange often occurs informally through contacting people that you know or can easily reach. However, most people have finite networks, so getting sufficient input is challenging.

Today, information exchange also happens in private online forums and email listservs, but information shared tends to be limited and historical data is hard to search. Moreover, many forums suffer from a high “noise to signal” ratio, i.e. the bad content drowns out the good, leading people to tune out.  Many forums are also confined to a limited universe of participants, so they lack diversity in perspective.

B2B marketers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and increase marketing efficiency by embracing transparency – encouraging customers to share unfiltered perspectives, and empowering prospects to access this feedback on their websites.

How can B2B companies use client feedback to improve their businesses?

Vendors who embrace transparency and have generally have positive reputations will:

  • Lower marketing and sales expense as more opportunities are derived based upon word of mouth and peer reviews versus traditional marketing and sales prospecting.
  • Achieve higher win rates as buyer objections are addressed by customer reviews.
  • Identify new customer evangelists/references.
  • Receive authentic feedback, to improve offerings and service level, and to realize new monetization opportunities.

All these factors will in turn allow these vendors to reallocate spend towards product innovation and customer service, thereby further enhancing their reputation.