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Ratings and reviews: Not just for consumers anymore

We’ve all seen ratings and reviews online, starting way back when Amazon first introduced them. Over the years, they’ve become a staple of e-Commerce, with online retailers catching on to their impact on conversion rates. But what about B2B marketers? Why isn’t there more usage of reviews in business-to-business marketing? If you’ve wondered why B2B marketers seem so much less inclined to show reviews on their sites than their consumer-facing brethren, so have I. Let’s explore what the reasons might be.

Sure, there are some B2B companies that place ratings and reviews on their Web sites. I wrote about Sun Microsystem’s use of reviews over a year ago, and Dell Computer and Staples offer them, also. I’m sure there are others. But B2B marketers seem to be far more reluctant to use ratings and reviews than B2C marketers.

That’s somewhat understandable. When retailers display ratings on their Web sites, there’s not much danger of losing a sale. If one book gets a low rating, you’ll buy a different book from that same online bookstore. But B2B manufacturers are taking more of a risk that customers will abandon their sites entirely due to bad reviews.

But that reasoning only goes so far. After all, every B2B marketer knows how important customer references are in closing sales—why wouldn’t product reviews be an extremely persuasive factor in B2B purchases? I know, I know, case studies and customers references are controlled, so there’s no danger—all the reviews are good. But look at that another way: It means that they have less credibility than an open ratings and reviews system. So, if controlled references have such high credibility, imagine what open reviews would have.

Some observers believe that ratings and reviews and other social media techniques might have even more value in B2B marketing than in B2C interactions. Nancy Davis Kho, writer for eContent Magazine, had this to say in “B2B Gets Social Media:”

The irony is that social media tools, properly designed and deployed, may actually bring a greater payoff to B2B users than in the B2C environment. The reason? Tools that enable faster and more personalized interactions between customer and vendor can enhance corporate credibility and deepen relationships. Those are all important factors in B2B sales decisions, which tend to have a higher dollar value and longer-term impact than consumer sales.

In addition to the increased credibility of B2B ratings and reviews, they also compare favorably to customer references in another way: cost. B2B marketers know that it’s like pulling teeth to get sales people to write up their customer stories, and when they do, the writing is not exactly Hemingway. The cost of extracting and polishing these customer stories, and then securing the approval of the customer takes time and money. Ratings and reviews are nearly free, with the only expense being to set up and maintain the ratings and review software itself. Vendors such as BazaarVoice not only provide the software but also the people power to keep track of submissions to ensure that vulgar and other inappropriate reviews are not posted.

I am left to wonder whether the lack of ratings on B2B Web sites is not because they don’t work, but because they can’t be controlled. Are we B2B marketers afraid of what customers will say about our products? Don’t we trust our customers to tell the truth? Or do we lack belief in our products?

But rather than wondering, let’s get the facts instead. It’s clear that B2B marketers have not warmed to ratings and reviews—at least not yet. It’s puzzling to me why, and it is equally puzzling to a colleague of mine, Christian Carlsson of ibm.com, so he decided he wanted to find out more. I’d like to help him and you can, too.

Christian has developed a survey that will take you just 10-15 minutes to complete. If you are a B2B purchaser, you can tell us your thoughts about all forms of customer references and how they help you in the decision process. Your experiences and your opinions can help us all understand this important topic. Christian has promised to share the results with us in a future Biznology newsletter.

I hope that you’ll take the time to answer these questions so we can all learn more about how B2B marketers should value customer stories, so they can balance the apparent risk with the true reward. Here’s the link to the survey. Thanks in advance.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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