By Bridget McCrea
As online reputation management becomes more important for B2B firms, electrical distributors should be incorporating online customer reviews into their sales and marketing conversations.
Depending on which survey you read, anywhere from 75 to 95 percent of buyers go online to read customer reviews before making a purchase decision. And, an equally high percentage trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues. That means an average of 85 percent of your customers are probably already using this strategy when they’re shopping for consumer products, vacations, hotels, and reading material.
This habit has spilled over into the business-to-business world, where 94 percent of business buyers do some form of online research, according to Acquity Group’s most recent State of B2B Procurement study. The study also found that 55% of B2B buyers conduct online research for at least half of their corporate purchases, and that 40% of buyers research online for more than half of the sub-$10,000 goods that they procure.
“Today, search and the availability of independent social forums and product review sites are fundamentally changing B2B buyers’ research habits,” writes TrustRadius’ Vinay Bhagat in Why B2B Marketers Should Welcome Online Reviews. “As a result, B2B marketers must take their cue from B2C and relearn the way they operate. They must assume their products will be reviewed and discussed by customers in public forums, and that prospects will access these forums to conduct independent research.”
Taking Their Cues
If online customer reviews aren’t already a part of your distributorship’s sales and marketing plan—and if you’re not paying attention to what your customers are saying about your firm and its products/services online—you could be missing out on a big opportunity. On one hand, it gives you the chance to reach out and thank those who have nice things to say. On the other, it allows you to directly address issues that you may not have even been aware of. By serving as an extension of your inside and outside sales teams—which aren’t always privy to every single customer gripe or commendation—online reviews can help boost sales and retain valued clients.
Ed Brancheau has worked with numerous distributors, helping them refine their digital tactics and better utilize online customer reviews to their advantage. He says one of the best strategies for B2B firms is to simply get on a site like Yelp and proactively list your business on the site. “The misconception that I run into most when businesses ask me about online review sites is that they think that the potential customer has to be on the review site first,” says Brancheau, digital marketing expert with San Diego-based Goozleology.
“I have to teach them that the biggest benefit of listing your business on a review site like Yelp is that those review pages are very easy to rank on the first page of Google and the other search engines because they have a lot of ‘domain authority’ (DA),” says Brancheau. The typical small- to midsized electrical distributor’s website doesn’t have this level of DA, he explains, noting that a site like Yelp has a DA of 93 out of 100 whereas even the strongest local business might have a DA of 40 (at best).
“Therefore, it’s much easier to rank a business for ‘electrical distributor’ as a Yelp review rather than the business’ actual site,” Brancheau says. “From that step, a potential customer would see the review, visit the review, read the positive reviews, and then visit your company’s website.”
Stepping Up to the Online Review Plate
Yelp isn’t the only online review game in town. Using platforms like Google My Business and Yahoo Local Listings, for example, customers can comment and add reviews (one to five stars), and upload photos. If your distributorship has a Facebook page, your customers can use it to post ratings and/or reviews. LinkedIn recommendations are also highly valued in the B2B world, and Twitter is another good option in that it allows you to track what others say about your firm and then retweet those comments and/or address any complaints in a very open forum.
And speaking of complaints, Brancheau says there’s a fairly easy way to find and address negative comments in the online space, where the appearance that you “care enough” to respond and possibly even remediate the problem means a lot. “Everyone realizes that things can go wrong, but what they don’t like is to be ignored—an issue that then trickles down and impacts the next person who reads the negative review,” says Brancheau. “By keeping tabs on what people are saying and then responding accordingly (either with a ‘Thank You’ or a ‘We’re very sorry this happened…’), you can effectively turn the review process in your company’s favor.”
The first step is to set up a Google Alert for your business’ name that alerts you (via email) every time your business is mentioned online. “I have several set up for my business that alert me to every single mention of ‘Goozleology,'” says Brancheau, who then responds to all reviews and comments, both positive and negative, in a timely and professional manner. “Thank people for their positive reviews and politely respond to the negative reviews,” says Brancheau.
Keep an eye out for erroneous reviews and information, which can easily infiltrate the online review space and wreak havoc. “I had one person post a negative review of my business,” Brancheau says. “It turns out that they had me confused with someone else. But because I responded in a professional manner, they’re now one of my best clients. Plus, other people saw how I responded and called me for my services.”
SIDEBAR: Why Online Reviews Matter
Still not convinced that online reviews are worth your time? Consider these 5 Reasons Online Reviews Matter for Your Business from Outbound Engine (read the full article and recommendations for leveraging online reviews here).
1) 68% of consumers trust opinions posted online. “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.”
2) 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
3) Customers are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones. “Think of your last negative customer experience—did you tell anyone about it?”
4) You can turn a negative review into a positive review. “Reviews are influencing the opinions of potential customers, but they don’t have to be a permanent black mark on your digital record.”
5) 72% of consumers say positive reviews make them trust businesses more. “Reading a multitude of positive reviews provides a potential customer with a sense that the business can be trusted.”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
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