Reviews matter. Or do they? It’s common to hear B2B ecommerce sellers say that reviews aren’t as important as they are in the B2C space. I don’t agree. Reviews have certainly proven to be a powerful tool in the B2C space. And research shows that social proof matters. I think it’s a missed opportunity for B2B.
Why are B2B merchants hesitant to implement reviews? And what is the solution and the path to implementing reviews effectively for B2B?
Resistance to Reviews
Companies that sell to other businesses tend to be more resistant to making customer feedback public. Company leaders worry about negative reviews, thinking “What if people say bad things about our products or company? Why would we want to allow that?”
In addition, many B2B merchants have large numbers of SKUs, which increases the scope of the effort to publicize customer feedback. In B2B, it is also more common to have several variations of a product, which can add additional questions into the process of collecting and displaying reviews.
Plus, many B2B companies are still doing most of their sales offline. We hear our clients’ salespeople say that reviews are less important to their buyers than things like price, contract terms, product availability, etc. I believe that if your customer is mostly concerned about those things, it is likely because you, as an organization, have already addressed other elements of building trust and credibility with them.
Figure 1 CablesAndKits builds confidence with buyers through reviews on their product page.
The Case for Reviews
B2B and B2C are converging more and more. B2C has led the way in so many aspects of ecommerce, and reviews just might be next. Reviews are all about adding credibility. It helps give new customers confidence to place an order. Ultimately, you want your current customers to buy more products. You want to gain new customers via your digital platform as well. Reviews can play an increasingly important role in accomplishing these goals.
“There isn’t really a line between B2B and B2C. It’s a continuum. You are buying a pair of shoes. You are buying a pair of work boots. You are buying boots for your team. You need to compare work boot A to work boot B. I have implemented product reviews at a B2B organization and seen a clear benefit to organic SEO rankings, improvement in click-through rates and conversions from reviews,” says Ted Fay, Vice President of Ecommerce and Digital Strategy, Crescent Electric Supply Co.
Figure 2 HomeDepot.com demonstrates the continuum between consumer and business buyers.
What about the negative reviews? Experience has shown that the presence of negative reviews can increase the trustworthiness of the overall product rating and can help users understand what purposes for which the product is not a fit. The quantity of reviews is a key part of what provides credibility, so negative reviews will be weighed against how many overall reviews you have.
“Having customer reviews on our website was one of the first things I wanted to implement when I came to J. J. Keller. Sometimes organizations can be concerned that people will say bad things about products. But at J. J. Keller, we look at it as an opportunity to learn and improve,” says Adrienne Hartman, Senior Director of Ecommerce and Campaign Sales at J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., a provider of products and services designed to help businesses manage workplace safety and regulatory compliance.
Figure 3 J. J. Keller values product reviews and uses reviews to learn from customer feedback.
Another benefit of allowing customers to write reviews is gathering valuable marketing and messaging information. “My team watches product reviews very closely. We learn from reviews to create product content, to write about the problems our product is solving and to use the words our customers would use when talking about our products. Our customers know that better than anyone on our marketing team will,” says Angela Farrell, Conversion Rate Optimization Manager and NewPig.com.
Figure 4 NewPig.com learns from reviews to gain new marketing insights.
Depending on your ecommerce platform, the software for implementing reviews isn’t that complicated. It’s not the technical implementation that’s challenging, but there are some strategies for getting customers to leave reviews and using the reviews to increase sales.
Here are a few:
- The more you reduce the friction in enabling people to leave a review, the better! Allow anyone to write a review when they come to your site.
- Use email to invite users to write a review after a certain amount of time has passed since they ordered their product.
- Consider an incentive to users for writing a review—you might enter them into a drawing for a gift card or provide benefits through a loyalty rewards program. Talk about this incentive in the email you send out.
Once you have reviews, you can allow users to filter search results based on reviews or sort search results based on ratings. You may also want to consider featuring products with the highest reviews on category pages or on your home page.
Hesitant B2B companies may need to balance the online and offline aspects of reviews. Consider gathering reviews or testimonials as part of the offline sales and customer service process as well. Email sequences can still be used even if the initial sale was made offline. It’s also possible to collect reviews without publishing them—at least initially. It may not be as compelling for customers to want to participate if they don’t see reviews being published on the site, but it’s a start.
If individual product reviews are difficult to collect because of the number of SKUs or customizations, consider implementing reviews on a subset of your products. Or you could start with focusing on having users review your overall site using services like ResellerRatings, TrustPilot or Google Customer Reviews. You can have a star rating displayed on pages showing your overall score.
Figure 5 XpressTags demonstrates displaying reviews of the overall experience to build trust.
Add Value. Build Trust. Grow Revenue.
There is always value in asking your customers for their feedback to build greater trust. It also helps you to gain information that can improve your marketing and drive your product strategy. Reviews are a powerful tool with untapped potential in the B2B space. It’s the kind of tool we evaluate with our Success Plan customers when looking for ongoing ways to generate improved results on their sites. I believe reviews can be an important part of new customer acquisition and increasing sales. If you aren’t using reviews today, I recommend considering reviews as a part of your strategy.
Lori McDonald is president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Brilliance Business Solutions a digital agency she founded in 1998 for manufacturers and distributors. In 2020, Brilliance made the Inc 5000 list of America’s fastest growing private companies. Before starting Brilliance, Lori worked at NASA-Johnson Space Center as a flight controller for the Space Shuttle program. Lori is a regular contributor to Digital Commerce 360 and other publications, and is a speaker at industry events including the Health Industry Distributors Association Sales and Marketing Summit. In June, she will speak at EnvisionB2B.