Create Raving Fans in Today’s ‘Review Economy’
Building your customer community has never been more critical; B2B technology buyers rely on user reviews and peer validation more than ever when making a purchase
April 1, 2021
We are currently in the "Era of the End User." As the number of SaaS offerings multiplies, overwhelmed buyers turn to recommendations and reviews before making a decision— which gives end users significant influence over the growth of technology brands.
In a previous article, we discussed the importance of brand fame to win B2B buyers. Within tech’s highly competitive categories, standing out as the leader in cloud or cybersecurity has been the primary way to gain market share. But software has democratized, and a new purchasing driver is gaining momentum: social proof.
OpenView Partners outlines this trend on its website: “The affordability and accessibility of software has fully democratized purchasing down to the end user. Now, software shows up to the office all on its own, introduced by individual users who champion its wider use. People are finding, downloading, and adopting products without any directive from their bosses. In fact, end users are the ones telling their bosses which software to buy.”
For marketers, building social proof means giving users, buyers, influencers, and implementers something to talk about. On LinkedIn, we’ve seen an increasing number of brands tap into the power of the ‘End User Era’ by facilitating spaces for their community to connect. They differentiate from their competitors through channels like LinkedIn Product Pages.
For those new to harnessing social proof, here’s where to start: Identify and elevate your brand advocates. They will scale your product for you. In today’s increasingly horizontal buying ecosystem, decision-makers look to coworkers and thought leaders to guide their purchasing decisions (at every stage of the buyer journey). And, as LinkedIn’s annual report on B2B technology buying reveals, peer validation is the largest driver of trust in a new offering (51% of technology buyers we spoke to said that professional peer input increased trust in a product).
Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey
Today we’ll further unpack this trend— showcasing the importance of investing in end users (who previously spread reviews live in the office), and offering ways to cultivate those organic “water cooler” moments in a virtual world.
Software Companies Must Generate Social Proof to Remain Relevant
Endorsements, reviews, user testimonials: social proof comes in many guises. But its power to increase trust and galvanize sales shouldn’t be underestimated. How do you spark that social proof? Your product needs to be good. So good, in fact, that your end users can’t wait to tell their peers about it. In "Purple Cow," Seth Godin describes this phenomenon as being “remarkable” in the truest definition: something worth remarking on.
OpenView Partners first coined the term “product-led growth” in 2016 to describe the success of high-growth companies (think Slack, Calendly, Dropbox, and Atlassian). Their website states, “In order to succeed in the current End User Era, software companies must rise to meet the demands of the market—and that means building a product for end users and then distributing that product directly to those same end users.” Products must deliver real value and solve day-to-day pain points in order to be talked about (and ultimately, scale).
The report continues on to list 8 primary characteristics of software companies that succeed with a product-led growth strategy. Among them, your product must offer:
- A “uniquely valuable solution that can be personalized to the individual user to help them achieve their daily tasks more efficiently”
- A “strong viral potential that incentivizes and makes it easy for a user to invite others”
Companies able to accomplish these two are poised for today’s ‘review economy.’ In many ways, product-led growth is now being expanded to ‘community-led growth.’ Your product must both be intuitive enough for new users to seamlessly discover and implement, as well as spark the right conversations among your audience. This means the best marketers not only listen to but amplify the voices of their end users.
Your Biggest Champions Influence Awareness, Knowledge, and Trust in Your Products
We know that reviews are incredibly effective for building trust and validation of a product. But they’re also the #1 driver to spread brand awareness and build recognition at the top of the funnel.
According to LinkedIn’s Age of Agility report, advertising is the third largest driver of awareness among technology buyers, trailing behind endorsements from immediate peer or vendor relationships.
Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey
Buyers are finding it increasingly difficult to become excited about providers solely through advertising. So brand advocates are the most powerful tools technology companies have at their disposal.
When we asked B2B buyers about the resources that drove increased knowledge of technology products, we saw the same trend. 41% of buyers agree that professional peer input (from coworkers or contracted consultants) influences what they know of various offerings. At all stages of the buying cycle, advertising alone is not enough to drive high-volume sales or accelerated growth.
Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey
When growing awareness and trust, there is no substitute for happy customers who tell their coworkers about a product they love. Pre-quarantine, those moments happened organically in workplace “hallway conversations” within B2B tech buying committees. To spark equally meaningful water cooler moments virtually, your offering must reach customers on an even more emotional level. Tap into the ‘so what’ of their experience: How has your product widened the scope of what your customer can do, for example? How has it helped them grow in a year of uncertainty? What new obstacles did they face, and how did your solution surprise and delight them?
Once you find those raving fans (through reviews they’ve written or testimonials they’ve offered your sales team), memorable storytelling is key. But before you turn to the traditional case study, consider a more uncommon channel. Video, audio or podcasts can help bring your customers’ stories to life for a wider range of listeners, and enable them to share their experience (and rave about your product) in the most creative way possible.
Gong’s Unwavering Approach to Customer-Centricity
Software company Gong.io has built a beloved brand based on authenticity, customer obsession, and evangelism of their end users.
Gong lists ‘create raving fans’ as a core part of their go-to-market strategy. We asked Gong CMO Udi Ledergor why this principle is so foundational to Gong’s brand, to which he shared:
Of our eight operating principles, ‘create raving fans’ is probably the one most deeply embedded in everything we do here at Gong. We strive to create raving fans among our customers, prospects, employees (whom we fondly call ‘Gongsters’), and candidates. We look at every part of the candidate journey, the buyer's journey, our employee experience, and how we treat and serve our customers, to look for ways of optimizing that experience for fandom. It's a company-wide obsession we all share and strive to achieve.
When explaining Gong’s deceptively simple method for winning the hearts and minds of their users, Udi explained:
We do this by treating others like we would like to be treated. No corporate talk or jargon. We simply communicate as we would with our families or friends. Being honest about challenges and showing our best intentions to solve for them. We never send out a marketing email unless we truly believe it adds value to our customers' day. Everyone appreciates this style of communications so it's a wonder more companies aren't using it.
And when asked what advice he would share with B2B brands who are trying to build trust and community with their buyers, Udi offered:
Start with them, not you. What do your customers or prospects want to hear about? What would genuinely make their day better? A template or cheat sheet they can use to solve a problem? Send that, not your product marketing materials. If you build your reputation as a trustworthy helper, your prospects will think of you and know where to find you when they're ready to buy. If all your communications ever focus on is how great you are and why they should buy from you, you'll quickly lose your audience and credibility. That's a very short-sighted marketing strategy.
Create Appealing Channels for Your Community to Connect. If You Build It, They Will Come.
At the foundation of any successful brand or product is a community of passionate customers and industry professionals who share their opinions. With social proof a key vehicle for generating demand and trust in your brand, marketers need to showcase their customers’ voices and experiences across social networks. We know that IT decision-makers are avid users of social media (85% of IT decision-makers have used at least one social network for business purposes). So the content they consume on these channels is now a critical source of influence across the entire decision-making process — not just during the initial research phase.
By leveraging strong engagement on LinkedIn, marketers can provide relevant conversation topics and start conversations among their product’s users. Recently-released features like Product Pages empower marketers to build their communities around the products that their customers adore. To showcase the full breadth of your product scope, we recommend showcasing a mix of 7 or more customers spanning various industries and company sizes. Once that space is created, your users will continue to organically share their experiences, spark conversations with peers, and be recognized for their expertise. From those recommendations, prospective buyers can make confident decisions about your product in a trusted environment like LinkedIn’s platform.
As covered in our previous post on the paradox of needs, today’s technology providers need to demonstrate innovation and reliability to help buyers justify spending in uncertain times. The best way to address that paradox is through your user base of product enthusiasts. Case studies and testimonials are some of the most compelling conversation starters in B2B technology. Showcase your users’ experiences as social proof to grow awareness and trust and give your brand the edge it needs in an increasingly competitive market.
We hope you have enjoyed these deep explorations of 2021 trends for B2B technology marketers. Our fifth (and final) installment will discuss post-sale support in the Age of Agility — and how to optimize post-sale programs that unlock greater value for existing customers.
To learn more about how technology marketers can succeed in the Age of Agility, view our latest report here. To receive these insights regularly, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog.