In the B2B software world, it’s a buyer’s market. With the wide array of technology options available, and the ability to easily get opinions from peers online, buyers have a lot of choice and information at their disposal. And they’re using this power to independently narrow down vendors long before they reach out to salespeople.
In fact, the 2015 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report (sponsored by DemandBase and Demand Gen Report), found the top three resources that buyers rely on when researching potential vendors were:
In addition, access to all of this information is making the buying cycle longer. The study found that 80% of respondents were doing more research, and, as a result, 53% said the purchasing cycle had increased in length from the year prior.
So, how can brands get in front of buyers during the research phase, and help speed up the process once they make the vendor shortlist?
The answer: social proof marketing.
Social proof is the new marketing
If prospects consider online information and opinions from peers as two of the most vital sources of information when starting the buying process, then marketing and sales teams need to leverage their customers to generate social proof for their product.
Having customers advocate on your brand’s behalf on forums, review websites and social media can help your product make the initial cut. Also, prospects can use these social proof points to make their final decision quicker and easier. For example, reviews were rated as ‘very’ to ‘somewhat’ important for comparing and narrowing down vendors later in the buying process by 90% of survey respondents (coming in just below ease of use and pricing).
Social proof is a must for attracting more potential customers, edging out competitors later in the buying process, and closing deals faster. However, sitting back and hoping your happiest customers will create a digital breadcrumb trail of glowing recommendations to lead prospects to your doorstep isn’t a great strategy. Instead, your customers need to be consistently incentivized to create social proof for your product through your marketing efforts.
The best way to do this is to build an advocate marketing program that engages your best customers with fun and educational resources, and then asks them to publicly advocate for your brand. Once they take action, you reward them for their contributions to solidify the relationship. These exclusive customer communities are the most successful when there is a balance between offering value to advocates and asking for favors.
Here are four ways advocate marketing can generate powerful social proof to persuade more buyers to choose your brand.
1. Increase social media buzz
The days of social media being a B2C-only marketing tool are long gone. In the report, 53% of respondents said social media played a role in assessing new technologies and tools. Of the people using social media, 38% said they use it to ask for suggestions and recommendations from other users, and a whopping 73% use it to browse existing discussions of the product (on sites like LinkedIn and Quora).
Encouraging your advocates to share your content and join in discussions can help your brand become a part of the conversation organically. Links are more likely to be clicked if they’re shared by a real person. Also, responses in a discussion forums will be seen as more legitimate when they come from a peer—instead of someone who works for your company.
To make this happen, always publicly recognize and thank advocates for their social media contributions. Anything you can do to help them build their social profile will encourage them advocate for you again.
You can also create an online community where your advocates can share their expertise and where prospects ask questions. Buyers get honest answers, and your advocates boost their network. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
2. Enlightened peer reviews
According to the report, 90% of respondents said that peer reviews were either very important or somewhat important to narrowing down vendor options.
Ask your advocates to post unbiased reviews on 3rd party websites like G2 Crowd, GetApp, Spiceworks and more. To make the process easier for your advocates, give them examples of well-written reviews so they know what to include.
Also, ensure that your advocates know your product as well as you do. Provide them with tips, tricks and best practices before asking them to post on a review site. That way, buyers get an accurate picture of your product, and the advocate gets knowledge that helps them use your product more effectively. Successful customers will be happy to write you glowing reviews, so make sure your education efforts are up to par.
3. Authentic, user-generated content
Content marketing drives a lot of buying decisions—86% of respondents review vendor-focused content when making decisions.
But content doesn’t always have to come from you. User-generated content can add an authentic touch to your content marketing efforts. To get your advocates more involved in your content, use their photos and quotes in blog posts and ebooks. You could also point them to blog posts on related industry websites where they can leave a comment. If the content is relevant and useful to them, they will be eager to participate.
It’s also important to tell your advocate’s stories. The majority of survey respondents (71%) said detailed ROI analyses are becoming an incredibly important part of the buying process. The best way to show ROI is to create case studies showcasing how your advocates are using your products to succeed. If you’re engaging your advocates and making them power users, it will be easy to put them in the spotlight. Make your advocates look like rock stars in your content and they’ll be chomping at the bit to tell their story.
4. Perfectly timed references
You can cut the buying journey short by introducing prospects to your advocate references at the very beginning of the process. If you can connect the buyer to a relevant reference, they’ll be infected by your advocate’s enthusiasm for your product and speed up the deal.
If you position it as a chance for your advocates to showcase their knowledge and make new business connections, they’ll be happy to oblige. Just make sure the reward and recognize them appropriately for helping you out. Small gifts (if their company allows it), discounts or free licenses, or the chance to speak at your user conference are just a few ways you can thank your advocates for helping you close more deals. You’ll be surprised how much more professional rewards mean to advocates than physical ones.
Powering social proof with advocate marketing
Advocates are a powerful social proof marketing tool. As you start including your advocates in more aspects of the sales and marketing process, you’ll help potential buyers make the decision to choose your product, no matter where they are in their buying journey.
Traditional customer reference programs are self-serving, biased and come way too late in the buying process. The worst part is: buyers know it.
Find out how other customer success, marketing and sales professionals are transforming the way their companies harness relationships with loyal customers in the age of advocacy.