Peer review and social proof in sales process

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As software buyers and users, the way we evaluate our experience hasn’t changed. We value strong product innovation, support when problems arise, and a great product experience. Most valuable is a vendor that truly cares about our goals, ambitions and results, and isn’t just waiting for the next invoice.

However, when we consider our past software purchases, we soon realize that agreements are not signed based on proof of long-term value and customer experience. Instead, they’re based on word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues and friends, being wowed through dog and pony product demos, and by reviewing vendor-produced and biased collateral. Sure, we asked for testimonials and customer references, but did these really give us insight into what it’s like working with this particular vendor? Besides, aren’t most of these handpicked? During this experience, did you look beyond the shiny features of a specific product, all the big names a vendor works with, the case studies they’ve put together, and the demos they’re bound to use to win us over?

The answer: no. If you’re looking back at the last software purchase you made, thinking that’s exactly how it all happened, then I’m here to tell you that there are better and more effective ways to make buying decisions that will benefit you in the long run. One of these ways is by focusing on understanding and evaluating the longer-term customer experience you can expect from a vendor.

In the past, most software purchases would be based on hopes and dreams, with the actual evaluation of a vendor determined afterwards. It’s time for that to change. We’ve never had as much access to information as we do right now. Customers now have all the power to understand a specific vendor before making a decision. Information is no longer one-sided from the vendors. Through blogs, analyst firms, and customer reviews, we have the ability to conduct independent research, find our own testimonials (not just handpicked ones), and make a more informed decision. Customer experience is now something that you can identify as a gap and request proof or information before making that purchasing decision.

Advice for Software Buyers

If what you’ve read so far is resonating with you, and you’re in the process of purchasing new software or know you will be soon, don’t forget about having customer experience as part of your evaluation criteria.

Here are some helpful tips to point you in the right direction:

Remove your blinders. A lot of software is purchased based on a peer’s recommendation, immediately followed by a vendor-driven product demo and a contract. Instead of rushing in, keep your options open, understand the leading players in that market from multiple sources, and do your due diligence to understand the full potential of vendors in the space.

Leverage multiple sources of information. Use both vendor-driven and trusted unbiased sources (research firms, review platforms, blogs, etc.). However, instead of just looking at sources that talk through features and capabilities, look for stories or proof points that demonstrate long-term value and the customer experience. Look outside of the handpicked testimonials showcased on the vendors’ website, and find sources that clearly articulate how customers have been treated before, during and after signing a contract.

Use the right reviews to support your selection. The 5-star reviews and comments format might work for a restaurant, but when looking at selecting software, identify sources that dive deep into different aspects of the customer experience. Your goal is to understand all aspects from strategy and innovation to product experience, service experience, problem experience, etc. Find sources of information that help demonstrate the “feelings” clients have with the vendor you’re considering. They should highlight points like user experience and emotional sentiments with the vendor; are they effective or frustrating, do they save you time or waste it, and do their policies favour themselves or you as the user. These points will give a much clearer picture of the overall customer experience.

Find a trusted partner for business-critical tools. Gathering and sifting through all of this data can be quite time-consuming. For critical tools, find a trusted partner that can aggregate this data for you, arms you with the knowledge of application and industry trends, and publishes what customers think of these vendors and what their experiences are like.

Keep CX top of mind during demos. Change the terminology from a vendor demo to an investigative interview. This is your opportunity to control the narrative, so make it your time. Craft your own use cases and evaluate vendors on how they will be your long-term partner, not how many features they may have. While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Chances are, these references will give high praises to the vendor, but don’t be afraid to dig into the interviews to understand where this particular solution may fall short for your implementation.

While not all-encompassing, keeping these tips in mind as you look into selecting your next software vendor could help improve the experience and your return on investment. Future proof your software selection decisions and get in front of poor vendor experiences by keeping customer experience top of mind during the research, evaluation and selection stages.

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