The 2021 version of “Word of Mouth” – Customer Reviews vs. Analyst Reports

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I was recently in the market for a new vehicle, and I was considering making the switch from a hybrid to a full-on electric car. I read a couple of articles from car authorities or known car bloggers who were given the opportunity to test drive an electric vehicle or two as part of their professional engagements. But in the end how did I really evaluate if an electric car was right for my lifestyle? I read the owners forums and paid particular attention to what owners with similar family and commutes to mine said about their daily life was like driving the cars. What I actually never thought to do was seek the advice of someone regarded as an expert in cars, but who had never driven one let alone an electric one.

Who are your trusted advisers when you are making a technology purchase?

For years, B2B tech buyers depended on analyst firms to advise them with when making vendor selections and purchases. But those of us in marketing have always seen “word of mouth” returned on surveys when asking buyers and prospects where they got their information when making purchases. But how could a vendor or a possible buyer find these elusive country clubs where CIOs were exchanging their views on technology decisions?

Enter the peer review and customer feedback portals. Some companies don’t and never will have budget allocated for subscriptions or seats with analyst firms like Gartner, Forrester, IDC and other to access market research reports. But there are several sites out there now offering a consolidation of reviews for a composite picture of the actual experience of users of a vendor’s technology, and on such sites a potential buyer can also compare the reviews of one vendor vs. another. But maybe we should look at how analyst reports and user review reports compare to one another?

How buyers should interpret analyst reports
Analyst reports offer prescriptive advice, in-depth analyses, and visual snapshots, providing insight into a market’s participants, direction, and maturity. When buyers understand the analyst’s methodology, they can make better decisions when choosing a service or technology provider, evaluating a market, or managing vendor relationships.

For example, the 2021 Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms uses fact-based, rigorous analyses supported by highly-structured methodologies. That process involves the following:

  • Identifying the market based on emerging trends and how insights can help with decision-making
  • Selecting vendors according to criteria including market share, number of clients, products, services, and more
  • Number of their own clients inquiring about a vendor in a given space
  • Defining the rating criteria, which includes Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute
  • Ability to execute products and services, overall viability, sales execution and pricing, market responsiveness, track record, marketing execution, customer experience, and operations
  • Completeness of vision, including criteria such as market understanding, marketing strategy, sales strategy, product strategy, business model, industry strategy, innovation, and geographic strategy
  • Researching the market by attending vendor briefings, conducting surveys, and more
  • Evaluating vendors against the weighted criteria

Many companies look at reports like the Magic Quadrant as a starting place for their technology search and the MQ vendors can sometimes become the “short-list” of vendors to evaluate.

But it’s also important to remember large analyst firms like Gartner don’t speak for the entirety of the market. Because they’re costly to consult with, the majority of their subscribers are large enterprise businesses, their research and final recommendations are a reflection of this. And the small or mid-sized companies, the state and local government, the educations institutions on a budget and other non-profits or associations can find themselves not only not able to easily access these reports, but not represented in them.

While Gartner is a distinguished firm, their “sweet-spot” isn’t in the small and mid-sized market, and companies within this arena are better suited to finding another source of recommendations or “word of mouth.”

The role customer review sites can play in technology purchases
Those analyst criteria raise potential arguments regarding whether customer review sites might be more valuable when making a technology purchase. While these sites as alternatives to traditional analyst reports are relatively new, most of them claim thousands of visitors and expert reviews.

Even though analyst reports make sense for some, including large companies, customer reviews are unfiltered, honest feedback from actual software users. That’s valuable for small companies, mid-market companies, and all the way up to large enterprises. Customer review sites like G2, SoftwarerReviews.com and even Gartner’s own Capterra are invaluable for the small and mid-sized market.

For example, G2 uses the following methodologies:

  • Including the recency of the review, amount of feedback it provides, and more
  • Rating methodology whereby reviewers answer the “Likely to recommend” question with a star rating between 1 and 10
  • The alternative filter also shows buyers products with similar functions

Sites like this also have their own criteria for inclusion. For example, G2 requires there must be six or more products with ten or more reviews in that category in order to provide comparison rankings.

Should buyers trust customer review sites?
As product information continues proliferating online sites, buyers need to determine what’s needed and relevant during purchasing decisions. I’ve recently heard from more and more companies worldwide that they prioritize finding the technology solutions that best suit their needs by using customer reviews. I’ve even had job candidates reference reviews they’ve read about our products to assess if they even considered applying for a job to work here at Progress. (BTW if you are considering it, you should – it’s a great place to work!)

Customer reviews not only help buyers narrow their options, but they do so by offering brief and peer-provided summaries of products. Buyers can trust these reviews because they offer candid, real-world feedback from customers that’s free from marketing hype. These reviews are by customers who are actually using the product every day as part of how they get their jobs done, make their bosses happy, and meet their KPIs.

While analyst reports and customer reviews have differences, there are also notable similarities. Those similarities include providing insights to buyers who are trying to make an educated purchasing decision. Even though analyst reports usually have a threshold in their evaluation criteria, customer reviews feature unbiased opinions from real-world users.

P.S. Ultimately, I bought a blue Tesla Model 3, and I did get to name my vehicle in the app (so I can do cool things like summon it and get my alerts personalized from it). Blu3 Dragon and I are getting along quite well, waiting for the time we’ll actually have a daily commute together. My name is Jen and my job is Demand Gen….you can hazard a guess on what the vanity plate reads. But I too post on the owner forums about how I wish it would remember my radio stations vs. my husband’s when it recognizes who’s driving, but more on that in some future blogs on personalization.

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