By Russell Rothstein
Follow Russell on twitter @RussRothsteinIT
“All of the vendors sound the same.”
“Your competitor claims to offer all of the same features you just mentioned.”
“How do I know what you are selling is really special?”
If you work for a technology vendor you likely hear these words every day from your prospects, and if you’re an enterprise technology professional you’ve probably said them yourself at one point. And it’s no surprise – the market for IT products and services is a highly competitive market with many vendors offering similar solutions.
It’s not surprising that people find it difficult to differentiate among the plethora of vendors. Buyers are wary of marketing materials such as white papers, presentations, and case studies because they claim to do everything for everyone. And so they can’t really understand which vendors are best suited to their particular needs and use cases. What IT buyers really want is:
- Unbiased information from real users (not just the “showcase customers”)
- Direct access to others who have already gone through the selection process
- An easy way to create a vendor short list
The enterprise technology community needs a B2B social networking site for IT professionals to enable them to research and share information about enterprise IT products and services.
Online user reviews have completely changed the way we make buying decisions as consumers. We now use ratings and review sites to see what other real users think before we buy electronics, book a hotel, visit a doctor or choose a restaurant. At IT Central Station, we’ve decided to take the success of B2C social networking and review sites and apply them to the market for enterprise IT products – meaning we provide IT professionals with a community platform to share reviews and connect with each other to make the best buying decision. However, a review site for IT products has different requirements to a review site for consumer products – for instance, we’ve found that IT professionals like to post their reviews anonymously so that their identity is not revealed. They also want a way to contact other reviewers using private messaging in order to enable direct access between real users from different companies.
The New Enterprise Technology Buying Process
The buying process for enterprise IT products has changed dramatically, with technology buyers doing much more research about products over the web, and creating a vendor short list, before they even start talking to vendors. According to Forrester Research, “Tech buyers are using web and community resources to complete nearly 70% of their buying journey before they ever engage with a sales resource.” (Source: Forrester report “Catching Up To Tech Customer Communities” October 2011). The most valuable online resource for IT buyers is access to the experience and opinions of other real users in order to get unbiased, relevant information.
If you work for a vendor, you can either choose to be a part of this 70% of the buying journey, or get left out of the party. The successful vendors recognize that user review sites can provide a trusted third-party source for customer testimonials and position themselves as top rated among their competition. The easiest way to get more reviews is to invite happy customers to post their own anonymous reviews. This can be done by sending an email to your customers, including a link to the review site in your customer newsletter, or encouraging prospects to review your company and product as part of their evaluation process. Many of your customers will write reviews anyway, so you might as well invite them an increase your chances for a better review!
The concept of a product review site for enterprise products raises some important questions:
- How does the site assure that the reviews are authentic?
- What if someone posts a negative review of my product?
- Do user reviews accurately reflect judgments by professional experts?
If you are an end user of a solution, you can use a review site to speak out freely in a private and anonymous environment. You can evangelize products, provide suggestions for improvements, share war stories, or show your thought leadership, all while preserving your privacy since no personally identifiable information is made public.
If you work in IT and are evaluating solutions, the value of a site with reviews is obvious, including an easy way to create a vendor short list, unbiased information from real users, and direct access to others who have already gone through the selection process.
Follow Russell on twitter @RussRothsteinIT
Russell Rothstein has spent his 20+ year career in the enterprise technology industry at the crossroads between technology and business. He has spoken at industry events including Interop, CloudConnect, CMG, Red Herring, and TeleManagement World. Russell is currently Founder and CEO of IT Central Station (www.itcentralstation.com), a B2B social networking site that provides user reviews and ratings of enterprise software, hardware and services. Previously, Russell was Vice President of Product Marketing at OpTier and AVP Product Marketing at OPNET Technologies (Nasdaq: OPNT). He was co-founder and CEO of Zettapoint, a venture-backed enterprise software startup that was acquired by EMC, and ran marketing for Open Sesame, a Web 1.0 startup that was acquired by Bowne/RR Donnelley (NYSE:BNE). Russell began his career at Oracle, deploying Oracle Applications for Fortune 1000 companies. Russell received a BA in Computer Science from Harvard University, an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT and an MS in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management.