B2B Software Reviews and their Place in the Stack

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Adrienne Weissman, CMO/CRO of G2Crowd talks about the state of B2B software reviews, growth of Martech, project management and the G2 stack! We discuss:

  • How the explosion of the Amazon review process affects B2B review sites
  • Why Martech utilization is up
  • The G2 Sales and Marketing Stack
  • Best Practices in Project Management

Read the Transcript

John Wall: Hello, and welcome to Stack & Flow. I’m John Wall.

Sean Zinsmeister: I’m Sean Zinsmeister.

John: Today’s guest – I’m very excited. We’ve got Adrienne Weissman here. She’s the CMO of G2 Crowd. If you’re not familiar with them, it’s the leading online repository of reviews of software. Not only are we going to talk to somebody about their software stack, but we’re talking to somebody who knows a ton about what’s going on in the industry and where the heat is right now. Very excited to have you aboard. Welcome.

Adrienne Weissman: Thank you. I appreciate it. Excited to be here.

John: All right. Leading off the news of the week, Sean, you actually got a chance to stop by and see Simon Sinek, who was presenting this week. He’s been gaining a lot of momentum lately. How was the presentation there?

Sean: Yeah, it was really good. It was over in Palo Alto. I think he’s become very, very popular in the Silicon Valley crowd, and his big thing right now is all talking about leadership. What I think I really like about Simon is that he’s like the punk rock of the business world, right? He’s very not afraid to genuinely point a critical finger at the way businesses are being run and think about ways that we can make it better. In fact, he even says in his big soliloquy that he gives at the beginning of the show he’s surprised that there’s a demand for his business, because a lot of his message is really just about how we can be better humans and sharing in communication and things like that. It really is just a very people-centric message. It was nice to see. He does his soliloquy routine, and then he sat down and did some fireside chat with the CEO of Wikipedia that was really interesting, talking and pulling excerpts from his new book, which is a children’s book for adults, a really interesting concept from a technological standpoint as books go.

The funny thing was is he actually added the scent of optimism, is what he calls it, so the entire book has a unique smell. He says that, "I wanted to make something that you couldn’t digitally reproduce," so not only are the illustrations colored but there’s actually a unique smell to it as well. I thought that was really interesting. Then he did some Q&A. It’s amazing about the questions that people put towards him about how can he solve the world’s problems in the minute that he has to respond.

One person actually asked if he was worried if AI and robots were taking people’s jobs. We’ve talked a lot AI in the past, and I thought he had a very elegant answer to it, which was, "Every time that we have innovation, there’s always going to be disruption in job loss, but there’s also going to be creation as well." It almost that creative destruction, I think, comes into play. Really good stuff. He’s one of my favorite speakers, and if you haven’t gotten the chance to see his Ted Talk on The Why and also Leaders Eat Last and things like that, I highly recommend checking out his stuff.

John: That’s great, yeah. As a matter of fact, I talked with Simon back in the summer, and if you want to swing over to MarketingOverCoffee.com, you can check out that past episode. I’ll have a link to that in the show notes. Jumping over the tool stack, Sean you had an article from Chief Martec about how marketing technology utilization is up, so that’s the story. Is this just the hope of vendors, or is this the reality across the board?

Sean: Yeah. I always look at surveys and polls through a skeptical lens. It’s always unclear about the sort of methodology that was done to put these things together because I have to admit, the amount of people that we’ve had on the show so far, and then just the people that I get a chance to talk to every single day, friends, colleagues, prospects, customers, what have you, everybody has a very similar answer, where they’re like, "Oh, you know, we just bought too much tech. We just bought too much tech, and now this stuff’s just sitting around," or, "The person that bought this thing and really championed this is now gone from the organization, so this thing’s just sitting around. It’s zombieware. It’s shelfware, whatever."

Maybe what the math is saying is that because there’s a pruning process going on where we’re trying to get back to figuring out what exactly we need, that that may be a part of why they’re saying adoption is up. I’m curious. I want to bring Adrienne into this conversation because this is really something that I know she has a great perspective on working at G2 Crowd. I’m curious. From what you guys are seeing, would you say adoption is up, just almost anecdotally speaking, or what’s your viewpoint there?

Adrienne: It’s funny. I agree with you, Sean, in that there is a lot of technology and software that’s bought that sits on a shelf or is zombieware in that if someone was the champion to buy it and have left or whatever it might be, whatever the various reasons it’s not being used might be, the reality is, I think it happens across the board in lots of companies. To the point on the Chief Martec survey that we’re talking about, I’m not sure adoption is up necessarily. I would say overall awareness of the tech stack, regardless of if it’s the marketing stack, or the sales stack, or dev stack, whatever stack we’re talking about, I think people just aren’t aware that it exists, and they are aware of all the tools that are powering the different machines. I think to your point, surveys and polls, I think the devil’s in the details, especially with the way the question is asked, whether adoption or awareness are one or the same.

I think the question to me is adoption or is it, "Are you actually using it and using it every day, once a week, once a month," is really the question that should be asked. Frankly, I think, just to bring it back to G2 Crowd, really that’s the question we’re asking, and that’s the questions that people are supporting in that we’re asking them specifically, "What software do you use," and, "Write a review." A lot of times, the really good reviews and the strong reviews are people that can explicitly talk about how they use it, why it doesn’t work, where the flaws are, how it’s made their lives and jobs better. I think that’s again the really digging into what works, who adopts, and who uses it, and if it’s successful or not.

John: Yeah, that’s a great point for us to tell us more about G2. Obviously you guys collect reviews of all kinds of different software verticals and different tools, but give us the rest of the tour. What’s the business model, and what else do you guys cover?

Adrienne: Sure. I think overall there’s a couple things. There’s actually three distinct businesses and/or services that we are providing, but everything that we do is with the buyer in mind. We want to be a really awesome resource for in-market B2B software buyers, and we want to help them learn and educate themselves before they get to a place where they’re engaging with vendors or others before they’re making a decision. The best way we know how to do that is to aggregate and collect reviews based on people who are in similar business scenarios, so SMB, mid-market, enterprise: we run the gamut in terms of collecting reviews to aggregate and spit back out to people who are searching and finding information about software tools that they are considering buying or considering switching to. That’s number one, collecting reviews and being a really great service to in-market software buyers, B2B in-market software buyers.

Secondly is, and very much similar to the first, is helping in-market buyers narrow down who they should talk to based on lots of things, again, based on their role, whether they’re the administrator or they’re going to be a user, they’re going to be the executive sponsor, whatever it might be based on their company size, and obviously based on what category they’re looking at. What we have is our buyer assist tool that engages with people who really just need a little bit more help narrowing down what it is they’re looking for. In fact, they may just not know what they’re looking for. I think we, the three of us, being in this space know the acronyms, know the technologies, I would say most of the time. I think there’s new technologies coming out all the time that I’m like, "What is that, and what is it supposed to do?"

Imagine if you’re not in this space, and you’re a business trying to pull together on the back end all the resources you need and tools you need, to be most productive and successful. We’re really trying to make it a whole lot easier for people to ask seemingly maybe the dumb question without it being dumb, because I think these are very valid questions that lots of businesses are trying to answer, or/and even employees are trying to answer without feeling uncomfortable or unaware. That’s the second tool.

Lastly, we work with vendors, and that is the software brands themselves and the products themselves, and make sure that they have a good product listing alongside the actual user reviews and alongside the customers that are writing reviews about their product. We work with them so that they can manage their product profile page, which is a lot like you would see on LinkedIn the LinkedIn company pages, where they can upload information about themselves. They can put downloadable content and/or rich media that buyers can engage with. Again, it’s another way for buyers to really do the due diligence before they reach out to the vendors that they want to talk to. I’m sure I’m not the only one here on this podcast that really does not want to be bombarded by sales people, who I personally love, especially since I was one once before. When I’m not ready to make a decision or engage with a salesperson, I’m not really wanting to just have a side conversation. Those are really the three buckets that we sit in.

Sean: Yeah, and I would say that as a product marketer review sites can really contain a wealth of knowledge and just research about the industry, the landscape, the different voices that we’re using on all these different products, and so they’re actually … I think it’s a really, really great go-to resource to try to figure some of that stuff out. One question that I’m curious about is that the review site landscape, I guess if you will, it definitely seems like it’s really heated up, and I almost feel like I get hit up probably every month by a new up and coming review site that they want us to populate. How do you guys go about the challenges positioning yourself? You guys have a ton of volume now, and definitely the quality is really high and a great brand. How do you guys continue to differentiate yourself to make you guys the go-to resource?

Adrienne: First and foremost, we, in a very short period of time, have collected a lot of really awesome, rich content from customers and users of software. We take it very seriously. If you yourselves have written a review with G2 Crowd, you’ll see that the surveys and the questions that we’re asking are very specific to the categories that your role … We really are aligning the questions to the actual technology that we’re talking about. Our questions in our surveys are generally a lot longer than most of the other survey or review sites out there. Because of that, we see people probably … It just takes a little bit longer, so getting them engaged is a little bit harder. Once they are engaged, they are very mindful and thoughtful about the reviews that they’re writing, both positive and negative. That’s number one.

Number two, we authenticate all reviews through LinkedIn. It’s super important for us to be able to say, "We know who wrote this review. We have validated it through both the LinkedIn authentication and sign-in," but then also we go back to make sure we can actually say that’s who they were and they are actually using the product. At the end of the day, if we’re not putting really good solid content and rich content out back into the marketplace, then we have failed the buyer who really is looking for this to be a resource. That’s the second, and then really the third, we’re collecting a lot of information, both from the review itself but we’re also asking questions about people’s technology stack. We’re then providing back inside into people’s questions or people who are searching to say, "If I use this stack, what would be another good stack or another good software I should think about buying or pivoting to or whatnot," or at least asking the questions, "Do I have the right stack in place?" That’s one.

I think we really have stepped up our game in terms of our research and what we’re putting out from the aggregate of the reviews. We hired Michael Fauscette, who is a very well-known analyst, who really is now a big believer in that the crowdsource and the actual users of software, their voice is as powerful, if not more powerful, than of one individual being paid by lots of technology companies to make a recommendation for, in most cases, enterprise who are the only ones that can afford to engage with an analyst or an analyst firm. Tapping into his experiences, and his credibility, and his goal to have the most solid and accurate data out there has really blended, I think, really well with how we are going to market and actually serving buyers in the marketplace.

Sean: What I really love about having that portfolio of responses that I think that it’s really important that you have both, the good and the bad feedback on those reviews. I’ll tell you something. My wife has a research background, a PhD in the sciences. She has a whole methodology when it comes to buying products on Amazon, it takes forever, but she always gets to the right one, where she’s actually reviewing the reviewers at this point. I think that she always starts from the bottom up, which I think is fascinating because she looks at the one-star reviews, and looks at this, and then she may dive deep and see what else have they talked about, and then she’ll use some of the five-stars as well. The reason I bring that anecdote up is that I’m curious. When you guys look at the psychology of how review sites are being used, did you guys look at any models like the Yelps and Amazons and maybe the more consumer stuff? Are there any parallels to how people use it on the consumer side that are being taken into account with what you guys are doing in G2?

Adrienne: We are intensely aware and mindful of what’s happened on the consumer side of things. I think both from the good and the bad, it’s like anything. The amount of learning that somebody makes from the not-so-great things are massive. I think having a validation process and really authenticating and really being able to say, "That is who that person says they are," really helps avoid the trolling, the fake people reviews that are, I think, very commonplace in some cases in the B2C space. A lot of times, you can create your own handle. You can hide behind it. you can write reviews that may not be totally 100% accurate or true. I think when thinking of it that way, authenticating and really putting a lot of emphasis on saying, "Hey, it’s so important for us to know exactly who that person is," is a big factor for us.

To your point and with your wife in looking at the one-star reviews and the critical reviews, again, going back to it, where you get negative feedback, there’s lots of things happening. From a vendor perspective, it’s a really great way for them to have insight into what’s not working for their customers. There is not one company that I have ever seen that can be all things to everybody. I don’t think it’s humanly possible or even technology possible to solve everybody’s problems or even everybody’s problems within a small category. That’s okay. Being open and honest about the fact that one customer was not happy because lots of different reasons is okay because by the time I come in, and if I need to evaluate that technology, I might look at that review and say, number one, "I’m glad that that product has allowed that person to have a voice," number two, if the product’s doing it right, they’ve engaged with that person publicly and whether they answer the question right there in space or not, up to that brand.

Number three, it allows me as a educated buyer or becoming an educated buyer to see if that review is relevant to me or not. Let me decide if what that person was critical about is an impact or not for me. As we all become older and wiser, allowing the buyers to make the right and most informed decision for themselves is the best thing most brands can do, either from a consumer perspective, but even more so from a B2B perspective because that’s that person’s job, their livelihood, and their professional identity. There’s, I think, a whole lot more at stake to buying a software technology than to buying a remote controlled car or a vacuum cleaner or whatever trip you might be going on.

John: Yeah, yeah, long-term impact here for your career.

Adrienne: Right.

John: It changes the buying experience completely. Let’s turn it around, though. Let’s get over to your side of the fence and what you guys do as far as generating demand. What tools are you guys using to power your process?

Adrienne: Being that we are still a very young company, I think, and I work with some intensely bright and talented individuals both on the product side and the engineering side, we have been very mindful about what we buy. Our CEO, Tim Handorf, is very mindful and thoughtful about, "Don’t just buy it because it’s got cool bells and whistles. I want to know precisely how you are going to use it and how it’s going to pay itself back." Obviously there’s going to be tools that are very inexpensive that we don’t have to go through this rigor to sign up for them, but we as an executive team take that very seriously. Sometimes it’s a little challenging for our teams because I think there are really great tools out there that we may not know. We expect them to both educate us but also give us the good business reason why we should use it. That’s number one.

Number two, from a marketing perspective, we do a ton of emailing. We email both people to write reviews, then we email our customers. We email prospects. The amount of emails we send out is insane. We have seen really great success using a couple of tools. MailChimp does a lot of really good stuff for us from a reviews outreach perspective. We most recently upgraded to a marketing automation tool to really tie in all of the resources and tools that we’re using from Salesforce, MailChimp, Marketo itself, then also just some of the other plug-ins that we’re using alongside Salesforce with our business intelligence tools. We’re really trying to map into making sure that our marketing automation and our Salesforce instances are the Bible and the truth behind the scenes when it comes to our marketing technology as a whole.

Sean: At the opening we were talking about technology adoption and utilization and things like that. As you guys bring new tools into your organization or as you get a chance to network and communicate with other marketing and sales technologists, are there best practices that you’ve picked up about best ways to go about bringing new technology into an organization to make sure that it’s agreed upon and is going to be widely adopted? I’m just curious if there was any insight that you could share.

Adrienne: What we tend to do is bring in the, I guess, task force or team that is going to be responsible for number one, implementing, and number two, managing day to day, and I think just being really mindful about what it’s going to take to actually make that tool and resource work to its best capabilities. I think it’s really bringing people into the conversation at the right time and making sure that they have committed to you or the team that they’re going to see it through and empower them to take ownership of it. Really again, it really boils down to communication. To your point, Sean, earlier, having happy employees and being truthful and honest and open communication results in a really awesome output. I think the more we empower our employees and our teammates and our peers, I think the happier people tend to be.

John: Yeah, how about the structure of the lead flow, too, then. You’ve got these tools. What’s it look like as far as marketing’s responsible for getting the leads and then qualifying them and passing them to sales, or is it all under the same roof? What’s the structure?

Adrienne: It’s funny because marketing fills the funnel and makes sure that the top of the funnel is always full, both from a product and vendor engagement point of view but also from helping bring in buyers into the buyer assist tool and then supporting our community team, our outreach team, to make sure that they are pulling in reviewers as appropriately as possible. The flow is marketing is responsible for a lot of just the overall outreach as well as obviously advertising, branding, all that good stuff. Then depending on what nurture or flow that lead is coming into will really depend on what path then we push it through. At G2 Crowd, we’ve got our BDR team, which both myself and Tim Handorf, our CEO, believe that BDRs really sit within. They can be very much considered a marketing function, but they have this sales role in how they outreach to hot leads.

The BDR team really sits in between both organizations at G2 Crowd and really, in my opinion, acts very much as a marketing resource for us. We funnel a lot of information to the BDRs. We also funnel a lot of things into just our Marketo email nurture streams and just making sure we’re outreaching to those leads in the right forum and the right content at the right time, and then also engaging with our sales team, making sure we are always in communication and talking about what the priorities are, how to help them, how they can help us, and it’s just, again, very much a cross-functional group that we’re always working on. Really at the end of the day, in my opinion, marketing is very much front and center in making sure that we’re able to keep the lights on and make sure that we’re engaging with our target audiences the right way.

Sean: You talked about the sales and marketing alignment and then some of the team structure. One topic that is very near and dear to my heart is also around project management. I’m curious. How do you guys go about getting things done? Do you have a central version of the truth if there’s a tool there that you guys use? How do you go from ideation to project execution? It seems like such a very unsexy topic, but for me, it seems like it’s one of the things that I see a lot of organizations fall down.

Adrienne: Totally. Whether it’s sexy or unsexy, that’s where things get done. I was going to maybe use a different word, but I’ll leave it with things get done. We are needing more and more of that project management function. We have it obviously on the development side, and they really are the gatekeepers and owners of a product road map and how we prioritize our product as a whole. We are seeing that I have a couple of individuals on our team, on the marketing team, that really have taken over the project management of what’s happening from a marketing and sales perspective. She is becoming, again, the gatekeeper, and I mean that in a good way, of, "Here’s our priorities. Are we stress testing it, making sure that that is flowing into our quarterly and half-year goals and our overall objectives," and really the source of truth. We’ve never officially prioritized that as its own individual head count, but I’m pretty confident based on the conversations we’re having as we’re thinking about 2017, which is right around the corner, that probably will very likely become a head count that we add to the team, because it’s critically important to making sure we’re all moving in the right direction.

John: How about as far as trends now? This is a good transition, talking about 2017 coming up. Is there stuff that you’re looking at that you want to roll out? What’s the next step for you guys, and what’s most exciting as far as changes you might be making?

Adrienne: We are thinking about our community as a whole. I look at some of the technology brands out there that have a following that people are avid and just crazy fans of their technology. Coming off of Dreamforce, you look at Salesforce customers as a whole. Very broad statement, but they love Salesforce. That is a very rich and vibrant community, which is critically important to us. We have a very rich, vibrant community of people generating a ton of user-generated content for us. A big focus is how do we make our community even more prominent and give them the opportunity to tap into each other in the right context and whatnot. We’re considering putting on our own event.

I’m not totally sure what that’s going to look like yet, especially because, again, we have three very distinct business opportunities or engagements. That’s coming around the corner. Other stuff that we’re working on is just more of the reports and the research that we’re outputting, again, tapping into the massive amount of user-generated content that we sit on and spitting that out into very relevant and topical content pieces, whether it’s research pieces, whether it’s podcasts, whatever it might be. We’re sitting on a ton of really rich content, and so making sure we’re putting that back out in the marketplace and being a really good resource for anybody, whether they’re the buyer or vendor, whatever it might be.

John: That’s great. Adrienne, if people want to learn more about you or have questions about G2, what’s the best way to get in touch?

Adrienne: Easiest way for me is via email or you can follow me on Twitter. It’s a really easy way to get ahold of me. It’s @G2Adrienne. Of course, please reach out. Check out our site, www.G2Crowd.com. Let me know if there’s any thoughts or input you guys want to add into the conversation.

John: That’s great. Sean, how about for you? What else do we need to know before we get out?

Sean: You can always find everything that we’re working on over at Infer.com, but I also highly recommend that you head over to G2 Crowd and actually check out Infer over there, because that’s been one of our favorite resources. We’re big fans of all the stuff that they’re doing. It was a real treat to get to catch up with Adrienne. Speaking of reviews, if you like what you hear, I highly encourage our listeners to head over to iTunes and leave us a quick review and let us know what you think of the show.

John: You can swing on over to StackandFlow.io for past episodes and links over to iTunes for reviews or to subscribe so you can get these regularly in your pod-catcher of choice. Until next time, I’m John Wall. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in the stacks.

John Wall

John Wall

John J. Wall speaks, writes and practices at the intersection of marketing, sales, and technology. He is the producer of Marketing Over Coffee, a weekly audio program that discusses marketing and technology with his co-host Christopher S. Penn, and has been featured on iTunes.

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