There is such a thing as free lunch in B2B marketing if you’re creative and innovative. But you still have to work to get it even if it doesn’t cost you a dime. Where your competitors are thinking about paid promotions and expensive campaigns to sell, with grit and patience, you can outwit them by tapping into any or all of these free exposures.
1. Solicit user reviews from happy customers and distribute them
Did you know that buyers read up to ten reviews before making a purchasing decision (BrightLocal 2014 survey)? If soliciting positive user reviews is not in your marketing agenda, you’re missing a critical source of free exposure. It’s time to consciously build an army of positive mentions on your software because your competitor is doing it to own buyers’ mind when they read user reviews.
You can solicit user reviews by offering freebies to motivate happy customers to write their satisfying experience with your software or service. But never use cash, it has bribery written all over it leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Instead, offer a token of appreciation, such as, waiving a month of subscription fee or giving a free add-on, or any trivial giveaway that won’t compromise your cash flow.
However, looking for satisfied customers is more difficult than imagined because, often, clients will only call you when they are complaining. Likewise, it’s a common mistake to rely on the helpdesk team when soliciting testimonials because customer service reps deal mostly with unsatisfied and angry clients. Instead, why not tap your sales team? They have relationships with their customers, right? Have your sales reps ask clients to write and post user reviews on one of top B2B software review sites, by dangling the freebie carrot in front of them.
As a ballpark figure require your sales to solicit at least one positive user review for every five closed deals. By tying up your review leads with sales leads, you’re creating a continuous stream of positive reviews that builds your reputation (of course, you must have an impeccable product and service to begin with). Expectedly, your sales team will be cold about an additional task, but once they understand that testimonials can build online credibility, which creates more sales opportunities, they are likely to bite on this bait.
2. Help review sites make a more in-depth review of your software
B2B software review sites like FinancesOnline.com are third-party websites that collate, assess, and compare myriad software products of a given category. The idea is to help buyers research in one location the best-fitting software for their company. As with B2C (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.), review sites are popular in B2B because of a compelling reason: they’re efficient as lead source or starting point for buyers on their road to product discovery (imagine visiting each website of over 30 CRM solutions). It’s no surprise that many B2B buyers are relying on these sites; in fact, 70% of Americans say they read product reviews according to a Google study. This is corroborated by a CompUSA and iPerceptions report that showed 63% of consumers are likely to buy from a website with product ratings and user reviews.
These independent sites often have two types of product reviews: user reviews by customers; and in-depth reviews by an internal panel of experts. You can easily add your product to the listing here. We already talked about how to solicit positive customer reviews; now you need to leverage the experts’ in-depth reviews and get a favorable free exposure. Although they’re guided by an independent editorial policy for an objective assessment, in-depth product reviews can work to your liking. Here are some tips:
- Provide the reviewers with product information that highlights your key benefits and value proposition. In a crowded industry as SaaS, you get a better chance to stand out if you’re able to distinguish your uniqueness from the competition and tell that to reviewers. You’re not influencing the reviewers’ opinion; rather, you’re making sure that your software is being measured on the right perspective. Moreover, reviewers like it when they are able to highlight your difference from others because they know this type of information is helpful to their readers.
- Better yet invite reviewers to a free trial of your software. This way, they get a clearer picture how your software works.
- Make sure your key messages and benefits are highlighted in your website. You cannot know all those who are reviewing your software. If they don’t get a detailed product kit from you, reviewers will rely on your website for product specifications and general information. That’s why it’s a good practice to reserve a Media Section on your website containing your software details and key messages and positioning.
Review sites are a great source of free mileage for your software. However, when you think about all the competitors crowding and vying for readers’ attention in these sites, it makes sense also to consider getting paid marketing tools being offered by these sites to stand out in the crowd, for instance, the Verified Quality Seal or some other trust mark that will increase your sales and credibility.
3. Help your client create a case study that mentions your software
A LinkedIn study indicates that case studies are one of the two most popular B2B content marketing tactics (the other one is customer testimonials). You’ve probably written a case study that highlights your software’s benefits and distributed it across your digital channels. But there’s a little known tactic that uses case studies to get free and further exposure: using other companies’ case studies, or in your case, using your clients’ case studies. It’s piggybacking on their network to reach out to more prospects.
You must differentiate this tactic from writing your own case study, where you talk about your product. Your client’s case study talks about its product, not yours. Your aim is to get your software mentioned as a critical element in helping your client deliver its product. For example your client, a construction firm, is using your project management software to deliver 24/7 collaboration channels for its globally dispersed teams. A case study topic can focus on how your client successfully handles major international projects–your client is pitching its own service–while mentioning your software as part of its “secrets” in one section of the white paper. Now imagine this case report is read by your client’s clients, who may also be shopping around for a great project management software.
Of course, you must have a solid relationship with a client that’s willing to let you piggyback. To encourage this rare setup, why not offer an ex-deal arrangement: create your case study highlighting the client’s services and expose it to your digital channels as well.
When choosing a prospective client for this tactic, consider these factors:
- The client’s customer base must be substantial for you in volume and quality
- The client must have significant digital channels to give you a substantive audience exposure, including number of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter followers
- Make sure you don’t have a product that crosses over to your client’s market and vice-versa; this extends to your and your client’s subsidiaries, sister companies, holding companies, etc.
- If you have an ex-deal agreement, have a timeline for deliverables
4. Exchange audience exposure with non-competing vendors
This is somewhat similar to our case study arrangement, but more simple, readily executable, and you’re swapping markets that are closely integrated to get free mileage. You and your potential partner here target the same B2B pie, albeit for different niches. Let’s say you’re selling an accounting solution; how about partnering with a non-competing learning management vendor? This isn’t a new idea, actually; you always see this setup in the integration section of many software vendor sites. FreshBooks, for instance, has a dedicated page and video for Capsule integration. That’s exposure to five million FreshBooks clients for Capsule.
However, you can take this set up one notch higher by going beyond the integration section. It can be an exchange of: banners ads in your websites; product pitches in your social media channels; or articles in your corporate blogs. It bears repeating though that your partner or any of its extended corporate family should not be competing with your software.
Moreover, your non-competing B2B partner-vendor can extend beyond your industry. For example, a CRM vendor can reach out to B2B service providers in the business processing outsourcing, enterprise telecommunications, and industrial research sectors. If you have a package for freelancers, you can also arrange a “barter” deal with a professional group by promoting the group in your website and social media. This tactic is especially possible in accounting and learning management systems, where vendors can tap myriad professional organizations of accountants and educators in different countries.
5. Be awesome in customer support
Word-of-mouth advertising is the original social media marketing. It’s the most important form of promotion because, in general, customers trust fellow customers more than sellers. Imagine one happy marketer talking about your awesome software or customer service to colleagues in a convention (or in a review site) and they in turn mention about your product to their bosses and so on. All these free exposures are happening without you spending a centavo!
For sure there isn’t a formula to guarantee a word-of-mouth effect. But you can increase the chance by simply delivering your product’s promises and matching it with great customer service. In fact, where many software vendors sell nearly identical solutions, an awesome customer service is what customers will remember. In a Forbes article, Kimberly Whitler said that many marketers fail to leverage word-of-mouth advertising in their social media because “brands are too caught up in collecting social media fans and they are forgetting to actually connect with them.” Giving away stuff or freebies to increase your followers doesn’t exactly create loyalty. Instead, focus on delivering customer service that’s worth remembering.
There’s another way to impress customers, and, ironically, it involves their negative experience about you. Many business brush negative comments under the rug thinking they’ll fizzle out. If you’re a savvy marketer, you’ll realize it’s an opportunity to showcase your customer care, as long as the negative comment isn’t about your negligence or explicit incompetence or by a paid hack or troll, but borne out of a misunderstanding, unmanaged expectation, or unavoidable external issues. The important thing is to respond to negative comments with a transparent explanation and sincere overtures on how you can help resolve the issue to give the negative experience a positive twist. Often, customers will remember how you helped them solve an issue more than the issue itself. By responding, too, you’re engaging the customers, and we all know how difficult it is to engage customers.
These free exposures aren’t meant to replace paid promotions; rather, they give you a big advantage in a lead stream that many of your competition may not even be aware. It’s like having the whole apple tree for your picking. You may also find more good B2B advertising ideas here and explore some really interesting marketing possibilities.