Mike Fauscette of G2 Crowd: Amazon Reviews Changed Consumer Buying, Software Reviews Doing Same for SMBs

More and more when you need help figuring out what software you should buy for CRM, accounting or other apps for your business, you go to sites like G2 Crowd.  Because In just under two years G2 Crowd, a leading peer review site for business software, has seen the number of reviews written grow by over 6X — from 60K to 390K. And approximately 68 percent of those reviews have been written by software users from small and midsize businesses.

The Impact of Software Review Sites

Mike Fauscette, G2 Crowd’s Chief Research Officer, shares with us how review sites like G2 are changing the buying process for small businesses, why so many of the reviews are coming from small business users, and what kinds of applications/technologies small businesses are looking for information and guidance on.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  Watch the video below to see the full conversation, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

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Mike Fauscette of G2 Crowd: The Impact of Software Review Sites
Small Business Trends : Give us a little of your personal background.

Mike Fauscette:   February 1 will be two years in this role as chief research officer. Before that, I was at IDC for 10 years.  Analyst firm. And I was responsible for the enterprise application research group. So, it’s a worldwide coverage across most of it. Business software types that we know. Before that, I was in the industry. I was at AutoDesk, did a few start ups, and I was at PeopleSoft mid to late 90s.

Small Business Trends: Maybe give us a little bit of background on G2 Crowd.

Mike Fauscette:  The company was founded by some folks who originally did a company called Big Machines, which Oracle bought, and they were in the CPQ (configure-price-quote) space. When they left that and left Oracle, they were trying to think of something next to do and they realized that crowd-sourcing and review sites were starting to grow in importance.

A lot of the review sites that were around for B2B at that point were really more … kind of in a Google business model. They were really about paid placement and trying to get the vendor in front of the buyer. Not that that’s bad; it’s just that happened to be where they were.

They wanted to do a site that was more adjacent to analyst firms that really focused around data collection. Our reviews are 36 or more questions, so it’s really a survey. And could grow that into something that could help buyers across the spectrum. Today, we see about a third [of reviews] from the enterprise, a third’s mid, and a third’s small.

When I started, I want to say we were at 60 thousand reviews, so that was two years ago. We’ll finish January somewhere over 380 thousand reviews.  We’re doing 3,000-3,500 a day now.

Small Business Trends: Wow.   So, where are these reviews coming from? Are they focused on certain areas of software?

Mike Fauscette:  Well, they’re really across the spectrum. They’re users of the software. They get to us in different ways. Some just wonder by and find the site, and so we call that organic. Some we go out … We have outreach campaigns that we run all the time to try to get because, frankly, you’re a business person and you use some software the first thing you think of in the morning isn’t gee, I think I’m going to go review that. We try to put that in front of you so you think about it.

Some of the vendors will come to us and have us help them run campaigns because, obviously, we have developed quite a bit of expertise in getting reviews. But they come from users of the software. They could be anything from administrators all the way down to just somebody using a sales force automation tool or marketing automation of whatever. And then, again, across almost any category you can think of in the business to business software world.

Small Business Trends: It’s obvious what’s driving folks to read the reviews and leverage those reviews for a buying decision. What’s driving folks to actually leave the reviews?

Mike Fauscette:  Well, there are several different types. And, again, organic is purely “I stop by and was happy to leave a review”, which we get. We offer incentives that are something like what you would see from a market research firm for surveys. So, five, ten, 15 dollar gift cards for Starbucks or whatever it might be; Amazon, whatever.  That’s one way incentives.

We have a charity called G2 Gives and if you leave a review we’ll donate an amount of money to whatever charity we happen to be sponsoring at the time. We’re building houses right now, which is a really good one, but we were doing hurricane relief before that. Obviously, last year was terrible for hurricanes. We try to pick a charity that is top of mind and something that’s fairly critical and then we can help with that. We get a lot of reviews that way.

And then vendors ask customers to review, so we get some from them as well.

Small Business Trends: What are the kinds of applications that are really the most trafficked? Is it CRM related? Is it sales?

Mike Fauscette:  I think if you think about it from especially small business, we see a lot of CRM all in one or CRM-ish. It could be sales force automation or contact management or across that sort of spectrum. Marketing … For a small business, it tends to be more email marketing but, certainly, some do use more complex tools than that. Some use a full CRM and marketing all in one solution, so we get a lot of traffic there. Human resources, again, pretty common. So, core HR and then out into benefits administration and that sort of thing. And then financials, especially in small business we get a lot of traffic to the accounting category or even over into the ERP system category because a lot of small-mid businesses, medium sized businesses, since the cloud has become so prevalent that they’re moving up from single applications into suites of products like the enterprise would have done in the past. They look for the best fit.

One of the things they can do in every category on every page of the site that you look at we have a way to compare the vendors. You can pick small business or medium business and what that does is sort so that you only see the reviews from small business or you only see the reviews that came from mid-size business. So, that way you’re getting a better feel for what are the people like me … What do they think about this software and how do they use it and what business problems are they trying to solve?

Small Business Trends: How has reviewing sites like G2 Crowd changed the buying process overall from a small business perspective?

Mike Fauscette:  We have a service called the Buyer Advisor Service, and so we see this first-hand quite a lot that the small business comes to the site and maybe [does] a little search of research on their own and then they’ll either do a chat or they’ll ask a question in a forum… We have this assistant that is automated, walks you through asking questions about what do you need? What size business? How many users? What problem you’re trying to solve? Things like that.

We have several ways that they can use to find the suggestion and more often than not, in the small business, that’s the short list. So, they come up with three vendors or four or whatever and that’s who they buy from. And we’ll do introductions to those vendors for them if they’re talking to or using the Buyer Advisor or leave a forum because we do have relationships with a lot of those vendors. If we don’t, because we don’t discriminate against a vendor that either pays us or doesn’t, any vendor that’s on our site, if they’re the best fit, we’ll contact them and pass your information to them and have them … Or at least try to get them to contact you. Sometimes, amazingly, businesses don’t follow up but most of the time they do. You’d think you wouldn’t turn down a…

Small Business Trends: A nice lead, right?

Mike Fauscette:  The opportunity. Right. But sometimes. Mostly, they’re making that buying decision right there and they may even get down to, oh, that’s the best fit.

The thing that I’ve seen over the last several years is that the information sources you trust and how you get information and where you approach buying is started in your consumer world. I know you and I would both say when did I buy the last thing off Amazon and did you read the reviews? Well, of course I read the reviews. I mean, even if I’m in Best Buy, I’m buying something, I’m reading the Amazon reviews because you know?

In business, the same things happen. If I’m buying something, I’m reading reviews because it’s important to understand what people who actually use it say; not what the marketing literature says. And I do a lot of surveys, as you might imagine. I did a survey last fall about … trying to understand what buyers were looking for and what they trusted, what they didn’t. The most important, from a trust perspective, they trusted peers; people like them, the most. The second source was peer review sites, so product review websites and then it tailed down from there. Professional organizations, social networks and then near the bottom were salespeople. Vendor salespeople.

And, in fact, this is one of my favorite questions we ask: When do you usually contact the vendor salesperson? And 64 percent of them said they contact the vendor salesperson when they’ve made a buying decision already.

Small Business Trends: Basically, you’re an order taker at that point.

Mike Fauscette:  Yes, you are an order taker at that point because we trust online information sources, especially when you get a transparent site that has validation verification. On Amazon, you see that verified purchaser and then you think that review is important. Same for us. We verify and validate every review. We don’t allow anybody to leave a review that we don’t know who they are. You have to log in with LinkedIn and we validate that you could be using it and we even get you to submit a screenshot of you using the software logged into the current version so we know you actually did use it. We try to make it as trustworthy and transparent as we can because trust is … You know, online trust is fragile but it’s really important.

Small Business Trends: Right. And I would assume there’s a lot of power in those reviews and that power is growing.

Mike Fauscette:  Yeah.

Small Business Trends: So, there could be temptation for even vendors to try to figure out ways to force some positive reviews in there.

Mike Fauscette:  Yeah. I don’t know what the total number is now but the last time I checked it was … I’ll say its 10s of thousands of reviews we’ve rejected for that reason. For that and other reasons. The person wasn’t using the software. We could prove that they were employees. You know, things like that. Or they were bots. Sometimes people try to use a bot to leave them, too. Or they were plagiarizing. There’s a bunch of different things that we check and it’s important that we make sure that we can care and maintain that transparency.

On the website we explain all the algorithms and the way we collect data and all of those things because, again, it’s very important to keep that trust.

Small Business Trends: This is kind of like the last question. Can you tell when a … For example, a technology like AI … There’s so much talk in the general atmosphere about it, but can you start to see in reviews when it’s actually starting to catch hold and take flight?

Mike Fauscette: We do … Actually we’re putting up a trends micro site this week that will go up and AI is one of those trends, obviously, that we’re watching very closely. And there’s several different ways to think of the indicators. One of those is that we start to get a lot more traffic to that category or, if there’s not a category we start to get a lot of inquiries about things that relate to that new category that we need to create. That’s one.

The other end of it is the supplier end. We start to see a lot of vendors in that small vendors pop up in that space. It’s not just maybe a Salesforce: Oracle, Microsoft, and getting into that. But it’s a lot of start ups that are doing really specific things with it that I’m not … You know, I’m a machine learning platform. I do text to speech. I do … We start to see all those kinds of specifics. And when we see that, then, of course, we start paying a lot more attention to the category and you can see it really grow.

We did a lot of comparisons using algorithms and we have a new index called the Momentum Index that we’re rolling out next month and it is designed to do exactly what you just said. It’s designed to look at a vendor and rate their momentum in a market. So, rather than satisfaction or market presence, which we have on the site now … And we have a bunch of index reports, too … We can now look at them and say, hey, this company is now heated up. They’re technology’s really gaining momentum in the market. So, that would help a buyer who was trying to find something that had a big competitive advantage. Obviously, those products with high momentum that increase quickly over a short period of time are getting a lot of interest and attention because they’re seeing a lot of return from them.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.