Recently, I represented Customer Lobby as an exhibitor at CEDIA EXPO 2011. For the unacquainted, CEDIA is a trade association for the residential electronic systems industry. And as far as expos go, CEDIA is about as impressive as they come. The convention center was packed with state-of-the-art home theater exhibits from the biggest names in the market. As an Internet-based company, our booth was maybe not the most awe-inspiring, but we were still able to garner a lot of interest from attendees. So, what was an Internet company like Customer Lobby doing at CEDIA? In short, we were talking to small business owners about reputation marketing.
I did not conduct a poll, but it seemed clear most of the CEDIA attendees were Home Theater Integrators. As it turns out, Integrators are some of our best clients. In fact, we met about a dozen existing clients face-to-face at the show. Our solution is especially effective for Home Theater businesses because any increase in business from the web is likely to confer a positive return on investment. The math is very easy. To that same point: Home theater integration is such a significant expense and intensive process that prospective customers rely heavily on reviews and referrals to make a purchase decision. After many conversations with Integrators about the buying process, I arrived at these five take-aways:
1. Home Theater Integrators live by their referrals.
Time and again, I was told that one of the most significant sources of new business was word-of-mouth. This makes perfect sense because Home Theater Integration is a process that demands a lot of trust. After all, you are having people come into your home to do highly customized work. A relationship is formed, and prospective customers are unlikely to enter into a relationship without referencing your past and current clients. But, even when someone is referred, they will tend to do homework before making a commitment. Just because you were not discovered on the Internet, does not mean your prospective customers don’t look you up before accepting your bid. Which bring me to the next point:
2. Have you googled your company name?
This is a common practice in the later stages of the buying cycle, but even more so for large purchases. I was surprised to learn that many of the business owners I met had never taken the step of googling their company names. According to a study by Pew Research Center, most Americans now perform online research before purchasing a product or service. For the vast majority of Internet users, that means searching for information on Google. What they find on these searches is going to be what they use to make up their mind about you. So, the first step should be taking a look online to see what has already been written about your business. After that, get some reviews published on third-party websites, so the next time you submit a bid, you can tell your prospective customer to google you. They are going to anyway.
3. Integrators want to spend time doing what they love, not marketing.
This is not a profound revelation, I realize that. But, Home Theater Integrators, like most small business owners, have a lot on their plate. Most owners I spoke with at CEDIA would rather focus on designing and installing systems than marketing. This makes a third-party reviews solution especially attractive because quality work is the key to getting the kind of reviews that drive sales. And, ultimately, consumers don’t want to read ads. The thing about reviews is consumers actually seek them out as a resource. And, according to these 2 studies on the impact of customer reviews, no other single piece of content online has a greater impact on a purchase decision.
4. Recognizing the impact of a bad reputation.
I always prefer to emphasize the positive when talking about Customer Reviews, but unfortunately the one angry customer out of a hundred and the disgruntled former employee are far more inspired to write reviews. Remember those two studies I referenced above? Well, one of the studies, the 2011 Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker, concluded “4 out of 5 consumers reverse purchase decisions based on negative online reviews.” So called “reputation management” solutions bury bad reviews as search results and cost thousands of dollars. Moreover, many consumers actively search for negative reviews, so it is not clear how well that tactic even works. The best way to mitigate the potential damage of a negative review is to have your online reputation affirmed by a lots of positive reviews. Virtually all of the Integrators I met were outstanding people who take pride in their work. They can afford to be transparent.
5. Reviews are more than just SEO.
Many of the small business owners we have met across the country get calls regularly from SEO companies offering services to help them rank higher in search engines. Good SEO experts drive qualified leads to their clients, and that is obviously very valuable. My point is only that Search Engine Optimization is the first benefit many people consider when discussing customer reviews. While it’s true that 3rd-party reviews have an especially significant impact on local search ranking, it is the content of the reviews that matters most. It is not simply about having a good rating. Consumers spend time reading reviews and they form their opinions based on what they read.