Why Crowdsourcing Is the Answer to Business-Software Reviews

A new generation of corporate buyers is seeking ways to evaluate enterprise technology in the same way that shoppers tap Yelp for insight about consumer products.

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By Godard Abel

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Executives, IT professionals and business managers are discovering business-software review sites as the modern alternative to the rankings produced by analyst firms. The advent of such sites as TrustRadius or my company's platform, G2 Crowd, has made trustworthy information more available, not less. And here's why:

A new generation of business buyers is looking for ways to evaluate enterprise technology in the same way that consumers rely on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. For buyers at small- to midsize companies or those who aren't chief information officers at a large firm, having a place to learn from peers about a certain piece of business software is valuable. These days IT purchases are often made by chief marketing officers or vice presidents of sales or human resources. These professionals live in a online and social world and expect information to be up-to-date, transparent and accessible.

Related: GitHub Is Helping Companies Work Together by Crowdsourcing Software

By going to the people using the software, business-software rating sites provide a democratic, open and statistically significant evaluation. Dedicated review sites can offer a great volume and variety of content as well as granular ratings.

A chief marketing officer can read reviews by other CMOs, and an end user can see what other end users have said about a product. An employee at a small business can view the perspective of his or her counterparts instead of only the point of view from those at large enterprises.

The role of analyst reports. Sure, analyst reports by the likes of Gartner, Forrester, Aberdeen and IDC have their place. Chief information officers at large companies with significant budgets for IT research find these rankings valuable in building their short list and they can afford to purchase additional briefings and consultant reports to gain additional insight. Analyst reports identify market leaders, evaluate strengths and weaknesses and stratify vendors according to relevant purchase criteria.

Some analysts, though, might have time only fpr a few customer reference calls for each vendor to establish their rankings. Moreover, they cover only the most prominent vendors in a category -- those who meet certain size thresholds. Business-software review sites carry reviews on the products of market leaders as well as innovative, new offerings from emerging vendors.

Related: How to Choose the Best Hardware and Software for Your Business

Tech magazine reviews. And the reviews offered by tech-magazine sites are generally written by one person, and though comments are allowed on those reviews, there's no way of knowing who the commenters are. Crowdsourced sites have reviewers log in using a platform like LinkedIn, so it's possible to know who they are; these sites collect scores of reviews as opposed to just one review per product. The tech-magazine sites also tend to be very oriented toward consumer products and hardware, like laptops and smartphones.

But as peer-review business-software sites grow and mature, even more products and categories will be added in real time by the crowd, providing a critical mass of content so buyers can see a full range of products.

Critics may claim that crowdsourced review sites provide only experiential information -- not future-facing analysis. But no one, not even the experts, can peer into the future. It's up to a buyer to predict how an app will perform in meeting his or her company's needs.

Verifying reviewers. For a quality, trustworthy review site, establishing and verifying the identity of reviewers is essential. Using LinkedIn profiles as a log-in requirement is a great way to solve this problem and can guarantee authenticity by tying reviews to a user's social profile and credibility. Algorithmic and manual validation can ensure that users aren't reviewing their own products or their competitors' and can filter out suspicious reviews or profiles. By building on top of the social graph, business-software review sites make it easy to find critiques and recommendations from trusted first- and second-degree social connections.

Finally, the business model of review sites is important. Some review sites accept advertising (display ads or other payments) for more prominent positioning of a vendor's products. To be truly impartial, sites should generate their revenue through means that do not affect the product ratings or the order of listings. Options include selling market research based on the data gathered by the site or offering access to data or about the site's customers who've opted in.

Related: Should You Lease or Buy Your Tech Equipment?

Godard Abel
Godard Abel is co-founder and CEO of G2 Crowd, a software review site based in Chicago. G2 Crowd leverages user feedback, data and real-time algorithms to rank vendors. 

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