Editor’s Note: Learning how to navigate an increasingly complex marketing technology landscape is something that continues to challenge many marketers. Tag management helps brands easily deploy, manage and integrate their disparate applications and data, but what about the front end of that process – the technology selection process? According to a recent report by Tealium and the CMO Council, entitled “Quantify How Well You Unify: The Business Impact of Marketing Technology Integration,” 48 percent of senior marketers said “Selecting the Right Technologies” was one of their core technology challenges. Today, we look at a company that helps business and IT professionals make smarter decisions about choosing the right solutions for their organizations. TrustRadius, founded last year in Austin, Texas, uses crowd-sourcing technology to deliver comprehensive peer-based product reviews and analysis reports that have traditionally been the domain of industry analyst firms. We invited Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of TrustRadius, to answer a few of our questions.
1. Tell us about TrustRadius—what it does and the core audience.
TrustRadius is like a curated Yelp for business software, or a community-based alternative to technology analysts like Gartner and Forrester. We help professionals make informed, confident software-selection decisions through: 1) crowd-sourcing real user reviews; 2) enabling peer-to-peer communication; and 3) authoring sector analyses and buyer’s guides for marketing automation, digital analytics, A/B testing, and more.
We believe that business software is a strategic purchase—you need to not only trust a review, but also understand the person’s context and hear a fair amount of detail about how a product performs on different dimensions. A typical review on TrustRadius is over 400 words, and some extend into the thousands. All of our reviews are structured—we ask a series of questions to guide a reviewer. Basic reviews consist of seven questions. Reviews can be updated and augmented at any time and our library contains about 100 different questions that people can opt to answer. Here’s a great example.
2. What is your background and how did you get the idea for the company? What was broken?
I got the idea for TrustRadius after witnessing firsthand the experiences of successfully buying software at my last company. Before TrustRadius, I founded an SAAS company called Convio. Convio provided an SAAS online marketing/CRM platform for the nonprofit sector. We grew the company to 450 employees and $80M in revenue, went through an IPO, and were ultimately acquired for $325M. In growing the company, we bought a lot of different systems. It was always a struggle to make good decisions. We made a number of mistakes, sometimes selecting the wrong software, other times picking a bad implementation path or failing to comprehend the true cost of ownership. In one instance we bought a piece of HR software that ended up being a disaster because of a poor functional fit. We relied too much on assurances from the sales rep and vendor-supplied references. The product was, incidentally, rated very well by analysts.
As an entrepreneur, I felt there had to be a better way. I started to talk to people at other companies to see if they faced the same challenges. Everyone struggled to get good information. A few were good at networking to find answers, but it was a lot of work. Around the same time, I was buying a high-end coffee machine for my wife, and I was able to find tons of information on sites like Amazon, Costco.com, and specialized coffee-enthusiast sites. It seemed bizarre to me that I could find so much information about a consumer appliance, but virtually nothing of substance or trustworthy about business software apps.
3. Can you briefly explain how TrustRadius works?
We have three core types of participants: information seekers, reviewers, and vendors. Information seekers are those seeking insights about products or categories they’re evaluating. Reviewers contribute product reviews and vendors gain from exposure and in certain categories can also opt to purchase leads.
The site is free for information seekers. This is in stark contrast to analyst firms that charge hefty subscription fees for content access. If someone wants to research a product in depth, for example, read multiple reviews or comparisons, they are required to register. As they register, we ask them to rate products they know themselves. This creates a feeder channel for future product reviewers.
Reviewers can be anonymous or public. Today 80 percent of them opt to be public. All reviewers are authenticated via their LinkedIn profiles, and every review is vetted by a researcher to ensure that vendors are not posting reviews of themselves or their competitors. We reject about 3–5% of reviews that do not meet our quality standards.
Vendors are allowed to comment on their reviews, so long as they do so in a constructive and public manner. They are also allowed to encourage customers to review them. We do, however, try to maintain a healthy balance between reviews driven by vendors versus those sourced directly from us. Currently vendor-driven reviews are about 15 percent of the total reviews on our site. Vendors also have the option to syndicate review headlines to their own web site via a widget like this.
4. What’s been the reaction among community members to the services you provide? How many reviews/products do you currently have?
We have had a tremendous reaction. There’s a real thirst for this type of content, and many people have praised the authenticity, candor, and depth of our reviews. We currently have just over 6,000 published reviews on our site, across 775 products.
We have also seen, for the most part, a very positive reaction from vendors. Our approach levels the playing field and allows smaller and international vendors to get an audience. It also helps salespeople remove objections and instill buyer confidence. Most importantly, it helps create better software matches, which helps buyers and vendors in the long run.
5. The conversation around marketing technology has exploded. How do you see your role in helping people navigate this increasingly complex landscape?
We elected to focus on marketing technology for exactly this reason. It’s a very fast-moving and fragmented landscape and, consequently, a user-generated insight model is a great fit. Our role is to display the array of options available to help people narrow their choices based on their context, use case, ratings, etc. We then run a thorough evaluation process leveraging peer insights and conversations in order to pick the best solution. We also help people make smart implementation and contracting decisions.
Beyond user reviews, we believe curation is really important. Not everyone has the time or patience to sift through hundreds of reviews and draw their own conclusions. That’s why we’ve invested in writing comprehensive buyer’s guides.
6. What do you see as the key to your ongoing success? What challenges must your overcome?
We measure our success by the value that people realize when using our site. Ultimately our measure of success will be how much influence we have in helping people make their software selections. Today we are concentrating on having the most helpful, robust content and, secondly, ensuring that we’re found by anyone doing an evaluation. Motivating professionals to write high-quality insights about business software is a non-trivial problem, but we’re well along the way to solving that problem.
Eighty plus percent of professionals begin software evaluations through a Google search, so we ensure that we rank really well on common search terms used in our focus areas. Today we serve 100K users each month. To be truly influential this figure needs to grow significantly, but also in a focused manner so we are not spread across too many categories.
Lastly, we need to have a scalable monetization model that doesn’t compromise the integrity of our service. We started generating revenue recently through “matchmaking” buyers with vendors in certain categories on an opt-in basis.
7. What additional advice do you have for marketers when it comes to making their technology selections?
There is rarely a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s easy to get enamored with the biggest brands, but it’s critical to do your homework and understand the array of options that are a best fit for you, and to really understand the pros and cons of a product. In addition to reading reviews, engage in the community by asking questions and connecting with reviewers for deeper offline conversations. Demand transparency from the vendors you’re evaluating.
8. How can marketers make sure they maximize their technology investments?
A general theme that has emerged in all the guides we’ve written is to have a strategy and resource plan in place before you make the software purchase. For further reading about key success factors specific to a few categories, visit:
- Achieving Success with Marketing Automation Software
- Five Key Success Factors for Digital Analytics Success
- What to Look for When Choosing Conversion Rate Optimization Software
- Four Key Success Factors for A/B Testing Success