Being the Vice President of Sales for a SaaS company exposes me to many things, one of them being review software review sites, like Capterra, G2Crowd, GetApp, Software Advice, Appvizer, and more. According to the sites themselves, their purpose is to provide the means to “discover the best app to grow your business.” They tell the shopper that they “do the research, so you don’t have to.” They also solicit reviews by other “users of the product”—some of which are validated, and some are not. I will say more about that a little later.
They do the research so you don’t have to…
The review site concept is not exclusive to technologies. Recently, I was in the market for a new mattress and wanted to see what other people thought. So, I did what most people do: I turned to Google and searched “best mattress brands.” What I found was interesting; eight of the ten sites listed on the first page of my Google results were touting themselves as the experts on the topic and wanted me to believe that they were tops at determining “the best mattresses of 2019.”
The sites had very clever names, like “Sleep Cupid, “Sleep Help,” and my favorite name: “Sleep Sherpa.”
Where is the line between review and sponsorship?
Software review sites spend a lot of money and energy to convince you, the SaaS/software customer, that they are the definitive expert. They invest in their site’s structure, SEO, search, and display ads, of course. The problem is, their primary—and in most cases, their only—revenue stream comes from the very publishers and product manufacturers of the apps they are reviewing. If a company wants to be listed at the top of the chart or be “recommended,” they must pay the review site directly.
Which brings me back to my mattress search. I was impressed that Sleep Sherpa had a disclaimer at the top of their site that stated, “This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.” While I am sure that other review sites place this statement somewhere on their pages, no one was as upfront about it as Sleep Sherpa.
So, are the review sites indeed the “experts” on software?
The answer is clearly: “No.” These “experts” are only expert at marketing, SEO, and Google search results. They are extremely good at maximizing revenue streams and getting reviews from the companies that pay them. In fact, these sites are selling you, the shopper, to the publishers and manufacturers of the products, and while the endeavor is not new—and not even necessarily unethical—it is misleading. If a review site is telling you that they “do the homework, so you don’t have to,” then they should do the homework, but they do not. If manufacturers or publishers want to have their products listed at the top of a review site, they can pay for it, but it taints the recommendation.
So, how to find a good recommendation that is not tainted?
There are a few ways.
- Use review sites where their product recommendations are not part of the company’s revenue model. Such sites do more than recommend products; they often provide news, opinions on trends, and coverage of an industry or vocation. They almost always include how and why they made the recommendation.
- Find white papers on best practices, such as “How to Buy…” or “The Future of…” articles.
- Look to publisher marketplaces. Most (if not all) larger software publishers will have a list of other software companies that they recommend. Salesforce.com is a great example. So is HubSpot, Xero, TSheets, and others. If you are using a CRM or accounting software, go to their marketplace and look to see who they list as partners.
- Best bet: do the homework yourself. Ask the companies you are considering the following questions:
- Why do you think you are the best solution for me?
- How are you different from your competitors?
- What are your services and support options?
- Where are your teams (all of them and not just sales) located?
- What are other ways I can benefit from using your product?
- What is the lifetime cost of the product?
In the end, using a review site will help you discover companies you may not have heard of. But it is still up to you to do the homework.