Turn Browsers Into Buyers

9 Proven ways to use reviews to smash all sales records this Q4 and beyond

Monday, November 9, 2020
9 ways to use reviews to smash all sales records this Q4 and beyond

Think of massive online sales as a private, very exclusive club where the only way in is to be publicly vetted by your current customers. During the Q4 sales bonanza, not to mention the current pandemic, those mandatory votes of confidence weigh more than ever before. And by the time you read this article through, you’ll know precisely how to turn them into solid gold.

The list of data points heralding the impact of social proof on sales could span the length of several books but a quick set of statistics is all you need to realize how vital digital word of mouth is in today’s online marketplace:

Because of social proof’s ability to influence consumer behavior, everything about it has already been written. What this article does is give the available information an easy-to-follow, 9-step, comprehensive structure. Think of it as an unfair advantage, compressing weeks of online research and reading into a 10-minute booster.

9 Ways to turn social proof into sales this Q4 and beyond

  1. Leveraging third-party social proof
  2. Using data-driven social proof
  3. Showcasing customer-generated social proof
  4. Boosting SEO
  5. Making businesses feel alive
  6. Investing in the best kind of market research
  7. Building your strategy for tons of social proof
  8. Getting the most out of it
  9. Growing sales with scarcity, urgency & social proof

Let's dig in!

Get the right mindset

The first step to spike your sales to unprecedented levels by using the power of social proof is to ingrain its importance in every cell of your organization.

That is because everything your company does goes into receiving a great review. From R&D to production, sales, and ultimately client service, they all matter towards a positive client experience that they’ll be happy to share with the rest of the world. And nothing convinces prospective buyers better to spend their money with you than reading about how other people have enjoyed your products.

76% of consumers trust online reviews, second only to friends and family (81%), but miles ahead of traditional paid advertising (47%) or marketing materials like direct mail (55%), according to a study by ReviewMonitoring.

Those numbers are echoed by a study from BrightLocal which states that 85% of consumers trust online reviews written by strangers just as much as they do personal recommendations from people they know.

But that’s nothing new. Word of mouth has been with us for millennia and scientists studied its effects on sales as early as 1966 when Katz and Lazarsfeld defined word-of-mouth as the exchange of marketing information between consumers to an extent that it's able to fundamentally impact their behavior and change their attitude toward products and services.

People trust their peers over companies pushing their products and services.

The only difference today is the scale at which social proof influences our buying decisions. 9 out of 10 global consumers read online reviews before making an online purchase according to a Canvas8 and Trustpilot study.

And even with all that evidence proving the weight consumers place on social proof, hardly any company considers it as their main sales channel. That’s where you can take advantage to boost your sales.

How to act: As things inevitably slow down at the end of Q4 and you have a brand-new start ahead come January, make sure that great customer experience is a top priority for everyone in your organization. From engineers to sales reps, they all must get a thorough understanding of how consumers choose their products and services in the 21st century, and the role each of them plays in that process.

There’s more to social proof than customer reviews and testimonials

A lot of business owners miss a huge opportunity by limiting their strategy to target only customer reviews. In fact, there are three main types of social proof that you can use to boost your sales - third party, data-driven, and customer-generated – each with a distinct advantage.

1. Third-party social proof

Third-party is the most versatile and it refers to votes of confidence given by people or organizations that hold no interest in your company’s success or failure. Since their opinion is unbiased, consumers naturally assume it to be truthful. More so, many third-party entities benefit from being completely honest as that will strengthen their perceived value as truth-tellers, something they capitalize on.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Sites like Trustpilot provide excellent third-party social proof. Open review platforms offer full transparency and ensure consumers access only the best products and services on the market.

Google is the world's biggest search engine by far because it provides relevant information and highlights good-rated businesses on every search.

Trustpilot is the world’s most powerful review platform. With over 100 million reviews, Trustpilot is an open review platform where consumers and businesses can connect and learn from each other.

Remember the “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate”? That’s another great example of third-party social proof, with experts backing a product.

Actually, most endorsements are theoretically third-party social proof.

jordan-nike
jordan-spike lee-nike
lebron-nike
taylor-coke
britney-spears-pepsi
beyonce-britney-pink--pepsi
Jeff Goldblum restaurant owner
Clooney

More examples:

  • Media mentions. The stars given by critics that are displayed on new movie releases together with an excerpt from their review. On books, you have the coveted “NYT bestseller” seal of approval
  • Outlets you’ve been featured on. This one works for both personal branding and businesses alike, the famous “as seen on NBC, CNN, etc.”
  • Trust seals, certifications, and badges. Something many business owners forget about but highly convincing for prospective buyers - a seal of approval from well-regarded institutions
  • Test scores. Again often overlooked but just think of the car industry where cars advertise their NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings to instantly attract interest
  • Famous companies that use your product. Service providers will often say “trusted by companies such as Microsoft, GM, Tesla”
  • Integration partners. One of the easiest ways to associate yourself with trusted brands is to display your integration partners if you have any.

2. Data-driven social proof

Moving on to data-driven social proof, we have the “people also bought…” and “best-seller” stamps of approval. Amazon makes excellent use of them with the former being a mix between cross-selling and data-driven social proof while the ladder is pure, certified social proof in action.

How many times have you considered buying a product on Amazon just from seeing the “best-seller” stamp?

Every blogging or news platform out there, Trustpilot included, uses data-driven social proof when they compile the list of “popular posts” you see displayed to the right of their website. People are extremely interested in reading what others have read.

The simple mechanism behind that is “if so many people saw value in this product/service/article, then it must hold value. This many people can’t be wrong.” And they usually aren’t. Except when bands like Nickelback become famous, but that’s another story altogether.

Displaying the actual number of successfully completed transactions between you and your clients or the numbers of shares an article received is another form of data-driven social proof.

DHL data social proof
ups data social proof

3. Customer-generated social proof

Last but definitely not least is customer-generated social proof. Often referred to as user-generated content or UGC, it’s the treasure cove of modern-day marketing.

Simply put, it’s any form of content created by your customers, not the marketing department. You can read more about it here but keep in mind that it can be as easy as using photos next to reviews and testimonials, so prospective buyers can associate a face to what they’re reading, grounding the endorsement in reality. Or it can be something like handing over your Instagram account to your customer base for one day. They get the spotlight while they showcase your product or service. Huge win-win with great results and almost no associated cost.

How to act: Hunting for customer reviews is great, but don’t forget to expand your social proof palette to include its many shapes and sizes. Your sales will benefit greatly if you:

  1. Get an expert to back your product
  2. Associate with a well-perceived brand that you don’t compete with – maybe a huge client or an association you’re a member of
  3. Display any awards or badges you won as well as certifications and great product test results
  4. Try to get a mention in main-stream media and display it on your website
  5. List all integration partners
  6. Get the “best-seller” stamp of approval on your most popular items
  7. Upsell by helping consumers pick relevant products with “people also bought…” recommendations
  8. Boast about the number of successfully completed transactions between you and your clients
  9. Let your customers do the work for you by putting the social media spotlight on them as they showcase your products and services in action.

Understand all benefits associated with social proof

Apart from the obvious, generating sales by increasing the value prospective buyers perceive in your business, social proof has plenty of other benefits in today’s online driven world.

The three most important ones are boosting SEO, making your business feel alive and grounded in reality instead of a distant, abstract concept, and you can use social proof as market research.

4. Boosting SEO

Product reviews, especially if they’re hosted on your website, can influence your search engine ranking.

Google also displays product reviews both for their local pack – the top three results you see displayed alongside a few details when conducting a local search – as well as directly in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) in the Rich Snippet format.

rich snippets product reviews

An example of Rich Snippets for Product Reviews

You want good product reviews for your business to pop up when customers are conducting searches with a “buy” intent. They have their wallets out, they're looking for a place to spend their money and Google makes sure they have plenty of relevant options to choose from. You want to appear as high on their screen as possible and with great reviews next to your name. That will inevitably boost your click-through rate (CTR).

Better rankings translate into more clicks, which in turn translate into more leads that will inevitably convert to more sales.

Reviews are also used to reinforce your geographic listing so they directly impact your placement in local searches.

That’s when Google Review Partners come in. Collecting reviews through a Google partner such as Trustpilot will give you greater visibility online, and help you acquire Rich Snippets for product reviews, and Google Seller Ratings for your paid ads or Google Shopping listings.

How to act: A lot of products and services see spikes in search queries in Q4. It’s best for your business to take full advantage of this seasonality. Host reviews on your website in addition to third-party platforms, and pick a Google Review Partner to collect reviews with. Make sure all the product reviews you host have the right format and make good use of SEO tactics such as optimizing HTML review markup into easily-crawlable content and using meta descriptions with review links.

5. Business feels alive

Social proof makes your brand seem real. What brick-and-mortar shops have over online retail is tangibility. You go in, you see the products, or you can find someone to speak to about the services. Brick-and-mortar shops are as real as it comes, so our minds perceive them as more trustworthy, to begin with. It's also quite an advantage to see AND touch before you buy, something online retail can't provide. But social proof will help you ground your brand in the eyes of online shoppers. The more “they are a real business” cues you can provide to your clients, the better. A company with absolutely no social proof to their name – no reviews, no mentions on third-party websites, no testimonials, and no endorsements – looks shady in 2020.

One thing’s for sure, if no social proof is business suicide, there’s no such thing as too much social proof. On the contrary. If everything else is comparable, shoppers will most often go for the service or product that has considerably more positive reviews than its competitors.

How to act: Make sure you’re ready for this Q4 with fresh reviews and testimonials. If you plan on launching a seasonal offer, have clients review these unique products and services as soon as they hit the market so when the bulk of shoppers take to online research, they’ll find real people and real businesses talking about them. That’s why it’s a great idea to launch your Q4 products a little ahead of time. Start as early as possible to gain traction and build up those vital reviews.

6. Best kind of market research

“So you’re telling me that I don’t have to spend a dime and clients from all over the world, from all walks of life, and of all ages will willingly let me know exactly what they think about my products or services? How they helped them, the ways in which they could be improved, and what about them they liked most? Hundreds even thousands of them? On top of that, I’ll get access to a free database that will sort and categorize the massive amount of feedback I receive?”

Don Draper’s mind would have been blown by today’s online world. When only a few decades ago companies were forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get direct consumer feedback, making it impossible for small businesses to gain these valuable insights, today, everyone can do it. By dedicating a little time and putting in a little effort, companies of all sizes can be in direct and constant contact with their customers.

On that note, the dreaded negative review most businesses shy away from is actually a huge blessing in disguise. It will cost nothing more than a little attention from your client service team to fix all the while offering valuable answers into how you can improve your products forever. All positive reviews are also a treasure chest for copywriters and marketers.

How to act: Reviews offer a unique insight into the minds of your customers and can provide invaluable information about how to improve your products and how to best market them. From this Q4 forward, start studying your reviews to mine for nuggets of gold straight from your customers’ minds. Your clients are literally telling you how to sell to other people like them and how to make your products so good that they won’t need to look anywhere else.

Putting everything together

Fully aware of the importance and broad spectrum of social proof, let’s put together a winning strategy for this Q4.

7. At scale strategy for tons of social proof

First of all, before we get into it, you need to understand the importance of a review-generating strategy from yet another vital point of view: people naturally post negative reviews more often than they do positive ones. That’s because the emotion behind the average bad experience is far stronger than the emotion behind the average good experience.

Most times, when you see a company with an average rating of 2 or 3 stars, it isn’t because they’re so below average in real life, but it’s a consequence of not having a strategy to generate a complete set of reviews, both good and bad. They’ve let the social proof game play out by itself and they’ll pay a terrible price for it.

Let’s make sure you won’t.

A. Pick the right moment

A huge influence on the number and quality of your reviews is when you ask for them. Too soon, and customers won't bother leaving one because they haven't formed an opinion yet. Too late and they have forgotten all about your product, so they won’t be as excited to share their view.

Q4 is an excellent time to ask for reviews because it has both a great background vibe, that holiday spirit, plus it’s the coronation of a successful year of serving your clients. Consumers should be much more inclined during this period to dedicate some of their time to provide feedback.

Come November, and you can pretty much ask for a review anytime until the end of the year.

B. Start with your repeat customers

Chances are if someone is a repeated customer, they love what you’re selling. And they can offer some valuable feedback as well.

In Q4, you can easily ask for a review from your customers by acknowledging their importance before making the request. Simply say something along the lines of:

“Dear {name goes here},

Thank you for yet another year of being our customer. We greatly value your loyalty, and we’re always looking to serve your needs better.

That’s why we’d love to hear your thoughts about our product/service.

Your feedback helps us improve, and it takes just 3 minutes to complete."

It's thoughtful, it doesn't feel like a review request, and has that end-of-the-year good spirit sprinkled all over. There’s no better time to bulk up on great reviews than in the last quarter, and no better way to start doing that than by asking your most loyal customers.

C. Make it exceptionally easy

If you ask your clients for help, it’s best you make it as easy for them as possible to do so. So, claim your business on every third-party platform and provide direct links to them. If you allow customers to choose the platform they’re most comfortable with and reach it with a single click, your review rate will go through the roof.

There’s an old anecdote that goes “The first thing the old Jewish merchant did before opening his new store was to demolish the only stair at the entrance and level the ground so people won’t need it.” Tear down all obstacles between your clients and them leaving new reviews for your business. Make the process as frictionless as possible, and you'll up your review count.

D. Shamelessly milk moments of customer success

Have you recently had a breakthrough with one of your customers? Ask for a review.

Have you solved a great problem for them? Ask for a review.

Have you received verbal praise for your work? Ask for a review.

Ride the positive emotions train and put customers in front of a review-writing process as soon as they’re happy with your products or services.

Again, there’s no better time to do this at scale than in Q4 when “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… eeevery single day”.

E. Be thankful towards your customers

Receiving feedback is the best thing your customers can do to help your business improve. What you can do to thank them, is respond to their reviews with a thoughtful note. People tend to respond in kin - by being open and showing them you care, your customers are more inclined to care enough back to leave a review.

“Thank you for your business and we hope to see you again this coming year. We’d love to be there for you, better than ever before, if you do decide to shop with us again.

That’s why we’d really appreciate your thoughts on our product/service. A new year is a great opportunity to improve upon what’s missing and give more of what’s great about our product/service. Your feedback is greatly valued.”

Being validated like that, and showing that you care about their needs, will make many dedicate some time to send you their thoughts.

F. Always use prompts and leading questions

You don’t want your customers to ramble on about insignificant benefits.

Ideally, all of them would highlight your product’s best features and how it helped them solve one of the worst problems they faced. So, make sure you choose a third-party review platform who asks exactly that, with leading questions whose answers will bring forward the best features of your product or with prompts that will help your customers get started in the right direction.

Apply this strategy in Q4 and beyond, and you will massively improve the quality of your reviews.

G. Aim for the sweet spot

When it comes to the number of reviews, size does matter. And not just with reviews, stop telling yourself otherwise…

According to BigCommerce, pushing above the 50-review mark can generate an increase of 4.6% in your conversion rates. So don’t pat yourself on the back when you see 20 or 30 reviews to your name.

It’s also a terrible idea to have exclusively positive reviews. Consumers will instantly assume they’re fake.

“Purchase likelihood peaks when the average star rating of a product is between 4.2 and 4.5 stars and starts to drop as the star rating approaches a perfect 5”, according to a whitepaper published by the Northwest University. Figures have fluctuated slightly depending on product type, but the conclusion remained true throughout – a perfect 5 out of 5 hurts sales.

It’s good to be vulnerable as long as you handle the situation wisely. A bad review is not the nightmare most of us imagine it to be but a vital part of gaining your customers’ trust. In its absence, your sales will be negatively affected. You can use tools such as Socialboards to stay on top of your customer service game and there’s absolutely nothing to fear about.

One thing to note about negative reviews is that they’re a matter of emotional, not logical alignment. When customers are furious enough to take to a public setting and voice their emotions, don’t explain why they’re in the wrong, even if they obviously are. First, quench the thirst for “payback” by simply acknowledging their message and indicating how sorry you are for what they feel.

You don’t have to admit to any wrongdoing on your part, but you must say you’re sorry for what the disgruntled customer is going through (regardless if the situation is created by the customers themselves or by your company). Make them calm and only after try to make the situation better.

The sweet spot then appears to be at 50 reviews or more that average between a 4.2 and 4.5 rating. Aim for that and you will reach maximum sales potential.

H. Look out for fake reviews

Before you set sail, make sure you have a security system in place that will deter your competitors from writing erroneous, badly-intended reviews.

Something as simple as asking for an email address or to connect to a social media platform to verify their identity will go a long way in keeping your reviews enemy-proof.

Even better, if you choose to collect feedback with a review platform such as Trustpilot, you won’t have to worry about receiving any fake reviews! Any dodgy-looking review with no proof of purchase will be investigated straight away.

I. Don’t forget to reach the full social proof spectrum

Reviews are great. They're vital actually, and they work well with other types of social proof.

But you shouldn’t stop there. Reach out to experts and influencers in your field to endorse your product. Use data-driven social proof to highlight the choices of the many. Get accredited by third-party, respected companies. Highlight your best clients and talk about the big brands you associate with. Then get some main-stream mentions and use that to your advantage.

Social proof comes in many ways, and leaving just one of them unexploited is leaving money on the table. Make it a goal for 2021 to check every social proof box and see how your next Q4 closes way above your expectations.

8. Get the most out of it

Finally, armed with all this social proof, let’s look at three ways to maximize its impact.

A. Display it wisely

Don’t keep social proof locked away on a product page, deep inside your website where only a handful of leads reach. Instead, display it on your packaging, your social media, your home page, in your email signature, and on product pages. There’s an optimal place for every type of social proof, though, so keep to the following format:

  • Data-driven social proof – product pages, home page, landing page, social media
  • Certificates, badges of merit, great test scores, accreditation – email signature, home and landing pages, product pages, packaging
  • Customer reviews – home and landing pages, product pages, stand-alone pages dedicated to customer reviews only, social media posts, product packaging, television, radio, organic or paid search engine results
  • Expert endorsement – marketing materials, social media, product pages, packaging
  • Case studies – home and landing pages

Remember, most third-party websites also offer a highlighting feature that lets you display your reviews throughout the customer journey!

B. Claim your business profile on a trusted third-party platform

Today, 49% of consumers believe many dishonest brands are guilty of manipulating customer reviews to improve their reputation. Claiming your business on a trusted, open third-party review platform is a great way to make sure those positive reviews reach you and your audience, and you have a way to handle negative reviews as they come in.

An open review platform means all of your reviews are honest and authentic, and your brand is being as transparent as possible. And customers appreciate that. Did you know that, in 2020, 55% of consumers would prefer to use an open and transparent review platform? And 56% of consumers think it’s very important to know exactly how review websites choose to publish reviews, and whether or not they choose to cherry-pick.

C. Respond to everyone

When customers address your brand, be it directly or not, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge their voice, regardless of what the message is. It doesn't matter if it's a positive review or a negative one, acknowledging your customers is the only professional and healthy thing to do. Ignore their pleas or praises, and you risk paying a heavy toll.

A negative review is an opportunity to show you care and win a customer for life. All that powerful negative emotion that compelled them to take to a public forum and voice their disappointment can be transformed into gratitude if you fix what's troubling them. It also can be harnessed to win other clients over, people, and businesses that look at how you treat your customers.

Now for the final piece in winning the Q4 sales craze. A bullet-proof strategy that no consumer can resist is to create an intoxicating mix between FOMO and social proof.

How?

9. Scarcity + Urgency + Social Proof = Max Sales

You begin by creating limited edition, premium packages – that’s scarcity. You then take to social media to announce the limited offer (limited by time or available units), and you keep the countdown updated every week, making sure to highlight the limited time/quantity still available – that’s urgency. Lastly, you ask all of your customers for an honest review – that’s social proof. If you can send a few products to experts or influencers in your field, that’s even better. And don’t forget about data-driven social proof as you highlight not only the number of units left in stock but also the number of units sold.

Once you get started, make sure to gather more and more social proof through the system we detailed earlier. It will help with Q4 sales and it will carry the good social proof juices well into 2021.

Conclusion

The very best salespeople can elicit trust from their customers and are very compelling in their pitch without being glib.

Social proof is one of the most trusted sources of product information by consumers and also one of the most compelling.

On top of that, social proof comes with added bonuses like better rankings for your business and a bundle of customer feedback to analyze. It also breathes life into your brand, making consumers more at ease with choosing you.

Social proof never sleeps. The perfect salesperson on steroids, relentless in spreading the word about your business, and winning new customers over more efficiently than anything else. 24/7.

Who wouldn’t want that for their business? In Q4 and beyond.

Author Bio

Calin Bucur is a freelance writer with a major in Statistics and a background in sales. He knows how to make data look sexy, draw attention to your brand, plus a thing or two about SEO. His cat keeps him from traveling full time, but he doesn’t mind. Reach him at calin@socialboards.com

Feeling inspired?

Share this article and infographic with your colleagues!

9 ways to use reviews to smash all sales records
Share

Related stories