It's Online Collaboration's Time to Shine: Are You Surfing the Wave or Sinking Under It?

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If the trend to work-from-home ever needed a kick in the pants, the COVID-19 pandemic delivered it. For many workers, what was once barely an option is now a requirement. Even after the crisis is no more, it’s almost certain that the virtual workplace will remain an integral part of business. More remote work means we need easier collaboration—that’s obvious.

What should also be obvious to providers of UCaaS, video conferencing, event webcasting and collaboration software is that this is a rare opportunity to draw attention to your products.

Unfortunately, too many vendors appear satisfied with letting this wave roll by rather than aggressively riding it. They are being cautious with their marketing spend or pausing it altogether rather than increasing it as they should.

That short-sighted strategy could sink them in the long run.

The Time to Build Trust with Buyers is Now

A lot of us—including politicians—once bought into the idea that COVID-19 would be like a black cloud in the sky. That is, one day it would just disappear, and everything would go back to normal. I think we all understand now that that is not the case.

The data shows that many B2B technology buyers are tightening their pursestrings. Aside from some immediate technology purchases to get them through the current crisis, many are delaying significant investments in longer-term solutions.

As a UCaaS, webcasting or collaboration software provider, does that mean you should put your marketing efforts on hold, until these companies are ready to buy again? Absolutely not. By then it will be too late.

They may not be buying today, but they are doing their research. They’re studying the market trends and their own business needs and determining what solutions and products they will need in 2021 and beyond. While they may not reach out to your salespeople this month or next, most will have their consideration sets decided well before you ever hear from them.

That means the time to stand out is now, not in three to six months.

Send Trust Signals Now to Make the Buyer’s Shortlist Later

Communication and collaboration technology is a crowded field. Just how crowded?

  • Capterra shows ratings and reviews for 699 companies in its “collaboration software” category.
  • Capterra shows 276 companies in its “remote work software” category.
  • TrustRadius shows 249 companies in its “project management products” listings.
  • G2 shows 94 competitors in its “UCaaS software” category.
  • Software Advice shows 89 products in its “team communication software” listings.

Some of your competitors have earned dozens or even hundreds of five-star reviews from happy customers. They have earned coverage in the trade and business media. They have established a professional brand presence on Google. And they are being talked about by industry influencers on social media.

These are all examples of what I call “trust signals”—evidence points that tell a buyer you are someone they should do business with.

To ensure you are in a B2B technology buyer’s consideration set, focus on delivering trust signals—rather than sales pitches—to your audience from now until they are ready to buy. Otherwise, they’re unlikely to find you when sales in your sector heat up.

Your First Steps to Creating Trust Online

The current reality is that every state, every city, every company and every individual is responding to this crisis a little differently. Despite this, some of what we know about buyers remain constant. Consumers still don’t want to make a purchase they’ll regret. And business buyers don’t want to make a purchase they’ll be blamed for. Especially now.

Convincing buyers they won’t regret or be blamed for purchasing from you starts by changing the way you think about your digital presence.

For starters, your website isn’t the only place people will find you and your brand. Google has continued to add features to provide the most and best responses to queries. A whole industry has sprung up around product review sites to help consumers make the best purchase decisions. Search results and how you’re represented on review sites are now equal parts of your digital presence. So, while your website is still critical, it can’t be your only focus.

Here are three tips for expanding trust online:

  1. Own your Google presence.

If you aren’t paying attention to how you appear when someone searches your company name online, you need to start. Only about 30 percent of people who search for you by name will actually click through to your website. The rest get the information they need about you from Google. That’s why establishing and optimizing your branded search presence is a great place to start earning trust:

Google Knowledge Graph

Created by Google for general information queries, these appear to the right of the search results in a desktop browser or at the top of the search results on a mobile device.

A knowledge graph is simply a block of information on a subject that Google creates by scraping its own data and external sources (such as Wikipedia). For a business, Google may pull data from a brand’s About Us page, various business listings, and online directories. Structuring the data on a few organization-specific pages on your website can cue Google to categorize your information as eligible for Knowledge Graph results.

Google Knowledge Panel

The Google Knowledge Panel listings are nearly identical to Knowledge Graphs, except they are specific to branded searches. When someone searches on your business name, Google pulls information from Google My Business listings or Google Maps and creates a box similar to the Knowledge Graph.

Because websites, social media, and other directories do not impact Knowledge Panels, the only way to optimize for this SERP feature is to update your Google My Business and Google Maps listings. If you're eligible for a Google Knowledge Panel—and most businesses are—you can claim it by connecting it to your Google Search Console. Once claimed, you can edit the information Google uses to populate this SERP feature.

Google My Business Profile

Once you’ve claimed and verified your listing, your Google My Business profile appears to the right of the organic search results. This listing will feature a link to your website, your business’ location, any contact information you provided, logos and associated images. Most importantly, though, this is where your Google reviews will live. As we’ll discuss in a moment, reviews are more important than ever.

  1. Carefully manage your presence on software review sites.

There are two reasons customer review sites are important and need to be an area of focus.

First, customer review sites will often rank higher than your own site in Google search results. There’s often enough information on the SERP for searchers to get an impression of how well your business is reviewed, without having to ever click through to your site.

Second, more and more people read the rankings and reviews on these sites before making a purchasing decision, and they trust what they read. In a recent Shopify survey, 93% of customers said online reviews influence their buying decisions.

A few more numbers:

  • A recent survey stated 84% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as they trust recommendations from friends and family.
  • 68% of customers say they’ll read four or more reviews before they’ll trust a business.

Positive reviews affect your eCommerce traffic. Customers that read positive reviews about you are more likely to skip going to your website. Instead, they’ll call, email, or visit your business in person.

  1. Create thoughtful content and share it with the right audiences.

Your content has two purposes when it comes to establishing authority in the collaboration software arena.

First, it can help you gain attention.

A smart, search-oriented blogging program will help increase visibility for those searching on specific keywords. Beyond tickling the algorithms, your content should also provide value once that content is found. If you don’t, Google will ding you. Besides, this is about building authority and gaining trust. Without quality content, you’re doing neither.

A thought leadership program will provide answers to your customers’ biggest questions. Providing content in formats your customers like to consume and placing it in industry and trade publications will help you build authority and bring attention to your business. While readership in mainstream media is down, industry-related publications are still a smart place to go to reach your specific audience with content that highlights how smart you and your team are. You can apply smart social media strategies, like paid posts targeting the people who you most want to reach.

Second, smart content helps you retain attention once you have it.

The goal of all of your efforts here, ultimately, is to get people to visit your site. But one visit isn’t useful. They need a reason to come back, and quality content aimed at serving—not selling—is that reason. So, focus on regularly producing content that provides information to help readers solve their problems or do their job better. It’s also the key to turning them into a fan of your brand, which is the first step in making them a customer.

The way we work is changing. Some of those changes are being forced upon us. But the trend toward remote work was already coming. Societally we just hit the fast forward button in response to COVID-19.

Now that we’re here, there’s a real need for collaboration tools to meet the demand for remote working options. How do you get the attention you need to begin having conversations about providing those tools? Start building trust, so that when the buyers are ready, you’ll be foremost in their consideration set.

About the author: Scott Baradell is founder and CEO of the unified PR and marketing agency Idea Grove, one of the top 25 technology PR firms in the United States, which has ranked three times as an Inc. 5000 company. For more than 15 years, Scott has been a thought leader on the future of public relations. He created one of the original PR blogs, Media Orchard, which at one time had a larger audience than PRWeek. His focus in recent years has been on growing his agency by helping his technology clients grow. Scott has an MBA from Southern Methodist University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he was an Echols Scholar and honors graduate. He maintains an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the PRSA and speaks on PR and marketing topics at industry events nationwide. 




Edited by Erik Linask
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