Many of us use Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie's List, and other sites for information on restaurants, hotels, contractor services, and more in our personal lives. And these sites are useful when making choices on where to spend our hard-earned money and picking a service provider that others have used and we believe we can trust. And we want more resources like these to use in our professional lives. Two sites have launched recently that are worthy of a look - Proformative Exchange, focused on the CFO, and IT Central Station, focused on the CIO.
Proformative Exchange is focused on products and services for the office of the CFO. The CFO's office is controlling more and more spend across companies of all sizes, typically complex, high dollar purchases. And it's not just software products and related services, but also corporate banking services, 401(k) and retirement services, payroll services, and more. Here are a few things I like about Proformative Exchange:
- Reviews come from Proformative's 35,000 and growing registered members, all of whom are finance professionals (Proformative reviews and approves requests for membership). Reviews include the reviewers name, title, and company. And yes, CFOs actually review products and services.
- Reviews are vetted by Proformative before they are posted to ensure quality and to verify that the reviewer is not an employee or affiliate of the company (or a competitor) whose product is being reviewed.
- 22 categories of business software solutions and services, such as corporate treasury, internal audit, and yes ERP.
- Links to discussion topics that mention a particular product being reviewed. Proformative has a very active user community, who poses questions and then receives answers from the membership. Proformative has added a nice feature to their product reviews to provide links to relevant discussions.
IT Central Station is focused on the office of the CIO. CIOs buy lots of stuff - business applications, middleware, security solutions, databases, infrastructure, networking solutions, and more. Here are a few things I like about IT Central Station:
- Reviewers are validated based on their LinkedIn profile to ensure that they are a qualified to provide a review (meaning they are in an IT or professional role at a company using the product and not an employee of the software vendor). You will see consultants providing reviews of products they have implemented.
- Reviews include links to other reviews written by the reviewer (always helpful to me when validating a credible resource), as well as the ability to add comments, identify the review as helpful or not, and so on.
- Searching is easy by products, vendors, or categories. The standard searches always start with the most popular (meaning most often reviewed), but the search bar is accessible for specific searches. Plus you can click on the product categories and vendor names to see expanded lists.
- Because CMOs are controlling more IT spend at many organizations, product categories such as e-commerce, lead management, enterprise social software, customer data analysis, and web analytics are available to help them find relevant products and services.
There's not much I don't like about either of these sites, except that they're still young and need more reviews, which will come over time. At this point they are research tools, not appstores, but over time I expect that the ability to complete a transaction will be added. The validation of the reviewers is not perfect (as someone can create a fake LinkedIn profile or membership request), but I appreciate they are vetted reviews with identifiable reviewers who have something valuable to say and not anonymous complaints.
As an analyst, I always need to provide essential guidance, so here goes:
- Buyers - these sites provide useful information from your peers, so add them to your pool of resources when looking for a new product or service. If you can, and some companies don't allow their employees to do this, add a review.
- Software Companies - review your product information on the site and make sure it is current. Consider encouraging your customers to provide a review. If there is a negative review, consider it an opportunity to engage with the customer and correct a problem or fix a misperception.
- Analysts and Media - these are great tools to hear from customers who are actually using the products. These sites provide an invaluable research tool.
IT Central Station and Proformative Exchange are just two examples of online marketplaces for the business professional looking for services, enterprise software, and more. Others you may want to look at include G2 Crowd (from the folks who started BigMachines) and Expeerient, and I'm sure there are many others I haven't heard about yet, but expect to hear about soon.