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Don’t let negative customer reviews hamper the sale of your business

Your online reputation is not entirely beyond your control. Here’s how to bolster your virtual ‘goodwill’ and protect the value of your business.

Statistics show unequivocally that online reviews are hugely consequential to both online and offline businesses. Accelerated by the rise of the smartphone they’ve evolved into an important customer tool for choosing shops or restaurants.

For example, Econsultancy notes that 63% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a site that includes customer reviews. These same users are then 105% more likely to make a purchase after engaging with customer-generated content, while positive reviews have been linked to an 18% uplift in sales conversions.

For anyone selling a business that sells consumer goods or services, such reviews should form a part of the process of preparing for a sale. If positive reviews are a proven boost to sales then they’ll certainly be of interest to any prospective buyer of your business.

Tracking your customers’ online buying journey with IP tracking software and analytics platforms like Google Analytics or Omniture, you can directly link a share of your sales to customer reviews. So favourable customer reviews, for which there are countless platforms like Yelp have a measurable impact on your revenue – and thus can help boost your sale price.

If you’re currently looking to sell your business you will need to ask yourself a few questions. Are you aware of how customer comments have influenced your online reputation?

Have you responded graciously to constructive criticism and made an effort to rebut unfair, misleading or biased reviews (perhaps from malicious competitors)?

If the answer to either or both of these is ‘no’, then you need to add another item to your to-do list for preparing your business sale.

Why are online reviews so important?

Customers have never before had such a wealth of options to provide feedback – positive and negative – on the shops and restaurants they frequent. Similarly, they’ve never enjoyed such an abundance of information helping them choose the right place to spend their money.

If this is a source of anxiety to substandard businesses, then it actually eases the marketing burden for those that provide a great service. Five-star reviews from satisfied customers are among the best kinds of marketing.

Take restaurants. Customers can post feedback and give star ratings on Zagat, Gayot and TripAdvisor, to name three.  They can write and post a review online within minutes.

The results generated by a Google search of your brand name will probably feature reviews, social media mentions and other user-generated content more prominently than your own marketing content. Your own publicity efforts could be fatally undermined by a torrent of negative reviews from unhappy customers.

Armed with independent information the modern consumer is better inoculated against marketing hype and potential business buyers will be just as discerning. A quick appraisal of your online reputation will take them a matter of minutes.

Don’t let unfair, ill-informed or malicious reviews undermine your business sale. Here’s how to harness the power of online reviews:

1. Complete your business profile on all major consumer review sites relevant to your business.

These include location-based apps like Foursquare (for food, nightlife and entertainment) and Yelp (pretty much all sectors), generic platforms like Google and Yahoo and industry-specific sites like Zagat for restaurants and nightlife.

2. Scan the reviews on your business’s listing on these sites. 

While there’s probably little or nothing you can do to change a poor star rating or review itself, a humble apology – perhaps with caveats (eg, “we’re really sorry that you found one of our waiters rude – he no longer works for us and we promise you a better experience next time”) – or  explaining tactfully why the review is unfair  (“we’re sorry you had to wait so long for your delivery but it was within the promised timeframe for your chosen delivery option”) can go a long way towards mitigating the damage. This makes it look like you care about your customers and blunts the credibility of unfair reviews.

3. Set up Google Alerts or similarly automated notifications to alert you when your business name, its brands or other identifiable details are posted anywhere online.

This is standard online reputation management 101, so if you’re not already doing so, it could be eye-opening.

4. Take some time each day, or at least once a week, to browse through any new reviews or comments made about your business online.

A rapid, gracious response to a negative review, posted before the customer has mentally moved on from the experience, could even generate a grateful response in turn, turning bad publicity into something neutral, or even positive.

6. Incentivize and encourage your customers to leave reviews on the sites that mean most to your business.

Although it is unethical and counterproductive to incentivize positive reviews (“Give us 5 stars and get a free sandwich!”), there is nothing wrong with providing an unbiased incentive to leave any kind of review.

7. See the positive in the negative

Negative reviews may be disheartening, but try to see the good amongst the bad. Bad reviews aren't the end of the world, and they can actually benefit your business.

If a business only has 5-star reviews, potential customers could become suspicious, feeling that the reviews are manufactured rather than left by real customers. These not so positive reviews can actually help to build trust, rather than rousing suspicion. 

Also, be sure to share reviews with your staff, both positive and negative. This could help nip the problems in the bud, preventing similar issues in the future, all the while promoting a customer focused mindset among employees. 

Following these steps can have a huge impact on the value of your ‘goodwill’ and the credibility of your projected earnings. It’s also cheaper (indeed, it costs you nothing) and easier than refurnishing your premises or replacing old equipment. 

You have nothing to lose but your unfairly tarnished reputation.

Click here to sell your business on

For more tips on effectively selling your business download Selling a Business: a Step by Step Guide for free .


Melanie Luff

About the author

Mel wrote for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other global industry publications.


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