Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful tools in sales today and yet it remains deeply misunderstood and under-used.
In my extensive sales training work in North America and abroad—even when I’m working with highly experienced professionals—I find many can’t fully explain word-of-mouth, how to create it, or why it works. Even when they’ve previously benefitted directly from it, they struggle to identify how it even happened to them in the first place.
All they know is that word-of-mouth exists and that it’s important to have. That’s a deeply unsatisfying answer.
What’s important is never left to chance
Like all aspects of marketing, word-of-mouth isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s the outcome of deliberate steps designed to produce an anticipated outcome. Remember: there’s no such thing as an accidental network in marketing.
Word-of-mouth is only meaningful if it’s something you create for yourself. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of chance or luck. And luck comes and goes. Your business and professional career deserve better than that.
When people who have worked with you are saying great things about the experience, you need to have a thorough understanding of who is talking, what they are saying, why they are saying it and how you can amplify that message.
Building on what we have previously covered in developing insider status with your clients, let’s look at how to build a deliberate network within your sales territory, creating the ideal conditions for word-of-mouth to thrive.
Unpack what’s meant by word-of-mouth
Define what word and whose mouth is going to do the taking when it comes to sharing an experience of what it’s like to do business with you.
You want your best customers to be the ones who are telling this story, so your word-of-mouth strategy must be focussed squarely on them. In defining those top customers, identify the core benefits that you deliver every time. Those benefits are what you want them to be talking about to others. Consider writing case studies or invite them to provide testimonials that support those key benefits.
Be in the right places regularly
Being ubiquitous is just one component of a word-of-mouth strategy. You can’t create momentum unless you show up regularly. And even then, there’s no point in creating word-of-mouth among the kinds of customers that are a bad fit for your business.
Choose the right locations, focusing on your target audience. This includes managing your brand socially as well as professionally. If your marketplace is the same one you live in, recognize that your buyers are forming opinions about you when you’re off the clock: whether you’re at your kid’s soccer game, at the grocery store or at the bar on a Friday night.
Eliminate friction points
It should never feel like work for your best customers to find and contact you. Otherwise why would they recommend you to friends? Look carefully at how people can reach you. Do you have a succinct email address? Are you searchable by name on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook? Do you have multiple phone numbers that all tend to route callers to voicemail or do you have a single hotline number for your customers? If you’re a smaller sized business, does your website have a clear call to action that puts your reader in direct contact with you with minimal effort? If you’re part of a larger operation, are there gatekeepers or other stumbling blocks that prevent people from reaching you directly? Eliminate every friction point possible.
Be an authority on your subject
If you want your best customers to recommend you, don’t just rely on the great buying experience you deliver each time. Give them a bonus reason. Prove that you’re an expert in your field.
Speak at industry events. Write and produce how-to videos and newsletter posts. Be sure to not overlook local business events, as well as universities and colleges.
For many years, I was the invited guest lecturer at the end-of-semester Sales Management class at a local college. I was the last person these new graduates talked to before they went on to their careers in sales.
Be there to serve, not to sell
By making the decision to put yourself out there as a trusted authority, be clear about your motivation. Be there to serve people: to generously help them with their problems. Be the leader they’ve been searching for. Selling to them is secondary. If your motivation is backwards, people will know and you’ll repel rather than attract others. This includes when considering pro bono work. Do it to make a difference, not to secure leads, otherwise people will see right through you.
Serving people generously means being prepared to lead by example. Offer your network of referrals for professional or personal services. The best sellers are quick to say “you should meet…” and then introduce their clients to new potential one. Help others first. That is how you help yourself.
Word-of-mouth is a deliberate network. You must choose it for yourself and you must foster it to give you the results you need so that your business can thrive. Following the steps I’ve outlined, you will be creating the ideal conditions for word-of-mouth to take root and grow.