Word-of-mouth marketing is often considered one of the oldest and most powerful forms of advertising. In fact, most business people understand that it works, they just don’t know how it works.
Some people think word-of-mouth is something that “just happens” — like the weather — and they let it take its own course. But if you want to be successful at developing word-of-mouth for your business, you should be as organized and thoughtful about it as you are about other types of advertising and marketing. In fact, if you take this approach, eventually, you can get almost 100% of your business exclusively through word of mouth! The key to creating a successful word-of-mouth program as part of your daily activity, lies in developing a formal plan for systematically meeting people and cultivating relationships with them. Here are 15 ways for you, or the sales people who work for you, to get your own word-of-mouth marketing program off the ground.
1. Don’t be a cave dweller. Get out and meet people. Start by setting a goal for the number of appointments you’ll establish with people you wish to develop networking relationships with every week.
2. Know HOW to ask for the referral. There are specific techniques you can learn and develop that will help you hone your ability to ask for the referrals you want. One such technique is to ask “who do you know who...?” You would then list several types of people you can help, such as someone who is new to the area, someone recently married or who has just started a business.
3. Consciously select at least three business or networking groups to join in the next three months. These groups might include chambers of commerce, community service groups and trade associations.
4. Diversify your activities. When joining various organizations, make sure you select a well-rounded mix of business groups in which to participate. Try to avoid being in more than one group per category (i.e. two chambers of commerce) as this will divide your loyalties and put you in a position where you’ll be making promises to too many people.
5. Develop a creative incentive to encourage people to send referrals your way. A music store owner, for instance, sends music tickets to people who refer business to him. Another example is the chiropractor who posts thank-you’s on a bulletin board in his waiting area to all his patients who referred patients to him the previous month.
6. When attending meetings and other networking events, bring the right networking tools with you. These include: an informative name badge, business cards and a business card carrying case to hold others’ cards.
7. Spend time developing your networking skills. Read books and articles on networking, listen to tapes and talk to people who network well. Networking is an acquired skill.
8. When attending a business mixer, act like a host, not a guest. You are wasting your time at mixers if you stand around visiting with coworkers or others whom you already know rather than meeting new contacts and introducing them around. These events offer a great way to increase your visibility! If appropriate, ask to be the ambassador or visitor host in the organizations to which you belong. As such, it will be your official duty to meet people and introduce them to others.
9. Invest time in developing a 60-second message about your business that explains what you do. Try to think of a Memory Hook — a brief, ear-catching phrase that so vividly describes what you do that people will be able to visualize it with their eyes. For example, a travel agent uses this to describe his services to a large audience: “Ninety percent of all accidents happen in the home… so travel!” When you introduce yourself to groups of people, use your Memory Hook. Chances are this will help them remember you and what you do.
10. Right after you meet someone and exchange cards, take a few moments to flip the card over and jot down a couple sentences about them or their business that will help you remember them and refer business their way. If a new contact sees you actively doing something that will benefit them, they are more likely to take your need for referrals seriously. Let them know as you are writing your notes that you will keep them in mind if you find someone who needs their product or services. This is a very simple, yet powerful, way to make a great first impression that can be developed into a mutually-beneficial networking partnership.
11. If you have a large enough office, volunteer to throw a mixer or other event at your office to get exposure for your business. This is particularly effective around the time of year employees get to choose their own insurance. Also, opening your office up to another organization, such as the chamber or your networking group, fosters your developing image of being a “gatekeeper,” or person who serves to put others together with the intention of developing referrals for everyone.
12. Talk less and listen more. Remember that a good networker has two eyes and one mouth and uses them accordingly.
13. Connect with people outside of business meetings whenever possible. Drop notes, letters and articles that might be of interest to them in the mail. Call to check in with them or invite them to events you may be attending that might be of interest.
14. Monitor the referrals you give and receive. This tells you how often you are giving referrals and to whom. Having this information helps you focus on helping people who have helped you in the past. It sets up the reality of the “two-way street” nature of word-of-mouth marketing.
15. If you have the opportunity to distribute your materials to clients or at networking meetings, do it. Bring brochures, newsletters and other information about your company and your products and services. If people can see, touch and hear things about your product and services, they’ll be more likely to use you or refer you to others.
You are potentially linked to a vast network beyond your own sphere. By implementing the tactics above, you will receive benefits from that network. Maximize your opportunities to cultivate networking relationships with others and you will see just how effective word-of-mouth marketing can be!
About the Co-Author: Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization, which has more than 4,900 chapters in 37 countries. Dr. Misner is also the author of several books, including the most recent addition to the bestselling Masters Series—Masters of Sales (www.mastersbooks.com), and the New York Times bestseller TRUTH OR DELUSION? (www.truthordelusion.com); and he is the Senior Partner for the Referral Institute (www.referralinstitute.com), a referral training company with operations around the world.
About Our Show Advisor: Bertrand McHenry spent 22 years developing his skills in outside sales. Starting out in the cell phone business, then to Pitney Bowes, Dictaphone Division, and finally in Medical Diagnostic Equipment Sales. His expertise became finding, training, and developing dynamic and record setting sales teams. A number of years ago he was introduced to the concept of “Referral Marketing” as a strategy for growing his business. It worked and he was hooked! At a conference Bertrand was presented with the Referral Institute opportunity and “I was intrigued so I began researching the company and its curriculum. It is actually the only company teaching Referral Marketing as a strategy to business owners and entrepreneurs around the world…so it didn’t take me long.” These days Bertrand is doing what he loves and what he does best…teach and train! “There is a lot of misunderstanding around the words “networking” and “referral marketing”. People make a lot of assumptions about those two words, and most of those assumptions are wrong! I can tell you without a doubt that Referral Marketing is the most powerful form of marketing there is. If we structure a referral marketing strategy and follow through week after week and just use the V.C.P relationship model…we can actually predict our income 6, 9, even 12 months out!” Most recently he has been quoted on yahoofinance.com, maimiherald.com, morningstar.com and USA Today featured him in an article on today’s economy calling him a “Trendsetter in the New Economy!” He is also a contributing author on Brian Tracy’s newest book titled “The Only Business Book You’ll Ever Need to Buy” due out in February 2012 Bertrand also hosted a radio show “Business Builders Radio” on CBS radio, Talk 650 AM. The radio show was dedicated to teaching the concepts of referral marketing and helping as many business owners as possible. Bertrand is fond of saying: “I love to teach business owners to Work Less, Play More, Make More Money, and Create Referrals for Life!”