Word of mouth: Your best business friend

If it weren’t for word of mouth, I wouldn’t have a business. Approximately 90 percent of my business over the past 20 years has come as a result of someone telling someone else about me and my services. (The other 10 percent has come from clients who found me via my Web site or through workshops I’ve given.) It’s only natural, then, that I consider word of mouth my best business friend, and do my best to cultivate it. You should, too.

This is equally true if you’re building a B2B business like mine or  selling a product or service to consumers. Each year for the past eight years, Schneider Associates, a marketing firm in Boston, has conducted a national poll with consumers to determine the most memorable new product launch of the year. They also ask questions about consumer behavior that impacts buying decisions. Each year, word of mouth scores highly as a factor that persuades people to try a new product. In 2009, 81.2 percent of respondents said recommendations from family and friends influenced their purchasing decisions.

The beauty of word of mouth is the credibility it has over other marketing tools, such as advertising. People are far more likely to believe and act on a recommendation from a friend or business colleague than they are a TV or print ad. This is especially true in the small business arena where businesses are built on relationships.

Getting word of mouth

So how do you make sure people are out there singing your praises? First, you have to network, network, network because the more people you know, the larger the pool of people who can potentially mention you to someone else.

Second, make sure your business colleagues know what type of client you’re looking for. For example, 10 years ago, after I had managed to get a book published with my name on the cover as a co-author, I made sure people knew that I was now ghostwriting books and was actively looking for clients in that arena.

Some people hesitate to tell people they’re looking for business. I think they believe they should always appear to be 100 percent busy and that telling people you are looking for new clients makes it seem like perhaps you’re not doing well. Baloney! It is very easy to let people know you’d appreciate their referring people to you without sounding as if you’re desperate for business.

And, of course, if someone does send you a referral, be sure to thank them, even if it doesn’t end up producing business for you. And if it does produce business for you, consider sending a token gift to the colleague who sent you the referral. Nothing bugs me more than to make a referral to someone and have that person never acknowledge that I gave them a helping hand. In such cases, I tend not to refer to that person again.

Consumer word of mouth

If you’re selling to consumers, find ways to encourage your customers to tell others about your product or service. Programs that reward customers for referring other customers can be effective. And,  of course, have social media features on your Web site that make it easy for people to tell their friends about you. Having a Facebook page for your product is the latest way to encourage people to share news about your product or service. The beauty of social media like Facebook for small businesses is the negligible cost of entry, particularly in comparison to the significant word of mouth that can be generated in return.

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