What’s all the buzz about?
Word-of-mouth endorsements about your company are powerful. When a customer comes to you because of a recommendation, you have three distinct selling advantages:
• Less selling time. Much of the selling has already been accomplished by your referral source. Trust and believability are key factors in making the first sale, and winning them takes time. These important factors become almost non-issues when people get a referral from someone they know and respect.
• Prospects with greater “loyalty potential.” Leads generated by conventional advertising often lead to customers who only buy once. Leads generated by referrals are more likely to result in loyal, repeat customers.
• People who are “ready to buy.” Prospects buy more readily from someone a friend says they can trust. They also buy more when equipped with the confidence that comes from a referral.
Some people believe that positive word-of-mouth is achieved by simply providing good service to customers. It is more involved than that. Word-of-mouth is about having a specific, structured plan for meeting people and cultivating long-term relationships that will result in referrals for both parties.
Most auto glass excutives talk about the importance of referral business. Unfortunately, many do not have marketing plans that include a section on word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth marketing should be as organized, thoughtful and systematic as other forms of marketing.
You might begin with creating tools to get satisfied customers to refer their friends. It’s important to remember that advocacy is not a totally selfless act on the part of your endorser. The endorser wants to keep you going so you’ll be able to continue business with him or her.
Moreover, when a referred customer is satisfied, you make the endorser look good. In some ways, the new customer now “owes one” to the endorser.
Here are some techniques and tools that successful companies use:
• Develop a “satisfied customer” file. Set up a database on your computer and make a point to add one “satisfied customer story” every week. Write up their stories, including their names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Ask each one, in advance, for permission to use his or her name as a reference. Then, when you’re trying to win over a tough prospect, scan your file, identify a success story that most closely matches the prospect’s situation and invite the prospect to contact the customer directly for a reference. This technique is known as “reference selling.”
• Ask for a testimonial letter. Prospective customers like to see testimonials from people with whom they can identify. Ask satisfied customers to write you a letter expressing the reasons why they are glad they did business with you. You can even offer to write the letter for them, then let them review and make changes before signing.
• Publish testimonial letters on your Internet site or in a periodic newsletter mailed out to prospects. Of course, always have copies on hand.
• Hand out pre-printed referral cards. Don’t be shy. Asking for referrals should be a natural part of your interaction with customers.
• Offer rewards for referrals. Some companies offer cash rewards for referrals that lead to sales. If you feel uncomfortable offering cash, reward customers with small gifts for their cars.
• Categorize your word-of-mouth prospects. Just like more conventional media, word-of-mouth referrals can be targeted toward specific groups broken down by neighbors or employees of the same company.
• Say “thank you” repeatedly. Upon receiving their referral, thank your customers verbally. Then, thank them in writing. Regardless of whether you convert the referral into a customer, the source deserves recognition.
• Keep in touch with customers. Word-of-mouth is part of customer relationship marketing in which you keep in touch with customers using multiple techniques. A friendly follow-up phone call, a “thank you” note in the mail or an e-mail have a cumulative positive impact if you don’t overdo it.
A good networking effort begins with joining three to five groups such as a chamber of commerce or community service organizations. One group can’t serve all your needs, so select a well-rounded mix. Avoid being in more than one group per category, such as two chambers, so you don’t divide your loyalties and make too many promises.
Attend every meeting and take a leadership role by heading a special committee or running an event. If you have partners, suggest that each join a different group to maximize your company’s exposure. If you have employees involved in various organizations, support their participation.
Remember, it isn’t about who you know, but how well you know them. The real benefits of networking come when you develop lasting relationships with other business executives and community leaders.
Traditional methods cannot be ignored, but the Internet is bringing the concept of developing referral business to a new level. An industry is developing devoted to word-of-mouth marketing, or “viral” marketing as it is called when practiced online.
The marketing world is abuzz with talk about, well … talk. Everyone wants their products or services to go viral, to grow like wildfire as the result of passionate conversations between devotees and non-users who, once infected by the devotee’s passion for the product or service, will rush out and get it too.
You may ask, isn’t all word-of-mouth spontaneous? Not necessarily. There are cases where word-of-mouth or buzz grows fairly spontaneously, but marketing practitioners are increasingly looking to foster or even generate it. They are looking at blogs, chat rooms, forums on company Internet sites and a host of other online avenues to get satisfied customers to communicate.
There is now even an official trade organization—the Word of Mouth Marketing Association of Chicago—for this emerging community of professionals. WOMMA’s mission is to promote and improve word-of-mouth marketing and protect consumers and the industry with strong ethical guidelines. WOMMA recently conducted its first national symposium on word-of-mouth marketing at Adtech-05, a new media conference held in July in Chicago.
The organization, which offers a free e-newsletter on word-of-mouth marketing, can be reached at
Today’s fast-growing word-of-mouth marketing movement recognizes that a happy customer is the greatest endorsement for your company and its products. Soliciting the voice of your customers is a natural, genuine, honest process of helping people access advice from each other about products and services they have directly experienced.
One final thought: Referrals don’t just happen. You have to ask for them. Even your best and most satisfied customers are unlikely to speak to your friends about you. And that should be no surprise. Even the best service is often taken for granted. Customers who have problems, on the other hand, will usually tell everyone.