Building a Word-of-Mouth Process
This is my site Written by Alora on February 1, 2010 – 10:24 am

In the American Express OPEN Forum article, Effective Word-of-Mouth is Made Not Born by Yvonne DiVita of Windsor Media Enterprises, the author discusses some tips to cultivating what is called “word of mouth marketing.”

Aside from just being a reasonably trendy buzzphrase, word-of-mouth marketing is a marketing tactic designed to maximize the marketing leverage possible by having your customers talk about you and help be evangelists for your goods and services.

Statistically speaking, there is tremendous value to this, since most professional networks are most valuable at their fringes: it’s not your direct connections that offer the most opportunities, it’s actually your connections’ connections that offer the most.  Word-of-mouth marketing is meant to capitalize on that fact.

Yvonne’s post covers some standard practices, particularly when it comes to the social media world.  But her focus is on word-of-mouth value in the online space, and I would argue that in order to be effective, you need much more than just a plan for social media strategy.  In order for word-of-mouth marketing to work as a part of your business development efforts, it needs to be part of the normal process you develop with your clients.

Here are a couple of items that I would add to her original list:

  • Make recommendations part of the process
  • Include references as part of agreements
  • Offer incentives to referral business

These are tactics I use with clients all of the time; and even more importantly, they are approaches that my clients respect and which are highly valuable, particularly in smaller or more tight-knit communities, where personal references are particularly important.

Make recommendations part of the process
When I teach a class or offer a workshop, one of the first slides in my presentation is my word-of-mouth proposition: if, at the end of the class, the participants felt that what I provided them was a valuable use of their time and money, I would like a publishable quote from them to that effect.  In exchange, I offer them an additional or enhanced service as a thank you.  Since I often offer a free half hour of consulting service with the purchase of a workshop, my normal incentive is to add an additional half hour to their follow-up session.

Since the only reason for them to come back to me for one-on-one services is if they feel that what I am providing is of value in the first place, this is a reasonable offer that in no way fosters dishonesty or disingenuous feedback.

And by leaving the format up to the client, they can submit the quote to me on a 3×5 card that I include in their course materials, via email, or post it directly to my Facebook Fan page or my LinkedIn profile.  Either way, this helps to ensure that I am capturing usable feedback from clients, and their expectations are clearly set from the beginning.  Most of my clients are also entrepreneurs, so they are always very aware of why this trade is worthwhile to me, and genuinely supportive of my request.

Include references as part of agreements
While a quote from a client is valuable, there are some clients who are the jackpot.  And for those clients — as good as a quote may be — a direct reference is even better.  And, depending on the brand of the person or firm, this can sometimes be the key that gets you into other doors.  If you have a client who falls into this category, write into the agreement that as long as you hit your deliverables on time and to satisfaction, that they will be willing to provide direct references for you to other potential clients.

Again, this is not a request that business people will typically object to.  It’s just a request that most people forget to make.  Put it out there as part of the normal exchange of goods and services, deliver your end, and then most people are all too happy to deliver their end of the bargain.

Offer incentives to referral business
Again, this is something I always include in the opening remarks of any meeting I have with a client: if they refer a paying client to me, I will offer them something in return.  Depending on my portfolio of work at the time, it could be a free one-on-one consulting session, it could be a new class or workshop I’m teaching, or it could be some other special need that they have.

Whatever it is, the key is in giving them a reason to discuss what you can do with other prospective clients outside of you direct network.  If a client is coming to you for you services to begin with, then that is only because they consider what you have to offer as valuable.  Therefore it is reasonable to expect that discounted access to your expertise is a potentially worthwhile trade off for them.

So, while Yvonne’s list had some good points, keep in mind that the principles behind word-of-mouth marketing are all based on people building relationships and then talking about them with others.  There is nothing about that process that has to happen online, so incorporate some basic practices into your normal client interactions, and see how they take to it.

More often than not, your customers want to see you be successful — if for no other reason, than so that you can stay in business and continue helping them.  Reminding them that you need their help reaching new customers and giving them specifics ways to do that, and then rewarding them for it, is something that most of them will respond to very well.  All it takes to get started is to ask.

(This post is part of my Entrepreneur Evangelist series and was originally published on WorkingPoint‘s Small Business Blog.)