'Word-of-mouth' marketing that works

LOTS OF US have heard the phrase, "I'm building my business by word of mouth" and even said it. (One time a guy told me he got all his business by "mouth to mouth" but I think and fervently hope he was temporarily confused.) Anyway, let's take a closer look to see if we really believe that "word of mouth" is all it's cracked up to be and how to get more of it. Frankly, for some, the phrase is just

LOTS OF US have heard the phrase, "I'm building my business by word of mouth" — and even said it. (One time a guy told me he got all his business by "mouth to mouth" but I think — and fervently hope — he was temporarily confused.) Anyway, let's take a closer look to see if we really believe that "word of mouth" is all it's cracked up to be and how to get more of it.

Frankly, for some, the phrase is just a delicate way of saying they're lazy. Yes, I just said that. For others, it means they don't want to invest the time or money in an effective marketing program that increases their professional image, generates leads, increases profits and builds their business. And because of these, it's not a "real" marketing effort and they don't put any time into it. Bad choices all the way around.

But we've all been told that word-of-mouth marketing is the best deal in town and highly effective. It's just painfully difficult to know if there are any mouths spreading the word and, if so, is it good? Smart marketers should take steps to control and promote word of mouth, instead of leaving it to chance. Why?

  • Sixty-five percent of major purchasers (more than $1,000) say they'll ask a friend about it first.
  • Fifty-seven percent say a friend's advice influences purchase.
  • Forty percent say this advice is their main buying reason.

And in your service business, the numbers are even more impressive:

  • Thirty-seven percent say the relationship with you is the most important reason they buy.
  • Twenty-two percent say it is because they own another product of yours.
  • Fourteen percent are referred by friend or family member.

So, word of mouth is incredibly valuable. No disputing that. It is just painfully slow for the growth-oriented contractor. Plus, since people are seven times more likely to repeat a story with a negative consequence than a positive one, it's not so reliable. I mean, how do you know when you're going to make a mistake with Mr. Complaining Loud-mouth Person and suffer the effects for years? You don't. That's why you market for the advancement of referrals.

From the above sets of numbers, let this fact sink in: Your outbound marketing gets the first sale. Your continued relationship gets continued sales and referrals.

Basically, you can tell your prospects all day long how great you are, but it means a lot more when others say it. So, how do we continue the relationship, get the referrals and turn one sale into many?

That's where testimonials come into the picture.

Next to their own experience, people tend to rely on the experience of others. For this reason, testimonials are very powerful, and seriously underused in contracting. Your prospects get to see that someone else — given the same circumstances — chose you and benefited.

Plus, the strong implication is that testimonials from real people are "true and unbiased" whereas a salesperson's claims are often perceived as neither. Remember that if you make a statement about your service or superiority, it's a claim. If a customer who has used you says the same thing, it becomes a fact.

So, if you've got a happy customer, put it in writing and you've got a testimonial.

Where do testimonials come from? You have far, far more happy customers than the praises you get. So when someone does say something glowingly great, you must realize it represents dozens if not hundreds of users. So you must spread those around.

The problem with testimonials is that many people say they'll give them, but they never find the time. They got busy. They meant to. They would, but it's just that ... oh, phooey, their phone rang, their cat was at the door, their hair caught on fire, whatever. Don't worry. There are easy ways you can help them find the time. In fact, you'll do it for them.

Say what?

Gathering testimonials is an ongoing process. Pay attention. Whenever something nice is said about your business, jot it down and ask permission to use it. Be concise, let them know they can change, add or delete anything from "your" version of their testimonial.

Have you gotten e-mail messages or a letter from satisfied customers? Send a thank you note back requesting permission to use their comments in a testimonial.

Do you have a place on your invoice to write a comment? Make one, and you'll see testimonials flow back with no cost or effort. This open channel of communication is appreciated either way.

A strong assemblage of testimonials will undoubtedly increase the credibility you deserve while settling unspoken fears. For wide effect, use them in your advertising. And on the sales call, include a stack of 15-plus in your presentation folder. Let others sing your praises and watch your profits soar.

You can build your business by word of mouth, if you'll wisely multiply the positive effects through intelligent marketing. Low cost and low effort can bring you high leads and image. Not a bad tradeoff.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports, including a free 16-page report called "Get More Plumbing Leads in Less Time."

TAGS: Marketing