I’m Ian and this is the journey I took – maybe you can take it too and grow your business through word of mouth?
You probably asked for the guide to growth through word of mouth for a reason (if you didn’t you can grab a copy top right, or just beneath the comments section below if you’re reading this on your phone).
My guess is that you’ve experienced being recommended and relate to it. Rather than being a pleasant and welcome bonus when you win a client through recommendations, it can become your main source of new business.
Or, it can help you win more sales from all other sources when you introduce a recommendation to an enquirer who came to you without an endorsement.
This is my journey – maybe you can relate to it. I certainly didn’t plan to be doing this. When you’re a kid, you don’t exactly say “when I grow up, I want to be a word of mouth geek”.
Nor do you do that as an adult. In fact, I doubt you’d want to make it a career – I suspect you just want the results so you can get on with what you’re great at.
For me, it’s a journey that started about 14 years ago when I headed an IT support company.
I’d read a book by a guy called Richard Koch on the 80/20 principle. I can’t possibly summarise the book in a sentence or two, but one snippet of the book caught my attention.
It was about looking for small things in your business that have a far bigger impact than the effort.
And one of those things was word of mouth. I looked though our invoices and noticed that a huge chunk of our business came from recommendations. I already knew that, but didn’t appreciate just how much it was.
What effort did we put in to get it? Virtually none – other than doing the good job that inspired our clients to recommend us.
By trade, I’m a copywriter and part-time IT geek. So this fascinated me. You’re taught all about measuring when you read books like Drayton Bird’s Commonsense Direct And Digital Marketing.
Direct marketing is quite scientific. I measured everything other than word of mouth – purely because it was something I couldn’t influence.
When I realised word of mouth was so important to our business, to be frank, I just had to shrug my shoulders.
I thought the only thing we could to influence it was to continue to improve, delivering great service for the clients.
I couldn’t exactly demand that clients went out there to recommend us.
One of the first of many answers came to me purely by accident. I was part of a networking group of many small businesses meeting weekly – you may have even heard of BNI? The idea is to look out for referrals for the other people in the group.
If you’ve been to BNI you’ll relate to this. If you haven’t, after a week or two where you haven’t brought a referral for another member, you feel kind of bad.
One such week, I returned to the office determined to get a referral for Jayne.
The previous week, I’d been to a clients office to do an IT audit. I was recording my observations into my smartphone as the basis of a report. After I’d finished, the recording went to Jayne’s team to be transcribed.
Before I got to the car park – “ping”. An email arrived with the report already typed. That was quite impressive!
Now many of our clients were lawyers. Outsourced digital dictation is commonplace nowadays.
That wasn’t the case about 12 years ago when this happened. So I decided to ring 1 or 2 of our legal clients to tell them about it and offer to introduce Jayne.
One was on holiday. The other not at her desk. I had about 20 minutes before a meeting.
That’s when I had my eureka moment.
I decided to quickly write about my experiences. And I sent it to 65 clients. I told them what had happened and ended the email by saying:
“If you’d like to meet Jayne to chat about it, I’ll be seeing her next Tuesday. Let me know if you do, and I’ll pass on your number”
28 of them replied. The following week, I handed over more referrals in one week than I had in the previous 3 months or so. Quite guiltily to be frank. I felt like I had cheated.
Was It A Fluke? Or Can You Repeat It?
Well, the answer to that came not long afterwards. A friend of mine Hugh Jones (pictured), an NLP coach, met up with me for some marketing advice over a coffee.
He wanted to grow. So he asked about websites, direct mail and brochures, online marketing and perhaps assembling a telesales team.
I told him what had happened with Jayne, and offered to interview the Principal of a school he worked with. Let’s give this a try in other words, and then come back to all the other things he wanted to do.
I interviewed her. Now the first surprise for me was that she revealed so much more about the work Hugh did than even he had realised. She revealed how staff absence had plummeted saving them a substantial 5-figure sum per year.
This alone was double his fees, so they were effectively in profit.
When I’d asked Hugh whether he had saved them money, he said “no way – I charge them quite a bit, I cost them”.
Incidentally, that happens in nearly every interview I do – the client reveals far more than they ever do to their supplier.
Anyway, after the interview, she was asked if she’d share the article when it was ready by email with any other headteachers she knew. She agreed.
She sent it to 12. 7 of them replied agreeing to meet, just like it happened with Jayne. The first 3 he met agreed to a 1-day a week engagement.
Because he was already committed with other clients 2 days a week, he had to politely cancel the remaining 4 meetings. He was full. Those clients stayed with him for 5 years.
One simple email from a client to just 12 people had filled his diary. No need to revisit his website, brochure and telemarketing plans.
Read this article which drills down into the detail of making this happen: How To Trigger Recommendations
Tip: Ask Your Clients To Share Your Stories
Not everyone will. But it’s worth asking just in case they do share it with the right people.
What Does This Mean For You?
As you can imagine, I’ve fine-tuned the whole process. But you can benefit too. Use the guide (if you arrived here from somewhere else – you can get a copy of the guide on the right or just below the comments further down the page). Write those vital stories.
Testimonials are useful – don’t abandon them completely. But they just don’t convert sales as powerfully. You want the “recommendation” effect of a full in-depth story.
How Else Can You Harness Word Of Mouth?
Client stories are your raw material. Once you have them, you can apply them to generate enquiries, integrate them into your website, boost pay-per-click campaigns or spark an influx of referrals like in the two examples I’ve already outlined.
But it’s in the sales process where you can make a big impact. In meetings, and in written proposals. Even if your volume of enquiries were to remain the same, the percentage of people who say yes will increase.
That happened during my time in Indonesia for a publishing group and specifically for the magazine I was tasked with helping.
My back was literally against the wall. Two of the sales team had just left the company as I started. They weren’t replaced until later that year.
I introduced client stories into the sales process. Yes, it helped close more deals at the proposal stages, but it also helped in the first meetings with the client.
The team met the same number of potential clients. But even with half a team, our sales increased because more of the opportunities turned into sales.
I even attended some of Dian’s meetings to check she was following the process. And it’s simple. Hand the story to the client at the beginning of the meeting after the introductions etc. Tell them to keep it for later.
What happens is they can see the headlines in the story while you speak. They see the picture of the person behind the headline, and they perhaps glance at a sentence or two while you verbally outline the story.
All you do is paraphrase the experience.
A client’s words. Not your words. The bias removed.
That’s when Drayton Bird (who many of you know) met one of the sales team. I had invited him over to give a keynote speech at an annual dinner for one of the group companies, and that’s when he first heard about the results.
Dian almost trebled her sales within 3 months.
Hence the reason he shared the guide and we’re now working in partnership.
This was a project for the sales team at one of the group’s magazine titles. We were compensating for being 50% down in terms of numbers. But the dramatic increase in sales conversions meant we ended the year 35% up.
Have a listen to what she said.
That decided it for me. When I returned to the UK, I turned word of mouth into a full time career and business.
Can I help you?
Yes you can do it for yourself. But you may find that clients open up much more to a third party like me. That’s been my experience.
Clients don’t always reveal to you directly just how well you performed. But when they speak to a writer, engaged to produce the story of your experiences together, they buy-in to the purpose so much more.
They think more deeply about the impact you had and then spill the beans. They want a good story too.
The result is a story that you can use repeatedly to boost your sales.
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