Word of mouth is the original marketing channel. Before social media, before email, before even radio ads, direct mail, or billboards, there was word of mouth.
The oldest form of marketing also ends up being the most effective. In dozens of studies, word of mouth simply crushes all other channels. If there is marketing gold, word of mouth appears to be it.
One of those studies is from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). It found that B2B marketers stand to gain even more from word of mouth than their B2C peers:
“At the low end, for fast moving consumer goods, offline word of mouth is worth five times more than a paid media impression. For higher consideration categories it’s more than 100 times more valuable.”
In another survey, also from WOMMA (and the American Marketing Association), 64% of marketing professionals said word of mouth marketing is more effective than “traditional” marketing. WOMMA isn’t the only one calling word of mouth marketing effective. Here are the results from three other studies, all done within the last year.
Implisit asked 500 of their US-based B2B clients which channel converted best. Customer and employee referrals got more than double the leads of any other channel.
BrightLocal asked over 700 small businesses what their most effective sales channel was. 28% named word of mouth as the best, higher than any other channel by nearly a third.
MarketingProfs found that small business owners (50% B2C-focused; 28% B2B; 22% mixed) said their most effective marketing strategy was word of mouth, too.
The data supporting word of mouth marketing for B2B businesses just goes on and on. The trick is, how do you get more referrals? Can you control these magic leads? Or do you just have to hope the marketing gods just send them along?
Well, it ends up you can charm the marketing gods. You can get more referrals – a lot more. But you have to ask first.
How to request referrals
You don’t want to be too pushy with word of mouth requests, but that’s actually not the mistake most businesses make. The most common mistake is never asking for referrals at all. So here are some polite, proven ways to ask for referrals without coming off as being pushy or overly promotional:
Practice, practice, practice.
There are all sorts of scripts available to help you ask for referrals. You can practice certain lines to say, or use templates for email messages. There are voicemail scripts, calls to action to put on invoices and more. But really the number one way to get good at asking for referrals… is to practice.
For many of us, the first few times we ask for a referral are going to feel stilted and cheap. This is especially true if you are not a natural born promoter. But with practice, it gets way easier. So practice asking for referrals the same way people suggest practicing your “elevator speech”. It’s just as important.
“That which is measured, improves.”
You can also use Pearson’s law to get yourself more referrals. In other words, set a referral quota. Some way, some how, make yourself ask for three, five (whatever your goal referral count is) referrals per week.
Whenever a client or customer compliments your work, ask for the referral.
Try this for a script: “Thank you. I’m glad I could help. It’s been great to work with you. If you know anyone else I might be able to help, it would be great to hear from them.”
The part about “it’s been great to work with you” seems to improve results. It’s a covert way of saying “If you know anyone else as great as you are, I’d love to meet them.” You are both complimenting your client and asking something from them in the same sentence.
Sales expert Jill Konrath has a different take on this technique. She’s actually against asking the usual “Do you know anyone who could benefit from my services?” question. Konrath thinks this can come off as too pushy and too salesy. Instead, she suggests asking, “Do you know one or two people I should meet?” This is less demanding and direct. It also seems like the ideal question to ask anyone you know at a networking event, as a way to get introduced to potential clients.
Request referrals as part of your contracts.
What if you started every new client relationship with the expectation that they would refer you to other people, provided you did a good job for them?
This can be an excellent way to get more out of price negotiations, especially when you’ve reached the limit of what a client is willing to spend. For example, instead of the extra $1,000 you wanted from the deal, stipulate that you want three referrals, provided you can meet certain benchmarks.
Make more referrals yourself.
Give and you shall receive. It works beautifully with referrals, too. This is often the easiest and most authentic way to get comfortable with asking for referrals. Try giving other people referrals. After you’ve recommended a few of your favorite businesses or professionals to others, asking for a few referrals for yourself seems easier.
How to facilitate word-of-mouth marketing
So you’ve made the ask, and your client or customer seemed warm to the idea of sending more business your way. Is that it? No. Here are a few more things to check to make sure your referral engine is all tuned up:
Make sure people can find you.
This is super important, and often overlooked. Here are all the channels people might try to reach out to you through:
- The phone book. Yes, people do still use phone books. The paper kind as well as the online directories.
- The phone. Are you answering every call within three rings, no matter who’s at lunch? Is the person answering the phone knowledgeable and helpful?
- Your website. Is your website up to date and useful enough to let a referred client or customer feel like it’s worth taking the next step with you? Is there a working contact form? Does your website load fast enough for people to not give up on it? Is it optimized for mobile? This will get you referrals faster.
- Local searches. Does your business show up in an online search or in mobile searches? Is it listed in local business directories? Could someone find you if they did a voice search via their phone?
When a new client or customer makes an inquiry, ask if someone referred them.
You can also include this as one of the fields on your contact form. Experiment with which language works best to encourage people to reveal this information.
Leverage social media to encourage your followers, customers and clients to share your information and your content.
Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Dozens of companies spun that promotion to support the cause and hook into all the media coverage about it. It’s a great example of how to use a wider trend to both promote your company and to get it talked about. (But be authentic. If you come off like you’re hopping onto a happening for your own reasons alone, you’ll look untrustworthy.)
Reach out to influencers in your industry.
Influencer marketing is getting a lot of attention right now. It’s basically word of mouth marketing made new. Companies reach out to influencers in order to leverage word of mouth through someone who can shape the opinions and beliefs of an unusually large group of people.
So what exactly can you do when you “reach out to influencers”? Here are a few ideas:
- Ask or pay influencers to guest post on your blog
- Ask or pay influencers to come to your in-person events
- Ask or pay influencers to do a webinar with your company
- Interview an influencer and share the discussion in a blog post and/or video
- Partner with an influencer to create a piece of content or to do some industry research
- Sponsor an influencer’s podcast, email newsletter, or other content
You get the idea. There are plenty of ways to gain access to influencers, their networks, and their powerful word of mouth marketing.
Use case studies.
Customer success stories are cousins to word of mouth marketing. Engaging customer stories (especially if they’re done in multiple formats, like videos and text) can fuel viral sharing and personal recommendations.
If case studies are cousins to word of mouth, so is storytelling. When people tell others about your company, they are telling their own story of how your company helped them.
Here are a few more ideas for your word of mouth marketing, rated according to how successful other marketers have found them to be:
Are you using word of mouth in your B2B business? If you aren’t, what’s holding you back? Tell us about it in the comments.
Once you’ve landed that prospect through word-of-mouth marketing, you can use marketing automation to close the deal.