Whenever I talk to business owners about how they are growing their businesses, four out of five quickly respond “word of mouth”. If you have read any of the latest marketing books, especially those targeted towards start-ups and small businesses with tight (or no) marketing budget, they all jump on the word of mouth bandwagon, but often without going into enough detail to help make it really work.
At the seminars and workshops I teach, I often ask a follow-up question, something like “how many referrals do you get a week”, or “who is your best referral source”. Too many business owners don’t know the answer to these questions, and that is why their businesses aren’t growing fast enough.
When helping business owners to grow via referrals, we have to look at the dozens of different referral/word of mouth strategies and choose the ones that make the most sense for them. Here are my Top 3 favorite referral strategies, in no particular order.
The Personal Ask Strategy
– This referral strategy is the simplest, yet many owners are afraid to use it. It involves directly asking your clients/patients for referrals when you complete your interaction with them. I teach my clients to look their client in the eye and simply ask them to refer their friends and colleagues, because you are trying to grow your business through referrals and you want to fill it with people just like them! Hand them two business cards at the same time and watch the magic start to happen.
– This strategy requires you to have a system to track your referrals (you should have this for every marketing strategy you use), so that you can thank the referrer for sending you a new client. There are multiple ways to thank people for referrals, and they all work. You can send a hand-written thank you note, a gift card, a credit on their account, etc… People often refer once to test if you care enough to thank them – when you do, they send the rest of their family and friends. Be sure to tell your clients if you plan to use tangible rewards as an incentive – incentives don’t work if you don’t tell anyone.
– This strategy again actually requires you to communicate with your customers. When a client has a great experience, and goes out of their way to thank you or a member of your team, ask them if you can use their experience as a testimonial about your business in your marketing. I have never been declined when I ask. In the current digital age, you can collect testimonials in many ways – email, social media, video, or in person. Always ask for permission to use the testimonial in your marketing, particularly if you want to use their name (which makes the words much more powerful). Testimonials should be on your website, your Facebook page, and in your brag sheet that you use to market your goods and services.
Here are two other critical things to think about when planning the implementation of your referral strategies. First, you must track where your new customers are coming from, which means you have to train your team to always ask and then to record the answer in your customer tracking system. Second, when asking for referrals, focus on your A and B customers – the ones that you really like, that are a great fit for your business. You want more customers like them, and people tend to work with and know more people just like themselves.
In order to make word of mouth marketing work – and it does work – you need to be organized, have a system, and consistently follow through on any promises you make to your customers in return for their recommendations.