“I know a good company you could try.”
Those eight words represent word of mouth nirvana for any kind of business, but they can be particularly powerful for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Compared with much larger organizations, the average SMB may not be as well known among potential customers and prospects. They might not be able to spend as much on traditional marketing. And if the person who hears those eight words does business with the company and has a good experience, they might use them with another colleague or friend. Word of mouth is truly “viral” in that it can spread in unexpected ways that continue to drive an SMB’s long-term growth.
Unfortunately, word of mouth can also feel like a sort of happy accident. Even if it’s something an SMB owner really wants, it might seem near-impossible to persuade anyone to bring up their firm’s name without some kind of major financial incentive.
If you think about the times you’ve offered advice to a friend, family member or industry peer about a company you like, though, you’ll realize word of mouth isn’t like that. We tend to recommend companies because we deeply feel something about them that is positive and true. And much like the days when we might have talked about a great new band that no one else had heard of, there is a certain kind of “insider’s status” in spreading the details about a rising SMB through word of mouth. It reflects back on the person making the suggestion as much as it does the SMB itself.
There are actually ways to develop and coordinate a word of mouth marketing strategy. It’s just that many SMBs (and even larger organizations) fail to do so. It’s not necessarily an area that requires a lot of extra spending or other resources. The trick is to be more intentional about the entire customer journey, and ensure word of mouth marketing is a part of it.
What do you want word of mouth marketing to do? This isn’t as simple a question as it sounds. Most SMBs would probably answer, “To bring us more customers.” Okay, fine, but what does that actually look like?
Think about those eight words we used at the start of this post: “I know a good company you could try.” The person who hears that would then presumably ask about the company, make contact and ultimately buy something. That’s a great outcome, but it’s not the only one you could set a goal around. Think about some alternative versions of that sentence:
“I know the cheapest company for something like that.”
“I know the friendliest company -- you have to try them.”
“I know the best company for that kind of thing.”
All of these are killer word-of-mouth marketing examples, but they point to different kinds of outcomes. Some SMBs will want to differentiate themselves on a particular aspect of their business such as price, speed or range of items. This was hinted at in the first sentence. The second implied something about the kind of service being offered, which may be more important if you’re focused on reducing churn or turnover in your customer base and want to nurture a more loyal group of buyers. In a highly competitive market, meanwhile, you may want to look more holistically at a strategy that will encourage customers to rank you higher than anyone else.
Instead of just hoping for word of mouth in general, take the time to look at what exactly you want your customers to say about you -- then begin using tools like Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Service Cloud to create the experiences that get them talking.
Once you know what you want customers to say, it’s time to think about who might be saying it. Again, a lot of companies would probably assume word of mouth from anyone is a good idea, but that’s not always true.
In some markets, for instance, positive word of mouth from a junior associate or manager might help move the sales process along. In others, there might be a particular level of decision-maker whose good word can mean major new business. That’s why marketing effectively based on personas is so effective, and why you may want to ask or encourage those with certain titles within your customer base to act as your advocates with their peers.
Also, think about the relationships that you have with different kinds of customers and what their word of mouth might mean. A relatively new customer who spreads the word is great, but a recommendation from a customer who’s been working with you for years might carry even more weight. A larger-sized customer or one that’s considered the market leader in its industry might also be prioritized when you’re thinking about who you want to ask for a referral, testimonial or even a social media mention. These are all details you can find when you use your CRM, and then marketing automation to manage the process.
Next, look at everything through the customer’s eyes. Based on the kind of experience you’re offering, when are they most likely to feel really good about your company and file away that fact for the next time someone asks them for a recommendation?
We tend to imagine word of mouth reflects the entire customer journey, but chances are something specific will stand out. This could include the actual sales or buying aspects of the experience -- especially if the rep was very knowledgeable and customized their pitched based on CRM data. It could also include how they were treated after the sale when they went through some initial difficulties and had to circle back with a service agent or chatbot connected to Service Cloud.
A great word-of-mouth moment might also be based on the channel the customer was using. Their positive experience might not have happened in person, for example, but through a really helpful email exchange or a highly responsive service interaction via social media.
Your word-of-mouth strategy should not only map out all of these elements but establish a regular time to measure your progress. The more you pay attention to word of mouth marketing results, the more likely you’ll be able to improve them -- and achieve the kind of reputation that turns an SMB into one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies.