Does Your Business Have WOM?

From: Ameen Kamadia

I am completely at the mercy of car mechanics. I don't know the first thing about car engines, so it would be very easy for a mechanic to charge me for services I don't actually need. In fact, it has happened. After being burned more times than I want to think about, these days I rely on trusted friends who know cars to refer me to someone who will take good and ethical care of my vehicle.

Like my car care, the buyer of any kind of service must take the provider's word that they know what they are doing. Even more nervous-making, the buyer usually must pay for at least part of a service (i.e., a deposit) before it is delivered. Being invisible and intangible, services are only as good as the market's perception of them, and service businesses rely heavily on the endorsements made by satisfied customers to their friends, families, and colleagues.

Word of mouth--WOM--has been the marketing mainstay of service firms since...well, since caveman days, when Ogg did something for Erg and Erg told Yagg about it. WOM and its subset, referrals, differ from other marketing activities because they depend entirely on someone voluntarily endorsing your services to someone else.

Key word: voluntarily. This isn't something that you as a service provider have direct control over. You can ask, invite, encourage--even offer to pay them for referrals--but when it gets right down to it, the only way WOM will make a big impact on a service business's growth is if clients are so excited and thrilled about it that they proactively endorse it to their own networks.

The best strategy to maximize WOM, therefore, is to pursue activities that will create excited and thrilled clients. But not all your clients; that will simply waste resources on little or no return. Focus instead on your key clients--that 20% that Pareto's Principle says represents 80% of your revenues--and thrill them to bits. Doing this will:

Keep you "top of mind" with your best client advocates, which will prompt them to pass your name along.

  • Motivate them to include you in opportunities, events, or activities that they might otherwise have left you out of.
  • Provide you with prospects who are similar to your key clients, because people tend to connect to others like themselves.
  • Make upselling and cross-selling to your key clients much easier.

There are all kinds of ways to thrill your key clients--the only limitation is your imagination.

Here are some general suggestions that can be customized to fit your company's style and the personalities of your clients:

  • Create a VIP mailing list for key clients and send them offers that no one else is receiving.
  • Make sure your staff gives key clients priority attention at all times.
  • Refer key clients to other key clients' businesses.
  • Spotlight key clients in your newsletter by writing stories about them that relate to your own services.
  • Conduct a live event (such as an executive breakfast) that brings your key clients together to discuss shared concerns or issues.
  • Send handwritten notes or cards to key clients (and family members if appropriate) for birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations, or just to say thanks.
  • Poll your key clients from time to time to solicit their feedback and suggestions, and make sure they know you've heard them and are taking action.

There are many other ways to thrill your most important clients that will motivate them to endorse your company. Weaving several tactics into a formal program that becomes "business as usual" for you will help maximize WOM and drive lots of new prospect to your door.

Happy Originating!




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