I was with a group of my peers yesterday when the conversation turned to our summer travel experiences. One woman in the group had a fabulous experience with a travel agent and was raving about her skills. We were all engaged in the details of her trip and how this agent made her experience successful. She proceeded to recommend this person’s service and offered to send out her contact information to the group of us.
Whether we realize it or not, these discussions happen all the time. Whether you are looking for a local dry cleaner, thoughts on a school teacher or a recommendation on the latest books to read, we rely upon our trusted relationships to vet out new experiences. This got me thinking. There is incredible marketing power behind the daily buzz in a community. This particular community happened to be my hometown, but a community can be defined by industry, marketplace or environment, among other options. The power of word of mouth marketing is real and very much alive.
‘Word-of-mouth’ marketing can take on a life of its’ own and there are no limits to how far-reaching it can be. This holds true for both positive and negative word-of-mouth and so care must be taken in every interaction your business has with the community it serves. Anyone associated with your organization must routinely be aware of their words and actions and hold themselves to the highest of standards if they are to generate positive word-of-mouth.
Word-of-mouth referrals offer an authenticity unlike any other– candid, personal opinions. Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell an average of three people about a service s/he likes, and eleven people about a service with which s/he had a negative experience. It confirms that marketing is the responsibility of everyone involved in the business. Following are some points to keep in mind while developing a word-of-mouth campaign.
- First impressions are vital. When someone interacts with your business, you want make sure each individual has a consistent and pleasant experience. Phone manner should be enthusiastic, friendly and helpful. Follow-up on all requests and make sure calls are returned within 24 hours. Go out of your way to offer assistance.
- When talking to potential customers, ask them about their current providers. Listen to their responses, watch their body language and ask them if they have heard of your business. Look the individual in the eye and be enthusiastic about their experiences.
- Be responsive to both good and bad experiences. If someone makes a positive comment, confirm the experience with your own. If someone makes a negative comment, pleasantly gather the information, inform them how to report negative experiences and do what you can to make amends.
- Close conversations positively. At the end of an interaction about your business, make a positive statement regarding the conversation and open up an opportunity to follow-up with that person.
- Make sure to plant positive seeds to the “opinion leaders”. These are the people who are entrenched in their industries or who are viewed highly in a community. These people can serve as sources of information and influence to others in the community. Others tend to listen to this type of person because of their desire to be in the company of influential people.
Word of mouth can really boost the reputation of your business. Taking advantage of the power behind community conversations is important. Being honest and up front on a routine basis will build a consistent reputation. Always thank people for speaking highly of your business or referring you to others. Acting quickly upon negative experiences can help to stem any damage from the word of mouth machine. Routinely providing positive experiences will always translate to positive word of mouth.
September is just around the bend, and with it comes a new beginning for building business relationships. The fall is a great time to get involved with a new group or revive your activities with an existing organization. Often, industry groups get started with networking events in the fall, which then kick off a series of opportunities to build relationships over time.
I had an experience at one of these events that sparked a great business and personal relationship with a woman in the legal marketing industry, back in the 90s. It was September and I had just joined the LMA. I didn’t know a soul, but wanted to see what the group was all about. I walked into that first meeting and felt a little overwhelmed and out of place. I spotted a woman about my age checking in at the registration desk. I asked her a simple question: ”do you come to these meetings regularly?” and turns out that she was also at her first meeting. We hit it off, made an effort to have lunch routinely and attend future meetings together. The result has been a fantastic relationship both personally and professionally. We have both been involved in the LMA leadership together over the last dozen years, sharing successes and failures in our mutual career paths along the way.
An experience like this is great. Some may say it is rare. I say it is only as rare as you make it. Starting conversations and maintaining touch points over time creates long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial. Are you ready to begin conversations with new people? Here are a few sample questions you can use to jumpstart some of those conversations.
- What is your connection to this event?
- What do you do for work?
- What keeps you busy outside of work?
- What other groups are you involved in besides this one?
- What got you interested in … ?
All of these questions are leading questions that help generate further conversation. Practice a few of these before you leave for your next event. Try them out and see what kind of interesting information you can learn from the new people you meet. Keep a few notes about these conversations on the back of the business cards you collect during these conversations so that you may follow-up on the discussions. It can be fun to uncover what motivates others to join the same groups that you are involved in. Perhaps you will make a life-long friend. I can tell you it is definitely worth the effort!
Everyone needs a quick pitch and summer is a super time to develop it. No, I am not talking about baseball, nor am I referring to a sales pitch. I am talking about a very brief sentence or two that you use to introduce yourself in a casually, socially acceptable way. Summer is a great time to craft a quick pitch because then it will be ready for the busy fall business season. You can practice using it at summertime events when things are a little more relaxed. Here is a brief primer to get you started.
Quick pitches come in three forms. You should create a variation for each scenario.
- Personal pitch. Use this version anywhere you will encounter new people. Examples include BBQs, weddings, parties and other social functions in your personal lives.
- Business pitch. Use this version at events where you are there to find business opportunities. Examples include networking events, conferences, industry events or meetings.
- Firm/Company pitch. Use this version whenever someone asks you where you work. Examples include conferences, networking events or industry events.
These pitches will all be similar in content, but the delivery should reflect your environment. Regardless of that setting, it takes some thought and consideration to develop words that feel comfortable. As you write your pitches, consider the following:
- What do you want to accomplish with your pitch?
- Who do you want to deliver your quick pitch to?
- Be concise and to the point (1-2 sentences at most that takes 30-60 seconds to deliver).
- Be clear, using simple, conversational language.
- Target your audience. Update and adapt your pitch for different events.
- Sincere delivery. With quick pitches, practice makes perfect. Practice it in front of the mirror, or other people, as many times as it takes to make it flow off your tongue.
Many people bristle at first when considering quick pitches, but I urge you to keep an open mind. Be persistent in the development of your quick pitch and use it regularly to make it more conversational, and ultimately more successful. Like any skill, the more you use it, the more comfortable it will become. Take the quieter month of August to prepare yourself for September’s networking events. Think through your pitch, write it down and practice it so that you may use it!