Plenty of folks will tell you word of mouth is the supreme marketing.
And, well, they’re not wrong about how great it is.
Everyone distrusts advertising – after all, we’ve all been burned before.
Not to mention how many prospects (and, unfortunately, a few marketers) see marketing as adversarial – a battle of wits between predator and prey. I don’t agree with that take on it. If you have something that’ll make my life better, I want you to convince me to buy it.
Still, there’s no escaping it. There’s a certain transactional nature to it.
Our friends and family, though?
We might not always trust their judgement, but at least there’s no money at stake.
There are other benefits too, of course. It’s cheap, it scales beautifully and it raises the status of your offer.
(If folks are talking about it, it must be good, right?)
But there’s a key limitation with word of mouth.
It’s excellent at one thing: building brand awareness.
Think about it. You hear about a new band, a new app, a new restaurant, and you tell other people it exists and it’s awesome.
For everything else, it’s not as effective.
And part of ‘everything else’ is making sales.
Sure, sure. No one can buy from you if they don’t know you exist. And word of mouth can tell you about a sale.
But, generally, it has no call to action.
Is that a problem?
Not if your goal is to build awareness.
But what if there was a way to build awareness… that also included a call to action?
Something with all the main benefits of word of mouth, without the limitations?
That’d be a principle so powerful, you could build your entire business around it.
Get clients with no marketing
When someone wanders in off the street, you have to sell yourself.
After all, you’re not the only one who can help them. Even if you monopolise your industry… well, there are always alternatives outside your industry.
That’s why folks turn to marketing. It helps distinguish your offer from the alternatives. You might be more glamorous, more affordable, higher status or just down-right better than the rest – if so, the goal of your marketing is to make that clear.
But everyone advertises. Even when you advertise about what makes you unique, you’re still – in one sense – just part of the crowd.
Obviously, I don’t think marketing is useless. Your marketing strategy is one of your greatest assets.
The right message to the right person is irresistible.
But even better than that is a good referral.
A referral is where one of your clients tells someone they know to see you. It’s similar to word of mouth, with a crucial difference. They’re not telling this prospect that you exist. And they’re not telling them you’re awesome.
They’re recommending you to them.
Word of mouth is just information. A referral is a suggestion, a command, a call to action.
And it’s far more powerful than any sales letter. Your clients living their better lives become walking billboards. Everyone they know can see they’ve now lost weight, kicked cigarettes, overcome anxiety or whatever you’ve done for them.
And when they ask your client how, they point them to you with a simple “if you want to quit smoking, you should see my guy”.
How to turn clients into sales reps
That’s the dream, anyway.
The problem is even clients who adore you and rave about you don’t always refer people to you.
They might not bring you up with other folks.
Even if they do, they might say how good you are… without encouraging them to see you.
It’s up to you to show them how. Just as you coach them into becoming better people, you can coach them to become your referrers:
Seed the idea. In my client intake forms, I ask who referred them to me. Partly because I’m interested, but also because it puts the idea in their head. If you’re the sort of person others refer to, then they can refer their friends to you as well.
Follow up often. One of the tastier benefits to emailing so often is it keeps you at the front of their minds. The next time they meet someone with the same struggles they used to have, they’re more likely to think of you. If you’re not big on marketing, consider calling your clients every three or six months to check in. Maybe they’ll sign up for more of your services, maybe they’ll gave you frank feedback about you… and maybe they’ll remember to refer others to you. Either way, you win.
Ask for referrals. There’s no need to be shy. At the end of your work with them, be sure they feel great about all they’ve achieved. Remind them how far they’ve come. Then ask them if they’re happy to have worked with you. If they are, ask them how they’d like to help others feel as good. They’ll probably agree – everyone likes being a hero to others. Then you can simply ask them to refer people to you.
If they say no, ask for a testimonial. Not everyone will feel comfortable with that. That’s fine – since they’ve already agreed it’d be great to help others find you, you can probably get a glowing testimonial from them. A nice prize to walk away with.
Reward your referrers. Rewards don’t have to be monetary – although if you wanted to give discount vouchers or something, that could work. Just make sure you don’t violate any laws or guidelines around that (some business associations have strict rules around referrals). But there’s nothing against sending them a thank you card for each referral. Gratitude can be more motivating than gold, after all.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s plenty to get you started.
If you want more insights about Referrals – plus the other two ‘R’s that are essential to any relationship-based business – then you can check this out.