Are your customers and employees your best sales force?

Recently, the husband of one of my best friends (CEO at his company) asked me: “what is the value of word of mouth, and why should I care?” He explained that he was asking because his marketing team continues to ‘pester’ him about adding it as part of their communications mix.

Rather than review the stats that 90% of people will make purchase decisions because of the recommendations of friends or family – or even more powerful, that 70% of people will trust a stranger or online reviews over the brand message (Source: The Nielsen Company)  – I decided to turn the tables and ask him some questions.

As someone who is passionate about the goodness of word of mouth for any organization, I could not help feeling like this question was served to me on a ‘silver platter’! I simply asked him: what led you to purchase your new car? Of course he asked what that had to do with the conversation – but I asked him to stick with me. His response was: ‘One of the guys at work had one – he loves it and talks about constantly. So I decided to check it out.’ (Of course I wanted to say…..ta dah, that’s word of mouth!)  I followed that up with:  ‘after the test drive did you do any research?’ He responded:  ‘of course! I wasn’t going to buy the car just based on my employee’s experience. I went online to consumer reports to do a little research.’ (At this point, I am tempted to say ‘ah ha’ case closed, however I feel compelled to press on).

So I asked him one final question:  ‘how did you choose the new accounting software for your business?’  At this point he’s a little irritated with me and slowly responds:  ‘I don’t know why you need to know this.’ Nevertheless he responded:  ‘I was not fond of the sales rep or his pitch. However, I knew some colleagues in the industry who had upgraded to this software and were very happy with it. We are in a niche business so I wanted to make sure the package we chose was right for our business.  Oh, and I did a Google search to see what the consensus was from other businesses and CFOs actually using the system to get their feedback and reviews.  All of the info I could find was positive so we moved forward with the software.

At this point he said to: ‘are you ever going to answer my question or are we going to catalog my major purchases over the last few months?’ (Can you say cranky?) I smiled and responded:  ‘I think we have enough data to move on.’ With a puzzled look he leaned in to see where we were going next.

Now, having his attention, I responded:  ‘you have made two very large purchases over the last six weeks, personal and for business. And in both cases word of mouth has played a significant role.  And in both situations, you relied and trusted the experiences/reviews of friends, colleagues and strangers. In the instance of the new software package, you heavily relied on the reviews of strangers and colleagues.’

At this point – I fought the urge to pause for effect…. So I continued:  ‘John, this is the power of word of mouth. It is Word of Mouth that not only influenced your purchases but also gave you the confidence to move forward.

‘This is why you need to embrace word of mouth and why your marketing team wants to incorporate word of mouth into your marketing mix. As you are in a service industry, this approach could be very powerful. I am absolutely sure that you have customers that are very pleased with your services – this is why your marketing staff so wants to build a strategy that equips your customers to become evangelists for your business. And as you relied on strangers and friends to make your purchases, so is your target market.”

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful communications tools (especially in this age of social networking – the average Facebook user has 260 friends) and should be considered an integral part of any brand’s marketing/communications strategy. It can extend your reach, spread quickly, and provide real results. Are you equipping your employees, customers and friends to be your evangelists? If not you could be missing out on a real opportunity to extend your influence and grow your business!

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