I have worked with tons of B2B companies in many industries (utilities, telecommunications, farming, steel, trucking, environmental remediation, and more). So many of the B2B marketing attitudes in these industries is based on word-of-mouth marketing. Some guy goes way back with some other guy’s dad, and they’ve been doing business together the same way since the 70’s. Now when this topic comes up a lot of people’s minds will go to things like nepotism, the patriarchy, good ole boys, golf, whiskey, whatever. But, it’s an example of relationship marketing.
I know companies whose entire book of business is based on word-of-mouth. One of these companies doesn’t even have a website because their network is so strong. These people know who their customers – many personally – but they know who they are selling to and they know their pain points. It’s a beautiful model. The problem is that many times these companies don’t have a firm handle on who their customer is becoming or who their future customers will be.
Customers love to have a vendor that will meet their expectations. They know they can call some company to fulfill their needs and they know what to expect in terms of price, timeline, and quality. It’s great when you have that. But, we are now within one generation of every one of your customers having a smart phone and the Internet at their fingertips since they began their professional career. There are now a billion other ways for your customer to fulfill his or her need with somebody else. And, let’s keep in mind, that the mindset of many younger generations is to usurp the ways of the older generations. No matter what industry you are in, your B2B customer is becoming much more sophisticated and connected to these other options.
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. – Stephen Hawking
It doesn’t matter if your livestock farming partner is still doing business with you on a handshake, they’re using their other hand to Google cheaper feed options. It’s time to update your marketing and make sure that you are hitting all the channels, especially the digital ones.
Don’t get me wrong; word-of-mouth marketing is still some of the strongest marketing out there. A good deal of our business’ success is due to word-of-mouth. We have a strong network of cool people with good jobs at awesome companies. But, we are very fortunate. We are also getting to the point where we’ve tapped our network and are taking other tactics to bring in work. Word-of-mouth is still working for us, as former clients pass our names along and other departments at our current clients call us with projects. But, the point is, no matter who you are, it probably won’t last forever.
A huge component of the success of word-of-mouth marketing is the consistency of the quality of the product or deliverable. The truth is that companies change. They turn over. This consistency should be driven from leadership, but realistically it also comes from the people doing the work. Regardless, when people leave a company (leadership or otherwise) and new people come in, things can change. And your customer hates change.
Don’t worry, though, you’re not doomed. In fact, if you’ve had a long history of word-of-mouth marketing, you have a ton of options to keep that sweet magic rolling without too much additional cost or effort. To maximize your word-of-mouth marketing and get your marketing brought into the year 2017, try these tactics:
- To Thyself Be True – Before you start developing your word-of-mouth marketing program, make sure you know what your true competitive advantage is in the market and who your ideal customer is. This is kinda the first step in any marketing program, but in word-of-mouth its especially important.
- Leverage Trust to Build Content –One of the biggest challenges to content marketing is finding the content. In this relationship, you have tons of content at your fingertips. Ask your trusted and loved customer for a testimonial that you can post on social media or the website. Or better yet, ask them to sit through a detailed interview so you can write a full-blown case study. Potential customers love the opportunity to see how your solution worked for someone else in the real world. Remember the “problem, solution, impact” format when writing your case study.
- Do More With that Content – Now that you have some content, it’s time to build a content marketing program. Hopefully, your company has a website. Flesh that baby out with some case studies, interviews with clients, and more. Build a social program, email newsletter, or even a print newsletter to help get that content out to your customer lists. Run some LinkedIn ads, write some LinkedIn articles, get your business noticed in the world of other businesses.
- Develop a Referral Program – Keep that sweet word-of-mouth juice flowing by encouraging more of it. I read a study by UNC’s Center for Integrated Marketing and Sales that said, “Customers acquired through referrals are more likely to be more valuable to the firm over time than customers acquired through traditional marketing channels. Referred clients tend to be more satisfied, buy more and stay longer with the company.” Get that long-term value, kid. You just have to make sure your product and referral offer are good enough to make someone stick his or her neck out for you. These people are your brand advocates – reward their loyalty and maybe they’ll reward you back.
- Build Your Digital Network – Most people think of word-of-mouth marketing as a physical contact or a phone call. In this day and age, it can include digital touches as well. According to Business2Community, 80% of social media B2B leads come from LinkedIn. A pretty impressive number. Not to mention, LinkedIn has some pretty snazzy ways to target your audience by job title, function, industry, etc. Make a good profile, write a few articles sharing your expertise, grow your network, ask to be introduced to people through your connections, you’ll be surprised how receptive and helpful people on LinkedIn can be. After all, isn’t that why we all use it? You might want to explore other channels like Twitter and Facebook – depending on what your company does and who they do it for.
- Get More Involved – Are you providing service to a specific department at one customer? Ask them to spread the love. Can they refer you to another department head or can you talk their boss? A lot of times, people are hesitant to let the rest of their organization find their secret to success (that’s you, pal), so this one can be difficult to maneuver. But, if you can find someone willing to pass you along, it’s a lot easier to sell to other arms of the same organization (depending on what you do). You’re already a trusted vendor, you’re in the system, you understand the process.
- Evaluate Your Customer’s Journey (This is the big one. If you’re not doing it, do it.) – People don’t talk about an average customer experience they’ve had. They gush about awesome customer experiences they have had. You need to elate your customers by understanding their journey, and then enhancing it. Invest in some customer journey mapping – what is their experience like from end-to-end, find gaps and holes, fill them in, improve. What can your company do to go the extra mile and incent customers to post reviews online, recommend your company to a colleague, or make social posts praising your service?
If you have other ideas, please share them! This is always a tricky topic, but one that pays huge dividends if you can figure out how to maneuver it. May the mouths spreading the word of your businesses never go silent. And if they do, I told you so.