12 Ways to Increase Word-of-Mouth Referrals

The most powerful form of marketing is word-of-mouth referrals, regardless of the size of your company or marketing budget. When generating referrals, your customers become your sales force! Who better to promote your products than loyal customers? Following are 12 things you can do to develop word-of-mouth referrals for your business.

  1. Ask for referrals. The easiest way to generate referrals is also the most important. People want to help others, especially when you are good at what you do. Let your customers know that you are looking for referrals. They will be happy to oblige and some will go out of their way to help.
  2. Be specific. Provide your referral sources with a few details about your target market. If you are not specific in your request, referral sources have the entire universe to think of and will generally not be able to think of anyone. Make your referral request specific.
  3. Align with your customer’s vision. Get inside your customer’s head and align with their vision. Be a resource; understand the needs of your customers. Referrals will come when customers realize that you really do understand them and that your goal is to help, not just make money.
  4. Develop word-of-mouth marketing promotions. MCI’s “friends and family” promotion was tremendously successful and built market share for the company that has been the key to their growth. Develop a marketing promotion plan that encourages referrals and benefits your existing customers. Make the promotion worth your customer’s time by offering valuable incentives for new referrals.
  5. Promote client feedback. Ask your clients to evaluate your products and services and provide feedback on how you measure up. Share this data with current customers and new prospects. Correct the areas in which you are deficient and remove barriers to customer service.
  6. Continue self-development. Make your organization committed to constant learning. You must expand out of the box, constantly growing and developing your knowledge and abilities; otherwise, you will be left behind by the competition. Knowledge is powerful and people will come to you for expertise before they buy from you.
  7. Build a customer community. Find ways to bring customers together with other customers. This might include arranging a chat room on your company Web site or inviting customers to a company-sponsored customer event. This brings a community of customers together and stimulates word-of-mouth.
  8. Communicate your competitive advantage. Understand what sets you apart from the competition in the eyes of your customers. Communicate this message in all of your promotional activities. Be clear in delivering this message. It is the most important component of your direct marketing efforts and the reason people become loyal customers.
  9. Listen. Become known as an excellent listener. This communicates that you care about others and builds an enormous amount of trust. Customers will communicate your reputation as one who listens to others, resulting in valuable referrals.
  10. Build alliances. Determine how you can reach your target market by developing win-win alliances with other organizations. This is very common on the Internet as sites link to each other with great results. Look for organizations that currently service your target market and find ways to help each other.
  11. Learn how to network properly. Take time to learn how to network effectively. Establish a networking plan built around helping others — the key to successful networking. Read and learn more about how to network effectively and go to lunch with world-class networking professionals to ask them how they do it.
  12. Develop a Web site that people talk about. Catch people’s attention. When Web surfers come across a hot site, they typically tell others about it; it is very common to e-mail Web site links to friends. Find a way to make your site unique by adding value to your target market. This value is expressed in knowledge you can provide them to help improve their business operations or personal lives.

These are a few ways to build word-of-mouth referrals for your business. Remember, there is no quick fix in sales and marketing and no substitute for excellent customer service and valuable products and services. Take the time to strengthen your marketing efforts in these areas and watch the referrals come pouring in.

Vistage Associate Tom Wood-Young , MBA, is an Internet marketing consultant helping companies increase revenues on and off the Web.

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