I recently saw an article from last summer that discussed a Verizon survey of small business owners. This survey indicated that 85% of a small business’ new customers come from word of mouth marketing. This coincided with a survey the author had done in 2005 that showed the number was nearly identical (83% in that survey).
This also jives with my (highly unscientific) polling of small business owners over the past 2 years – word of mouth is by far the #1 source of new business. In 10 years, the top method to attract new customers hasn’t changed, but the way to attract them certainly has. So, as I’ve stated in past posts, I’m always at a loss when these same businesses don’t have a strategy for doing word of mouth online.
When you rely on word of mouth marketing offline, the results take time to build. Your customers will talk with their friends about you, but generally in a specific setting – if somebody asks a question about your particular business, or a topic comes up where it makes sense for that person to mention your business. The effect can be powerful – there is no better way to make an impression than when you are physically talking to another person. But it’s also quite limiting. How many people do you think each of your customers is promoting you to?
This is the power of online – the ability to reach a much larger segment of people in less time. But of course this comes at a price: attention span. It may take a few different online posts or mentions to make an impact on a person, since the communication is not 1-1, and not immediate and personal. And this is where a funnel comes in. Not the plastic funnels found in your kitchen or garage, but a sales funnel.
Part of your sales funnel (think of it as your “new customer pipeline”) includes different “word of mouth” channels where your customers talk about you. You want to measure the effectiveness of each channel. When people are talking about you online, it’s easy for you to see that this is happening. This is not true for traditional offline word of mouth. You have no visibility and no way to track. The success is completely random and anecdotal. Generally speaking, the businesses that have more success are the ones that have more people talking about them. The same percentages apply online, and they are measurable!
Don’t simply think about one channel and put all your eggs in one basket. Consider multiple channels and put simple measures in place to gauge effectiveness. The four tips to increase word of mouth highlighted in the article are all excellent:
- Check your business in Google and Bing at least once a month.
- Conduct a regular customer survey to learn what your customers REALLY think.
- Communicate and reinforce to employees the value of raving fans.
- Create easy ways for customers to share word of mouth.
Make sure you are measuring the effectiveness and understand what percentage of the discussions about you in each channel turn into new business. Most importantly, find a channel you can rely on to get your customers talking online – this is the #1 most effective way to increase that “new customer pipeline”. This effort can help you target your most successful channels to grow even faster!