Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Word of Mouth: Generating referrals

The subject of media, media relations or publicity often gets the lion’s share of the attention in PR, but in the end, public relations is about building relationships. And the most fundamental level on which relationship-building dynamics are at play is the word-of-mouth referral.

While organizations of all sizes rely on word-of-mouth to build their businesses, some are more reliant than others.  For example, a Fortune 500 company that sells soap products to millions may spend millions on advertising, but ultimately, it makes its revenue projections on whether more people are brand loyal. 

Perhaps your parents bought the same soap, and now you do.  Maybe someone at your kids’ school touted a particular soap for removing grass stains from soccer jerseys. So you give it a try. Or maybe you saw a nice review for the product online.  In each of these cases, it was a testimonial and a form of word-of-mouth referral that caused you to buy. 

Still, the same company increases sales through coupon promotions and powerful ad campaigns that go direct to consumer.

But then there are other firms, usually professional service firms, that live and die by referrals.  Lawyers, accountants, architects, doctors, hair stylists, dentists, to name a few.

I have a client I’ve helped recently build up a basic process for trying to stimulate referrals. 

The key is to recognize that your network is your sales force.  Everyone in your network is more than likely a potential source of referrals.  So what motivates someone to refer you to others?  Here’s an overly simplistic summary:

·         They like you and want to help you.
·         They like their other contacts and want to help them.
·         They feel by giving your name to someone, they are helping at least one of you (but hopefully both).
·         In the end they feel better for helping, or perhaps they feel that by helping others, they will be helped at some point.

So, how here is a quick summary of the steps involved in creating a proactive system for referrals:

1.       Identify your network and those who might give your name to others.
2.       Pay special attention to those who know you and how you work as opposed to those who simply know you as a person.  While your mother may love you, she may not be able to adequately describe how you solved a business problem for her.
3.       Reconnect with those on your list with whom you may have lost touch.
4.       Compile your network into an easy-to-use database.
5.       Get permission from people in your network to send them information from time to time.
6.       Reach out in person and through various forms of communication to stimulate referrals.
7.       Commit to an ongoing education process to inform your network of your recent activities or capabilities.
8.       Give yourself deadlines and timetables.
9.       Recognize and thank members of your network through cards, notes and appropriate gratuities should they do something that helps your business.
10.   Maintain a commitment to ongoing outreach and contact with your network.

Of course, this is just a quick summary.  If you have any other ideas or would like to discuss, just get in touch. Thanks.

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