Build Word of Mouth Buzz

In the service industry, word of mouth "buzz" is one aspect of marketing that draws clients like no other. Of course, you can't buy word of mouth buzz, but you can encourage it.

SÍDEBAR

In the offline world, how do you hire a new (new to you, anyway) service seller? You really have only two options...

1) Open the Yellow Pages, close your eyes, and pick blindly from the presented ads. Or.

2) Phone a trusted friend and ask who they recommend.

We all know Option 2 is by far the best, and most widely used, method!

So how do you get word-of-mouth? First piece of advice, don't bother with those "recommend-a-friend" scripts. Less than one visitor in a thousand fills them in. There's a far simpler way to get "word of mouth"...

OVERdeliver with your service, your Web site's content, and with your referrals to partners. That's it.

Want an example? Let's say you're a horticulturalist with a passion for cacti. You develop a wonderful Theme-Based Content Site about succulent plants (i.e., cactus, euphorbia, etc.), that focuses on...

• PREselling your service (horticulturalist)

• Delivering great content (You have terrific pages about all the tricks you have developed for propagating them, tips for keeping them healthy and happy, and instructions on how to integrate them into a garden setting).

• Providing additional value to visitors by linking to the appropriate books on the subject, as well as quality green houses, etc., etc.

Other aficionados find that page at the engines. Do you think they will tell friends, or forums, or cactus associations about this terrific info? Sure they will.

And do you think one of these visitors will pick up the phone and inquire about your service? Of course she will!

Just one more huge benefit of OVERdelivering!

But "buzz marketing" is at its best offline, where people refer their friends/colleagues/customers/etc. to you by direct, offline, word-of-mouth (of course, they can now send them to your Web site to "check you out" first).

If you want to leverage your profits, as well as reduce the frustration of money and time wasted on not-so-profitable marketing techniques (such as cold calling or banner ads), then referral marketing is worth your consideration as a "buzz" strategy. Referral marketing sets in motion a...

"this-is-the-person-you-should-get-to-do-the-job-visit-his-site" type of buzz...

... that creates a steady stream of prospects and clients to your Web doorstep.

Referral-generated visitors tend to readily follow "leads" or recommendations made by people they know and trust. In their minds, a good chunk of the "screening" process has already been done for them. If their relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues or anyone else that they highly respect like you, then you must be suitable and trust-worthy. As a result, most will arrive at your site less guarded, sporting a more "open-to-hire" attitude than a visitor who finds you by her own means.

Generating referrals does not, however, mean walking up to personal contacts, present clients or other non-competing service sellers and asking...

"Do you have anyone to recommend to me?"

"Know someone who could use my service?"

These types of questions are not effective. Some people may consider them impolite/intrusive. As well, the questions are too general in nature. They give no indication of your ideal target group -- those potential clients who need or want your service.

Instead, you must "set the stage" for referrals...

• Be passionate -- Show your excitement about what you do

• Provide an excellent service

• Build a Web site that PREsells effectively -- one that is benefit-focused and inspires trust

• Position your business as being different from your competitors -- remember our earlier discussion on creating and using a VPP?

• Become "people"-oriented. If you show an interest in them, people will respond with an interest in you.

And now on to more specific details about your relationship with these "buzz-creators" (i.e., those people who will actively refer or recruit people for your service)...

• Educate -- Highlight clearly, and in relevant terms, the benefits of your service. Answer the "what's-in-it-for- me" question in your visitor's mind. Show it by your words and actions that she owes it to her family, friends and associates to refer them to you instead of your competition because you offer a better and more valuable service.

• Promise -- Promise that you will be professional and treat all referrals with respect. She can trust you not to tarnish her reputation. Assure her that even if her referrals do not hire you, you will add value anyway by educating them on what they should be looking for, and what to avoid, in a particular service.

• Offer a gift of appreciation -- Say "thank you" with freebies, discounts, gift certificates, etc. to people who introduce you to others.

• Keep the connection -- Check in every once in awhile to see how your supporters are doing. Develop a genuine relationship that is based on mutual interest. Send them articles, tips, and information that they can use for their businesses and/or hobbies.

• Report -- Report to the person who provided the referrals, and give her a progress report. She'll want to know what happened. She may also help "seal the deal" for you behind-the-scene.

Bottom line?

Be assertive and proactive. Once you build a trust relationship with someone, don't be shy. Ask for referrals. Try to use creative "outside the box" techniques like the two service sellers below...

Example #1 -- Once a month, Jack Smith, who owns a landscaping company, mails out monthly bills to his 300 clients. Each envelope includes a business reply card with a few short survey questions written on it. The survey asks various customer satisfaction questions and it provides a space to write down a friend, family member, or neighbor who needs a reliable and conscientious landscaping service.

Result? For the minimal extra cost of printing business reply cards, Jack receives 1 or 2 leads per month. Most of the leads convert into new clients, each one worth more than $3000 in extra revenue per year. A great ROI (Return on Investment) for Jack just for printing up some cards, wouldn't you agree?

Example #2 -- Jennifer Hunt, an esthetician, decided to leave the "employee ranks" and become the boss of her own business. She placed ads in her local newspaper that said, "Free Facials, Limited Number." The ad brought a large number of women (and some men) into her new shop who couldn't resist getting a free facial. A sizable percentage of these "freebie seekers" bought the "Create a Memorable Face" Program that included 6 facials at a 33% reduced price.

Four referral cards offering the "Free Facial" gift were included with each program package that was sold. The name of the client was written on the back of each referral card and she (or he) was encouraged to give them away to friends and family. When someone redeemed a free facial offer and then purchased the special 6-facial program, the person who made the referral received a credit for a free facial. A great incentive to get the word out about Jennifer!

Results? 50% of the people who responded to the newspaper ad bought at least $100 worth of skin care products and services. Referral marketing quickly "jump started" Jennifer's business by creating a buzz about her service.

Let's look at referral marketing from the perspective of local service sellers using the Net in conjunction with offline partners. Consider this scenario...

As a general contractor, you refer all your clients who require electrical work to XYZ Electrical Contractors. Likewise, any clients of XYZ Electrical Contractors who require general contracting work are referred back to you. You can

accomplish the same exchange on the Net -- add a simple link to your partner's site and/or include a personal recommendation on your Web site.

This relationship, as you can well imagine, can expand significantly to include partnerships with bricklayers, plumbers, back-hoe services, roofers, landscapers and so on.

Global service sellers can do the same thing...

As an advertising consultant, you refer all graphic design work required for any advertising campaigns developed through your service to XYZ Graphic Design Inc. Likewise, any clients of XYZ Graphic Design Inc. who require advertising work are referred to your firm.

Incidentally, the partnership doesn't need to end there. XYZ Graphic Design Inc. recommends ABC Printing, which in turn reciprocates and recommends your advertising consulting business.

With a little creativity, offline strategic partnerships can be cultivated and nourished online.

StDEBAR

It's beyond the scope of this course to discuss offline marketing methods for your service-selling business. But it goes without saying that you simply must include your RR URL in all offline marketing materials... business cards, stationery, radio ads, newspapers, local bulletin boards at your community hall... whatever and wherever!

Even a local business can have a global reach on the Web.

How do local and global service sellers build a referral marketing campaign with Net-based partners with whom they have had no previous relationships?

The most common method of referral marketing online is affiliate marketing. Here the merchant pays a commission for any sales resulting from a recommendation from his partner's sites.

This method of referral marketing is exceptionally powerful, but it is not well suited for most service sellers (i.e., where you are the merchant, not the affiliate). Why? A couple of reasons...

1) The nature and cost of most services predispose clients to make personal contact with the service seller first - in order get more details and then, if everything checks out, to order your service. Unless you're offering a low cost service that does not require much risk on the part of the client, they will not order your service via an online form.

As a result, it's virtually impossible to construct a foolproof tracking system that ensures all affiliates are paid fairly for their efforts.

2) Because it can take time before a visitor trusts and respects the credibility of an unknown service seller enough to hire him, it's likely most affiliates will lose patience and promote products with short turn-around periods instead.

So using an affiliate program to sell your service isn't very do-able. But there is a feasible alternative...

Write your own e-book, and build up a stable of partners to promote it! Let's say you are, once again, an advertising consultant (you sure are a multi-faceted individual!) and you set up an affiliate program to PREsell your e-book, titled "Effective Small Business Advertising."

What are the benefits of developing an affiliate program where you pay a commission for every book sale generated by your "PREsellers"? Your own affiliate program...

• emphasizes your credibility, and further establishes you as the small business advertising authority.

• effectively PREsells your much more intensive (and expensive) consulting service.

• gets others on the Net spreading the word about your e-book (and consequently your service and your Web site) because it is a relatively simple matter to track and pay commissions for e-book sales.

Last, but certainly not least, it provides you with yet another potentially significant income stream.

Building word-of-mouth buzz is a secondary traffic-building technique. Depending on your situation, some of the strategies outlined here will work very well for you. Others will not.

Either way, wait to investigate secondary strategies until after your business has a solid foundation of quality content. In other words, until you have at least 50 quality content pages, your efforts are better utilized by focusing upon.

. and building traffic from the major Search Engines. As far as "bang for the buck" goes, this approach yields a far better Return On Investment (ROI) for your time.

Want an example? Let's say that you have a wonderful Theme-Based Content Site about succulent plants (i.e., cactus, euphorbia, etc.). You have a terrific page about all the tricks you have developed for propagating them.

Other aficionados find that page at the engines. Do you think they'll tell friends, or forums, or cactus associations, about this terrific info? Sure they will. Just one more huge benefit of OVERdelivering! But one big warning.

Average content = near-zero word-of-mouth. After all, have you ever been excited by "average?"

Great content is the only way to go!

SiDEBAR

Many Webmasters don't bother with any word-of-mouth strategies, short of this one. That's because creating great content is not only the best way to build buzz, it's also the most efficient and yields the best ROI.

When the time is right, use the following techniques to seed word-of-mouth buzz, to sell your own product or professional service.

• write articles for e-zines or article distribution sites

• make posts in forums, discussion groups, mailing lists, newsgroups (depending on your niche and situation, these can be fairly effective. or totally useless)

SiDEBAR

Forum postings can also be helpful for building up your site's link popularity somewhat, provided the forum is closely related in topic to your site.

A word of caution. Even the best forum posts won't generate traffic like a properly optimized content page. Forum posts will yield a short-term blip of traffic until your post cycles off the main page of the discussion.

On the other hand, properly optimized KFCPs deliver traffic 24/7, 365 days a year. A forum post has a relatively short lifespan in comparison.

• publish your own blog (i.e., a Web log/diary) or e-zine (see DAY 9)

• use a signature file (i.e., contact information, including your URL and preferably your VPP) in your daily e-mail correspondence.

Veronica Miller Landscape Designer

"And oasis of beauty in every backyard" [contact info here]

Depending on your circumstances, some or all of the above techniques could effectively increase your word of mouth buzz.

Circumstance 1) Your site covers a topic already well-addressed by a zillion other sites, so it is much harder to stand out from the crowd and make an impression with your visitors.

Circumstance 2) Your site has over 50 pages. There must be substance.

Circumstance 3) Your content is of outstanding value to targeted visitors.

If all three circumstances are present, then investigating "word-of-mouth" strategies makes sense. There's no point in making a post or writing an article otherwise.

Now, before you proceed to DAY 8, please complete your DAY 7 Goal-of-the-DAY, and take note of your Ongoing Goal...

Ongoing Goal... Create more relevant, quality content. Build a solid links program. Be patient and trust the process.

OK, this big picture and preview on traffic-building sets the stage for DAYS 8 and 9. Let's keep on going.

Then, we'll turn you loose on the world, armed with all the knowledge and tools that you need to become a Service Selling Master!

Next step? Paid Search Engine traffic.

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