Looking at the latest batch of research into the best performing B2B marketing channels, one thing is clear. Referrals and word of mouth can reap great reward. You’ll find this in BizBible’s “best performing channels in 2017”, in articles by Digital Doughnut and HubSpot, and elsewhere. And B2B referral marketing has been a top performer for years.
We see lots of growing businesses dive head first into digital marketing but neglect the more traditional referral route. A route which can pay far greater dividends.
“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO
It really is that simple. As Zuckerberg says, people rely on recommendations from friends and peers. But how do you capture that, and fold it into your overall B2B marketing mix?
1) If you do just one thing, connect
Ok, that’s not strictly true. First you need to do a stellar job. Whether it’s a product or service you’re offering, it’s got to be stand-out so that people are moved enough to talk about it. This underpins all word of mouth and B2B referral activity. (Read Marketo’s “7 Questions to Ask Before Launching a B2B Referral Program” to check you’re ready to go.)
Now you need to get connected. Consider how important LinkedIn is as a platform for your target audience (arguably the most relevant B2B social network), and other relevant forums or networks. Next, go through your address book / email contact list, wherever you store your contacts and send invites to connect with:
− Happy client contacts – particularly those from flagship brands or who have strong networks and social influence.
− Industry peers.
No need to limit this to people you’re currently dealing with. Take care to consider who from your past you’ve got good relationships with or had positive dealings with. You never know who they’re going to know and who might come knocking on their door about something that relates to your business.
As you then connect to new prospects and other contacts on LinkedIn you’re going to find 2nd and 3rd connections popping up. It can be a pretty small world, this B2B space.
Let’s also clarify who we’re talking about here? The key members of your leadership team, your sales force and other customer-facing staff. The more the better when it comes to word of mouth and referrals, as success relies greatly on having outreach.
2) Make it part of your day-to-day
Whilst this might sound incredibly basic and obvious, we regularly speak to business leaders and their sales people and find they’ve not taken a thorough approach to connecting. Where it’s not been a focus, we recommend investing time upfront in every sales person rigorously connecting with clients, prospects, partners etc. Moving forward, it becomes less resource intensive.
Book a weekly 15-minute diary slot asking your sales people to connect with new people they’ve engaged with that week, and that’s it taken care of.
From here your business is a step closer to enjoying the ripple effect that can happen through word of mouth and referrals.
3) Stay front of mind
Sharing relevant, engaging content – on LinkedIn and other relevant networks and platforms – is then one way of ensuring your business is subtly front of mind. If you’re not out there, being relevant and part of the conversation, you’re unlikely to maximise the power of referrals and word of mouth.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have generated new business directly – from contacts not previously unknown to me – on the back of some advice I shared on LinkedIn. It does work.
4) Don’t ask, don’t get
You’re now joined up to your “client champions” and other influential connections. Ready for new introductions and referrals to be thrown your way. The checkpoints now are:
− Asking for clients (and others) to think about who in their network they might be open to introducing you to. Now or at a time that works for them.
− Might they even be open to sharing a short post on social media referencing the good work you’ve done?
− Perhaps some will go as far as flicking through their address book thinking of who they could drop a short note to, mentioning your creds.
− Your true advocates might be game for receiving a call or two from prospects.
− Drop partners and suppliers a line, asking who they know they can put you in touch with – and of course, you’ll do the same in return.
Approach this in a respectful way and you’ll see things happening. Not always instantly, but this sets the wheels in motion.
How you thank them is up to you. Whether it’s a well-worded note, a lunch, something extra thrown into their next renewal… acknowledge their efforts here, as positive referrals and word of mouth are marketing gold-dust.
5) Reciprocate – because business karma says so
We’re firm believers in doing business in a genuine way. Do unto others as you’d have them do to you. The strong partnerships Marke2ing now has are built on a genuine interest in helping one another’s businesses out and doing the right thing for our customers. Similarly, we make efforts to think about the good work our clients do, and who we’re able to refer them on to.
What goes around comes around. Put good things out there and you’ll see good things come back to you.
Good people, doing good things. That’s what makes the world go round.