If your company’s hiring manager sees that you’re a LinkedIn connection with a candidate they’re considering, they’ll probably reach out and ask what you think about that candidate. Your feedback is an example of word-of-mouth marketing.
Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) is one of the oldest marketing methods. It predates traditional marketing and sales. WOM even predates currencies: when people bartered for goods and services, they would rely on information from their acquaintances to assign value.
With all the new technologies marketers can leverage, WOM has fallen to the wayside. But, it hasn’t become any less important. WOM has evolved. Instead of asking their neighbor for a recommendation, buyers now engage with WOM by asking questions in industry-related social media groups or combing through reviews left by strangers they can identify with.
Consumers have so many choices regardless of what vertical we’re shopping in. It’s hard to judge what will be the best product or service for our needs based on marketing materials alone.
WOM gives companies that competitive edge. You could have a similar website, product and marketing materials to your competitors, but if you can say that someone else in a prospect’s network uses your product — that can make the sale.
Especially in B2B where purchases are so high-stakes, the WOM element plays a major role. Sourcing reinforcement from people they identify with can solidify buyers’ beliefs that they’re making the right decision and help them bring other key stakeholders on board too.
However, not all WOM is equal. It’s most effective when it’s coming from people who are similar to the buyer.
For example, if you’re looking through clothing reviews, you’re going to pay the most attention to reviews from people who are a similar weight and height as you. Even though you don’t know them personally, you’re still identifying with someone who resembles you and sourcing their opinion to influence your purchasing decision.
Just like a clothing shopper gives the most credence to reviews from people of a similar size, B2B buyers will trust feedback from people within their same role or industry more.
It’s important to source WOM content from across all the verticals your company serves. Even though all your customers might have purchased the same product or service, the way someone in the medical industry uses it likely differs from its use by someone in finance.
Types of Word-of-Mouth Marketing
If you work hard to show you care about your customers as people, not just as potential sources of revenue, and constantly deliver an 11-star experience, they’ll take it upon themselves to share positive buzz for your company.
Creating that positive experience goes beyond just providing a quality product or service. You have to really focus on customer success in order to create brand evangelists.
If you’re not at that point yet, you can also incentivize people to talk about your company. For example, you could offer gift cards in exchange for reviews or send swag packs to people so they’ll post about you on social media.
If you’re working to spur WOM, make sure you’re not bribing. A $5 gift card might be enough to get someone to leave feedback about your company, but it won’t make them feel like they need to misrepresent their experience. However, if you’re offering a $200 gift card for a review, someone who had a poor experience might decide that’s worth leaving a review for but also feel pressured to leave a positive review. The incentive needs to match your ask in order for you to receive constructive feedback.
Reviews and Testimonials
Feedback on review sites and testimonials on your own site can act as trustmarks for your company. They show that real people have found success using your company’s product or service and can be used as sales enablement content to help convert prospects.
Getting a prospect on the phone with a happy customer can be really effective and provide prospects with peace of mind about your company’s ability to deliver on its promises.
Prospects know that sales reps are trying to close deals, but your customer doesn’t work for your company and can provide a more non-partisan opinion.
Whether people are choosing to talk about you independently or your company is catalyzing conversations, social media is an important form of social proof that can help you generate demand and build brand equity.
When you’re buying a B2C product like clothing and you see a carousel of images from Instagram of people wearing that item, it builds your confidence in the product because you’re seeing it being used right there.
B2B can’t use social WOM in exactly the same way — people don’t really post pics of themselves using SaaS products on Instagram — but you can still leverage the things your customers say about your company on social media for social proof.
For example, the conversational marketing company Drift has a whole page on their website devoted to showing off the positive tweets they’ve received.
The best form of WOM for your company would be for an existing customer to bring up your business while networking at an event and then bring the person they were talking to over to your booth. That spontaneous in-person conversation is the most authentic and therefore the most credible form of marketing your company can receive.
The Pros and Cons of Word-of-Mouth Marketing
While WOM is one of the most effective ways to build your company’s brand, its authentic nature can also be detrimental to your company. You can’t control what other people are saying about you and you can’t force people to say positive things.
People can leave negative reviews, but that’s just a risk you have to be willing to take. Instead of lashing out, reply with decorum and use those negative pieces of feedback as an opportunity to build a strong relationship with your prospect base.
By responding in a respectful way and taking steps to correct whatever went wrong, you can actually build brand equity because you’re publicly demonstrating that you’ll work to help your customers when things go wrong.
Having only good reviews can seem suspicious. Instead of trying to completely sweep all negatives under the rug, embrace the criticism to improve your product or service and build trust.
If you’re browsing reviews it can be comforting to see a user who had a bad experience receiving a prompt and helpful answer from the company. You know that if you become a customer and something goes wrong, you’ll be treated the same way.
Also, keep in mind that different customers will have different uses for your product or service. One-person’s one-star review might be a five-star review for someone else if they need different functionality from your solution. Relevance matters more than the numerical ratings. If you only have 5-star reviews but none of them are from a certain segment of your customer base, a prospect from that field might think “no one else in my position seems to be using this, so why should I?”
WOM hasn’t become less important, but the way it can be used has changed with all of the new technologies marketers have gained. You should try and incorporate WOM into as many marketing tactics as you can because it’ll resonate with your prospects more strongly than any messaging that comes directly from your company.
At the end of the day, people are still people, even when they’re making purchases on behalf of companies. Humanizing the sales process will build their trust in your company, and hearing feedback from a peer who uses your product or service can cement their decision to purchase from you.
Amanda is a former New Breeder.
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