The best way to grow ANY company if for your customers to do that growing for you, and the most reliable way to make that happen is for your customers to tell your story to others.
Your customers can become volunteer marketers. They can become your most effective sales force.
But you need to give them a story to tell. You need a Talk Trigger: a strategic, operational differentiator designed to create customer conversations.
This was the thesis of my keynote presentation at the recent ABM Revealed Virtual Summit, an on-demand symposium produced by the ABM Leadership Alliance.
Research shows that approximately 50% of all purchases are influenced by word of mouth. But in B2B, 91% of every sale is influenced by word of mouth in some way. This is partially because the stakes are higher: the “penalty” for making a poor buying decision for a software package is quite a bit higher than the downside of making an inadequate choice of flip flops.
Further, many B2B purchases have multiple shepherds and stakeholders in an organization, and the word of mouth of any/all of them can have an impact. (incidentally, this is one of the key, but nearly never discussed, byproducts of a strong ABM program: subsequent word of mouth lift)
Why are many of the best examples of word of mouth initiatives from consumer-facing companies? Three reasons. First, B2B companies are inherently more conservative. Often, it seems like they’ve taken a vow to be as down-the-middle and vanilla as possible. But it’s amazing how much chatter you can create when you just step outside the box a little.
Second, many B2B marketers eschew B2C concepts and tactics, believing them to be inapplicable or irrelevant in some way. To me, this is the dead giveaway of an immature marketing mind. EVERY customer in B2B is a B2C consumer first, and foremost. What happens in B2C – and the consequent customer expectations and attitudes – seeps over into B2B, whether marketers choose to acknowledge or embrace it, or not. (this is one of the reasons I’m so bullish on ABM as a discipline: done well the personalization and relevancy inherent in the approach mimics the best B2C marketing)
Third, B2B believes that competency will create conversations. The slavish devotion to “best practices” and mimicry of “category leaders” has the effect of squashing innovation and dynamic solutions to communications challenges. As a consultant for nearly 30 years that works with many of the world’s largest B2B companies, I can tell you that in my experience most B2B companies focus on execution far more than on narrative, and storytelling.
And that’s not necessarily a mistake. You simply MUST run a competent organization: it’s what keeps customers coming back, and repeat business is the lifeblood of any B2B outfit. But we have to understand that competency – while important – does NOT create conversation. Customers don’t spread the word about solid blocking and tackling. Why? Because they EXPECT that. It’s what they signed on for at the outset.
As human beings, we are wired biologically to notice things that are different and ignore things that are the same. That pattern recognition capacity was initially developed as a self-preservation mechanism: it’s why we can quickly identify a saber-toothed tiger standing in a line of trees. Today our surroundings are mostly devoid of tigers, or other existential threats. Yet, we still notice outliers all the same.
And THIS is what your B2B company must embrace if it wants to catapult its growth: do something customers notice and discuss.
Consider Superior Glove, one of my consulting clients based outside of Toronto. They make high quality work gloves in a dizzying array of styles. Their customers are other businesses: factories, oil companies, construction firms, et al. The safety manager is usually the key buyer, but there are other influencers.
Superior Glove competes against other B2B manufacturers from Asia that have fewer styles, lower quality, and a lower price. Superior Glove needs to not just make a good product – they already do that – but they need to create conversations about their products inside and outside of the companies they serve.
They need PROACTIVE word of mouth, which we define at Convince & Convert as:
When your customer introduces or inserts your product or service into a topically unrelated offline conversation, online exchange, or similar.
You want the customers to be compelled to tell the story!
This is different than REACTIVE word of mouth:
When your customer mentions your product or service when prompted, in the midst of an offline conversation, online exchange, or similar.
Reactive word of mouth would be a customer posting about Superior Glove in an online forum that’s discussing glove manufacturer pros and cons.
Proactive word of mouth is the safety manager calling his counterpart at a different factory and initiating a conversation about Superior Glove.
For Superior Glove, we went through the entire word of mouth strategic planning and research process (outlined in my book, Talk Triggers) and settled on three differentiators that are currently being tested, all of which are designed to spur proactive word of mouth.
The first idea is “kid gloves.” With each shipment of Superior Gloves, the company sends a nifty pair of the exact same model, but shrunk down for kid sizes. They are SO cute. It’s like those tiny Nikes you see at Foot Locker or some such, but for child hands. Very talkable, and very Instagrammable.
Speaking of Instagram, know that approximately 50% of all word of mouth occurs offline, and the balance is online (social media, reviews sites like G2Crowd, and forums). While the volume of offline and online word of mouth is roughly equivalent, the impact of offline is slightly higher because storytelling face-to-face or via phone is typically between parties that know and trust one another. Also, follow up questions are easier to ask, leading to a more thorough telling of the tale.
The second idea Superior Glove is testing is “famous Canadian hands.” Here, they want to emphasize that the company is Canadian, and committed to quality. Thus, on every box used to ship sample gloves for consideration by customers, they insert a printed sheet that shows a pair of hands. Visiting a special URL asks the customer to guess whose hands they are from among a list of famous Canadians. Winners receive gift baskets of Canadian products.
The third idea is strategically similar, emphasizing the company’s Canadian-ness. It requires the most operational expertise but is DEFINITELY talkable. Every pair of gloves has a company logo on back. Going forward, those logos will be scratch-n-sniff. When you scratch the logo and give it a whiff, you get….maple syrup.
I want to underscore here that this is a B2B manufacturer of work gloves. This is not Disney. You think your company can’t do anything interesting with word of mouth? Think again. You can, and you should.
If you haven’t had a chance to sit in on my presentation on word of mouth and Talk Triggers as part of the ABM Revealed Virtual Summit, produced by the ABM Alliance, please do so. You’ll learn and you’ll laugh, guaranteed.
Plus, there are tons of other amazing sessions about every aspect and element of ABM, all teed up and waiting for you now. Go here to get access.
There’s a lot of noise in marketing today. Many options. Tons of channels. But fundamentally, if you can turn your customers into volunteer marketers on your behalf, every other thing you’re doing will work better, period. You just have to give them a concise, memorable story to tell. Do that, and your word of mouth strategy will pay off every day, week, month, quarter, and year regardless of what you sell, or to whom.
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