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Making Word-of-Mouth Marketing Work for You

You can't just sit back and wait for word-of-mouth to do its thing--you need to put some effort into it.

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Word-of-mouth is often considered one of the oldest and most powerful forms of . In fact, most businesspeople understand that it works--they just don't know how it works.

Some people think word-of-mouth is something that just "happens"--like the weather--and they let it take its own course. But if you want to be successful at developing word-of-mouth for your business, you should be as organized and thoughtful about it as you are about other types of advertising and marketing. In fact, if you take this approach, eventually, you can get almost 100 percent of your business exclusively through word-of-mouth! The key to creating a successful word-of-mouth program lies in developing a formal plan for systematically meeting people and cultivating relationships with them. Here are 11 ways for you, or the salespeople who work for you, to get your own word-of-mouth marketing program off the ground.

1. Don't be a cavedweller. Get out and meet people. Start by setting a goal forthe number of appointments you'll establish with people youwish to develop networking relationships with every week.

2. Know how to ask for the referral. There are specifictechniques you can learn and develop that will help you hone yourability to ask for the referrals you want. One such technique is toask "Who do you know who...?" You would then list severaltypes of people you can help, such as someone who is new to thearea, someone recently married or someone who has just started abusiness.

3. Consciously select at least three different business ornetworking groups to join in the next three months. Thesegroups might include chambers of commerce, community service groupsand trade associations. When joining various organizations, makesure you select a well-rounded mix of business groups in which toparticipate. Try to avoid being in more than one group per category(i.e., two chambers of commerce), as this will divide yourloyalties and put you in a position where you'll be makingpromises to too many people.

4. Develop a creative incentive to encourage people to sendreferrals your way. A music store owner, for instance, sendsmusic tickets to people who refer business to him. Another exampleis the chiropractor who posts thank-yous on a bulletin board in hiswaiting area to all his patients who referred patients to him theprevious month.

5. When attending meetings and other networking events, bringthe right networking tools with you. These include: aninformative name badge, and a business card carryingcase to hold others' cards.

6. Spend time developing your networking skills. Readbooks and articles on networking, listen to tapes, and talk topeople who network well. Networking is an acquired skill.

7. When attending a business mixer, act like a host, not aguest. You are wasting your time at mixers if you stand aroundvisiting with coworkers or others you already know rather thanmeeting new contacts and introducing them around. These eventsoffer a great way to increase your visibility! If appropriate, askto be the ambassador or visitor host in the organizations to whichyou belong. As such, it will be your official duty to meet peopleand introduce them to others.

8. Invest time in developing a 60-second message about yourbusiness that explains what you do. Try to think of a" hook"--a brief, ear-catching phrase that sovividly describes what you do that people will be able to visualizeit with their eyes. For example, a travel agent uses this todescribe his services to a large audience: "Ninety percent ofall accidents happen in the home...so travel!" When youintroduce yourself to groups of people, use your memory hook.Chances are, this will help them remember you and what you do.

9. When you meet someone and exchange cards, take a fewmoments to flip the card over and jot down some information aboutthem or their business that will help you remember them and referbusiness their way. If a new contact sees you actively doingsomething that will benefit them, they are more likely to take yourneed for referrals seriously. Let them know as you are writing yournotes that you will keep them in mind if you find someone who needstheir product or services. This is a very simple, yet powerful, wayto make a great first impression that can be developed into amutually beneficial networking partnership.

10. Talk less and listen more. Remember that a goodnetworker has two ears and one mouth and uses them accordingly.

11. Connect with people outside of business meetings wheneverpossible. Drop notes, letters and articles that might be ofinterest to them in the mail. Call to check in with them or invitethem to events you may be attending that might be of interest.

You are potentially linked to a vast network beyond your own sphere. By implementing the tactics above, you will receive benefits from that network. Maximize your opportunities to cultivate networking relationships with others, and you will see just how effective word-of-mouth marketing can be!

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