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How to think about word-of-mouth in B2B

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It remains a persistent misconception that word-of-mouth is less relevant for the B2B market. Actually, quite the opposite is true. The fact that referrals can drive business, is not necessarily a shocking new truth. But exactly how much it can impact your business cannot be stressed enough. 

As the online world is overcrowded, where everyone is vying for a top place and competition is global, it is nearly impossible to find what you want: difficult to find suppliers, even harder to find the suppliers you want. Word-of-mouth is a powerful distinguishing mechanism. According to a survey by Forrester Research, 84% of B2B buyers said word of mouth (WOM) recommendations influence their purchase decisions. That makes WOM the No. 1 influence on B2B purchasers! 

This, amongst others, has led a number of experts to identify word of mouth marketing and referral based marketing as the new way to win business. Still, most companies don't get it right. So, how do you get those much sought-after recommendations?

FIRST, DON'T TRY TO TAKE A SHORTCUT

Wanting to grow their reach, companies often try to take the easy route, for example, by focussing on referral programs exclusively. Don't get me wrong, it is certainly worth thinking about ways to stimulate clients to recommend you to others. However, starting off by pouring all your resources into savvy referral programs, means you're getting ahead of yourself and are trying to take a shortcut. 

In fact, thoughtlessly setting out a sweeping word-of-mouth marketing campaign can hurt your company. What if your clients are actually very dissatisfied? You asking them to refer your company, might come to turn against you as the poison of their dissatisfaction spreads much faster.

Think about it this way. Imagine a child asking about math: "but aren't there like some cool tricks or something?". No, there is no magic, at least, not immediately. You need to go through a longer process of building up your mathematic foundation, and then as you start getting that foundation, you can begin working magic. B2B marketing isn't much different really. Same as with math, you need to build a solid foundation first: In this case, a good product/service with genuinely enthusiastic clients that are on board for the longer term. When your clients are happy about your company, then, word-of-mouth can work magic.

So how to go about it? How to earn the love of your clients?

BUILD YOUR LOYAL FOUNDATION 

In B2C business, even if customers are not really happy with your company, a nice coupon can sway them to refer you to peers anyway. With B2B it is different. B2B relations are built on trust, as there is generally more at stake. B2B buyers have to take accountability for the -often costly- purchase, so they would want to be sure their decision is the right one. On the side of the supplier, one client can represent a big part of the revenue of the company. All this makes building solid relationships with clients all the more relevant for B2B. 

These valuable high trust relationships are built through a continuing fine tuning process of listening to what your clients have to say, and acting upon it. 'Earning the love' of your clients begins and ends with their feedback. Hear what you are doing well and what could be done better. The insights their feedback generate will give you direction on how to improve. The critical step, many companies often forget or neglect to take, is following up to their clients' feedback. This is an enormous trust building opportunity. Make sure to use it to get that competitive edge. Thus, come back to them to show what you did with their feedback and ask them whether they have experiences these changes as positive. 

This way you actively take a hold of your relationship and you start to earn the love of your clients. Them referring you to friends and colleagues is only a small step away. 

B2B SPECIFIC WORD-OF-MOUTH 

B2B word-of-mouth boils down to building a loyal network of advocates that enables you to connect to other companies that may need your services. Through word-of-mouth referral you will get a third party endorsement ‘yes they are really good’ and half of the sale has been made. This is a long game but when it is up and running it will simply require you to ensure that you deliver. 

In this stage of having that solid loyal foundation, it is perfectly fine to push your luck and prompt your loyal clients (best referrers) to recommend your company to others. Simply, make it easy for your loyalists to get the word out. Some strategies:
  • Make it easy for them to create content about your company, product or services, content meaning things like testimonials — customer talking about how a product or service has benefitted your organization.
  • Enable your clients to make the purchase with your company known through pre-populated sharing options.
  • Give clients unique referral codes they can share with colleagues or friends, which upon referral, leads them both to benefit from a discount.
  • If your company has a newsletter, invite your subscribers to forward the newsletter to a friend.
  • Wherever possible, make it reciprocal by also recommending your advocates' companies to others.

Curious to hear your thoughts on how word-of-mouth is different in business to business. Simply leave a comment below.

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