Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Unless their friends are real experts, people tend to use blogs / review sites for more complex topics and friends for less complex ones (think computer vs. sandwich buying advice)….

Studies show that advice that is sought is, on average, twice as likely to be acted upon than advice that was not asked for.
—Marcus Riccoboni, Do people trust their friends’ opinions when making purchasing decisions? on

True, at least as far as it goes. And it’s definitely a stumbling block for many entrepreneurs and small business owners these days—maybe for you?

We may have expanded our idea of how to locate an expert, but you and I both know that we haven’t stopped talking to our real-life friends. (Sometimes, these days, we’re even talking about the online search.) The truth that’s not stated here is that we’d still prefer to get our information from them, but experience and good sense tells us there’s more information online, and more might equal “good.”

What we really want, when we want a word-of-mouth recommendation, is good advice. For as long as we go out to work and play and connect, the opportunity to be talked about in real life as well as online will still be there for our businesses.

We’ve been talking about word-of-mouth for a couple of weeks here at MCE:

Can you shape it?

Will word-of-mouth work… maybe even better than traditional advertising and marketing methods?

Are you “talk-able”—and are you making it easy for staff, suppliers, and customers to talk you up?

Today let’s take Marcus Riccoboni’s excellent ideas, above, and twist them around around so you can make WOM work for you, whether you’re the sandwich-seller or the computer-seller.

  • As the Internet becomes a trusted source for independent and (sometimes-expert) opinions, your customers are starting to trust the ‘net over their own friends, the source for traditional WOM referrals when making complicated buying decisions.

Ow! Or is it?

The obvious reaction to this shift is to encourage referrers to mention you online, in the hopes that they’ll talk to people they don’t know and be seen as trusted referrers. But whether we’re becoming wary of the next-door-neighbor’s expertise in roofing shingles or not, we still trust people we know more than we do strangers on a personal level—and I don’t believe giving up on offline word-of-mouth makes any sense at all! In fact I see three underused opportunities to make this shift work for you if you’re the guy selling the complicated product or service.


ONE: Explain your complex or expensive offering to your customers so well that they *can* be the experts for their “real-life” friends and colleagues.

Sure, customer service takes a little longer when you’ve made it part of your mission to make every customer not only happy, but well-educated. Is service like this worth it?

The customer feels she is super-important to you. She is.

The customer feels confident explaining what you offer and saying that you rock. You do.

The person listening to the great recommendation feels they’re talking to someone with inside knowledge. They are. What a great way to turn the expectations of the person hearing the referral around!

Bonus: Now your original customer is a customer for life, because of the attentive service she received from you.


TWO: Break it down so it’s sandwiches. For some people, no matter how much you educate the customer you hope will go out and become a completely delighted referring-machine, that’s still their fishing buddy or sister-in-law or dance teacher. What can that person possibly know about buying this complicated, expensive thingy?

Yet you can make your complicated, expensive thingy a series of less complicated thingys—let’s call ‘em “sandwiches”—and give your customer the tools to spread word-of-mouth with much more ease. Take a cue from what the best online reviews do, and break your thingy up into easy-to-recommend elements that most folks are curious.

Any good car review, for instance, will talk about only a few topics in depth—handling/feel, style, fuel efficiency, quality/repairs, price.

I might mention I’m looking for a new car to a friend without really wanting to hear an opinion—I probably don’t believe my friend knows “cars” and I’m probably already planning to look online—but if my friend hits my sore spots/hotbuttons, tells me it rides like a dream, looks like a million bucks, never needs a tank of gas, etc…. All of a sudden, any one aspect is as simple as a sandwich to talk about, and because my friend didn’t try to be an expert, just told me about the highlights I’d most expect to hear about in any good review, it’s a lot easier for me to appreciate my friend’s opinion.


The sandwich-seller and the computer-seller have one more hurdle, and this one’s nothing new:

  • Advice someone asks for is twice as likely to be acted on as the advice your buttinsky brother-in-law gives you.

THREE: Offer mustard. The best reviews also tell you something quirky, something personally interesting to the author, or they uncover a “delicious” hidden feature. Something that sounds less like a sales pitch, and more like a secret that the reviewer couldn’t wait to share. These tasty tidbits are frequently the conversation-openers for your “talkers” in real life.

How many times have you started a conversation with “I saw the craziest/ most amazing/ coolest thing at the such-and-so store,” only to have a friend or colleague practically demand a full review after they’ve heard the fun part?

If it’s so share-worthy your customer excitedly starts a normal conversation about it, it’s not giving an unsolicited recommendation at all. By they time your customer gets around to their recommendation, they’re being asked for advice.

Make sure when you’re breaking down your complicated thingy into less complicated sandwiches, that you reveal a couple of less-essential but fun-to-talk-about features as well. Often, the sandwich satisfies, but it’s the mustard that gets remembered, and you want to help your talkers to spread the spicy details around.

(Lest you think this only goes for “fun” products and services, this exact scenario—great story (“mustard”) leads to product recommendation—happened to me this morning about a medical issue a relative is going through. Friend says to me, “I saw a show last night, and they were talking about these symptoms, and I shouted to my husband, ‘Kelly knows someone who’s got that! Get me a piece of paper so I can write down the meds this woman uses!” Not fun, but after that intro, do you think I walked away without the rest of the story—and the names of those meds?)


Yes, I am angling this discussion of WOM toward traditional, offline recommendations today, but it’s worth pointing out that advertising, marketing materials, labeling, and service that work together to help the customer become an expert, *and* breaking your complicated offering down into “sandwiches,” both work just as well in the online world. Just think of your website, your blog, outreach efforts, and your impeccable email-responses/customer service, like brochures, package labels, and face-to-face interactions at your physical location—they’re all elements of your Customer Experience that you can use to encourage and shape those ever-multiplying WOM conversations.


How do you help your customers spread the word about you: Do you encourage them to become experts, do you break it down into sandwiches, or do you combine both approaches?

What’s the “mustard” in your sandwich that they can’t wait to start talking about?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


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