So People Will Talk About Your Business

Word of Mouth

PEOPLE LOVE TO TALK, AND WHEN they say great things about your business, it translates into increased sales and a strong growth curve. Buzz is all about what's hot, new and interesting. It's more persuasive than traditional advertising, because buzz is based on trust--we're more likely to believe what's told to us by friends or co-workers.

Influencers and opinion leaders are the engines of buzz. These people can be experts, members of the press, politicians, celebrities or well-connected customers others rely on for information. For example, when Oprah recommends a book, it soars to No. 1; or when Sarah Jessica Parker wears a new dress, it's pictured in fashion magazines. The fuel these influencers require is compelling information, whether it's about the latest books, fashion or software. Your public relations and referral programs are the keys to generating this information.

Avoid Bad Buzz

The trick is to give people something positive to talk about. Emanuel Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word-of-Mouth Marketing (Doubleday), believes the more interconnected your customers are, the more crucial word-of-mouth becomes. Thanks to the Internet, bad buzz can spread fast. According to Rosen, "Very often, buzz is truthful. If people have a bad experience, they'll say so."

How do your customers learn about your products or services? If it's through chat rooms and discussion groups, you can monitor customer comments and fuel positive buzz by fixing any problems that arise or dealing directly with any customer complaints before they become big problems. Companies that ignore this strategy risk suffering the same setbacks that Intel did back in 1994, when a complaint posted on the Net concerning its Pentium chip was belittled by the company. The result, says Rosen, was more than 25,000 customer phone calls a day about the problematic chip.

Get People Talking

Companies that are masters of good buzz never stop innovating and sharing information, and they use samples, demos and events to get the word out. Trivial Pursuit was an unknown game until its producer's PR department began sending copies to the celebrities mentioned in the game. Celebrities received a letter from the company president clipped to the game card that held the question about them. "This kicked off Trivial Pursuit parties in Hollywood," says Rosen, and the buzz soon spread nationwide.

Back in 1983, when coach Brian Maxwell and a student, Jennifer Biddulph, invented an energy bar for athletes called the PowerBar, they sent local athletes boxes of five bars and follow-up surveys, and handed out samples at sporting events. Over the years, they continued to enlist coaches and leading athletes, and by 2000, the company had surpassed $140 million in sales and was sold to Nestle.

Want to build maximum buzz? Try combining the one-two punch of media relations with special events for your best customers, like BMW did for the highly successful launch of its Z3. First, they created an innovative product and placed it in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. Prior to the movie's release, BMW dealers held private screenings and receptions for as many as 40,000 customers. They also held a sneak preview of the car in New York's Central Park attended by about 200 members of the media who were treated to a surprise appearance by GoldenEye's star, Pierce Brosnan.

While something of that magnitude is likely beyond your means, establishing exclusivity-like being among the first to see the new BMW--and scarcity can help fuel buzz. For proof, consider the craze over collecting Beanie Babies toys, the popularity of TV shows that reveal the value of rare collectibles, and the enormous buzz that fuels eBay.

The biggest myth about buzz is that buzz is all you need. Word-of-mouth often spreads slowly, so traditional marketing, including advertising and promotion, is still necessary to facilitate sales. Buzz is the added spark you ignite when you give the media and your best customers something to talk about.

How To Sale


SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL once said, "There are no secrets to success. Don't waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence." The same applies to success in selling.

Other people may look at these high-sales achievers and say "They were born lucky," "They were born talented" or "They got a great territory." The reality is, they simply acted on the basic truths of sales. At first glance, you might brush these truths aside as cliches. But a closer look reveals that cliches become cliches because they're true. Here are some sales truths to live by:

* DON'T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. It's been said that buyers will say no at least five times before they say yes. It takes persistence to go beyond that first no, to hang in there until the deal is closed. Remember that persistence makes up for a lot of deficiencies you may have.

* DON'T SELL THE STEAK, SELL THE SIZZLE. Selling the sizzle makes it possible for prospects to smell the steak cooking to hear the fat dripping into the fire, to see the juices running onto the plate and to taste the smoky barbecue flavor--even when there's nothing in front of them except you. You're not just selling the steak, you're selling the pleasure and satisfaction that steak will bring. And it's your spirit and enthusiasm that makes that happen. If you don't believe in what you're selling, how will the customer?

* THE HARDER YOU WORK, THE LUCKIER YOU GET. All the high-achievers I know tell me the secret to their success is basic--hard work. It's doing more than is required. It's that extra push that makes the difference, whether it's getting new prospects, serving current customers or working with vendors. It's always the extra effort you put in that gets you a "lucky" break.

* IT'S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW, IT'S WHO YOU KNOW. Never underestimate the power of each person you meet. You may think someone is unimportant--but you never know how much power that person may have. Seemingly inconsequential contacts you make today may be your most important links to tomorrow's sale. Then, of course, comes the second stage: Once a contact has gotten you through a door, it's what you know that's most important.

* ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. Anyone can talk a great game. It's what you do after the talk, after the sale has gone through, and after the promises have been made. It's follow-up and follow-through. That's where trust, service and future business are built.

* HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY. Customers never want to hear bad news. They don't want to hear that they have to pay extra or that delivery may take longer. But the best salespeople always tell customers the truth to ensure there are no misunderstandings later on. Customers hate bad news, but they hate unpleasant surprises even more. Honesty and integrity should be your calling cards. They'll create a lifetime of relationships.

The salespeople who achieve the most are those who practice these basic truths. So don't just let sales cliches go in one ear and out the other. Stop, listen and think about the nugget of truth that a cliche contains--and what that truth can mean to your sales.