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Your Word-of-Mouth Dream Team: Turning customers into advocates for your business


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I was invited to speak at the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce's annual volunteer recognition breakfast on July 24, 2012.

More than one-third of businesses that joined the Chamber in the last 18 months found the organization through word-of-mouth. Many of the best referrals come from members, volunteers, and stakeholders. In this talk, I acknowledge the Chamber's volunteers and give ideas for increasing word-of-mouth referrals for your own businesses ... Starting with your most important audience: Current customers.

(I don't typically prepare scripted remarks for my presentations, but I had less than 10 minutes for this presentation, and I wanted to make sure I didn't go over my allotted time!)

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Your Word-of-Mouth Dream Team: Turning customers into advocates for your business

  1. 1. Frederick County Chamber of CommerceGeneral Membership & Volunteer Recognition BreakfastJuly 24, 2012"Your Word-of-Mouth Dream Team: Turning customers into advocates for yourbusiness"Full remarks by Jessica Hibbard© 2012 Stories and Ideas LLC http://www.storiesandideas.comIm getting ready to leave my job at the Chamber, and have spent a lot of timeover the last month or so going through papers and files and boxes in aneffort to make the office habitable for Lauren, our new communicationsdirector.In doing so, Ive come across a number of old Chamber newspaper ads,including one from 1980 where our organization boasted a membership of350 organizations.In 2010, we had just over 750 members, which means we doubled ourmembership and grew by 400 over 30 years. Not too bad. But it pales incomparison with the growth weve experienced over the past two years,during which time we added almost 300 members.Thats right -- as Im sure youve heard -- were now well over 1,000 members.If your marketing brain is as inquisitive as mine, youre probably asking whatsbehind this rapid growth?Over the last 18 months, we collected data from 481 companies on their newmember applications. One of the questions we asked was "How did you hearabout the Frederick Chamber?"If youve studied marketing, you know that we rarely purchase something untilweve heard about it multiple times before they finally buy. In this case, mostnew members are telling us the first time they heard about the Chamber, ormaybe the most memorable referral.41% said Chamber Staff -- Way to go, Team Chamber!Coming in at a close second, 34% said Word-of-Mouth -- in many cases, theynamed a specific board member, ambassador, or other volunteer.When I saw how many Chamber volunteers popped up as answers to thatapplication question, I started thinking about the diversity of our committees,and how each one contributes to this idea of a "Word-of-Mouth Dream Team."So, let me ask, would you like to have a 37% increase in your number ofcustomers or donors or investors over the next two years?You can start by assembling your own word-of-mouth dream team. In aneffort to inspire you, let me introduce you to the Chambers volunteers.
  2. 2. Our Board of Directors are well-respected influencers and tastemakers inthe local community. If you want to achieve word-of-mouth success, itscritical that you win the approval of this group.Our Ambassadors are evangelists and mentors. They light the word-of-mouth fire and keep it stoked with their endless enthusiasm.The people on our Marketing Council are creative and critical thinkers.Every organization needs customers who will challenge the status quo andbring great ideas to the table. Its one of the best ways to make sure yourcompany continues to grow and excel.Our Public Policy Committee has a deep understanding of the systemsand structures in the community where we operate, and they keep an ear tothe ground so well be aware of critical issues and be proactive in ourresponse.Leadership Frederick County volunteers have a desire to connect withthe whos who of our community. If youre having trouble connecting withinfluencers and tastemakers, you need a group of people like this to help youestablish partnerships.The Frederick Nonprofit Alliance has a deep commitment to thecommunity, and helps us by advocating for audiences that may beunderserved.Generation Connects steering committee is a relatively new group ofvolunteers, at least considering our 100-year history. But theyre doingsomething amazingly critical: Cultivating future audiences and helping usconnect with people who dont have experience with the Chamber.Our Golf Scramble volunteers help us put on whats arguably the most funevent on the Chamber calendar. 100% of your customers are human, andhumans are intensely social animals. Its essential for us to connect withpeople on a social level and show our organizations personality.This year, a number of volunteers helped us with the Centennial Gala, trulya once-in-a-lifetime event. It made us realize how important it is to celebratemilestones, and this group has helped us commemorate our history whilekeeping an eye toward the future.How do you keep your "dream team" engaged? Your toolbox should be deepand diverse, and every organizations audience needs something different.But I want to close with a few suggestions that will help almost any companyincrease their word-of-mouth referrals:Dont have a crappy website. Lets say someone tells you about anawesome product, service, or organization. Whats the first thing you do?Youre going to Google it to learn more. So when someone arrives at your sitefrom a Google search or a link that someone shared with them, make sureyoure making a good first impression.
  3. 3. Along the same lines, be social. Not using social media is no longer anoption. If you dont know how to use it, ask someone who does to show youthe ropes. Your ability to connect with customers will increasingly depend onyour ability to use technology in an informative, authentic way.Empower your customers. Let them know its not only okay to share, butthat you encourage it.Heres a great example of what NOT to do: Last November, I was shoppingdowntown and I was at a store I really like. I took out my phone and startedtaking some pictures so I could post about it on Instagram and Twitter. Withinseconds, an employee was scolding me and telling me that they dont allowphotos because people might steal their business plan. It was really awkward,and I was so embarrassed that I didnt go back to that store for months and Ibought Christmas presents for my family from someone else.So heres the lesson to take away from that experience: Its highly unlikelythat an enthusiastic customer will duplicate your business model after takinga couple of crappy iPhone pictures. So please dont treat your customers likecriminals when theyre just trying to give you some free advertising.If you do things right, people are going to post photos and videos and tweets.Always be on your best behavior and give every customer a great experience-- You can never tell from looking at someone if they have thousands ofTwitter followers. And you cant tell who might be your next board member,ambassador, or committee volunteer whos just waiting to convince theirfriends to join the Chamber.Thank you to the Chamber for letting me speak at my last event as anemployee, and thanks to FCC for hosting us. In the fall, Ill be back here atFCC teaching a four-week class on marketing as part of a professionaldevelopment partnership with the Chamber. FCCs continuing educationcatalog just came out, and its full of terrific opportunities for you and youremployees. If youre looking for more details, Im sure someone on staff hereat the college will give you a copy.