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The Word of Mouth Secret

Andrew Gibson


Networking word made out of scrabble tiles

Everyone in business knows that the best business comes from word of mouth recommendations. Indeed, various studies have shown that over 90% of people trust a third-party recommendation, and over 80% of business comes from them. So, how do you generate more of these for your business?


The answer is simple. If you want more word of mouth business, you need to be talking to people—and people need to be talking about you within their networks. For this reason, there’s a plethora of networking opportunities available to us all and the recent move to online working means it’s easier than ever to network.

Yet, for most of us, networking doesn’t lead to a lot of business. Here are my top tips for making your networking more productive.

The Secret

First thing I’m going to share is also the most powerful:

It’s not about what you do—it’s the difference you make

When we go networking, the standard question is, ‘What do you do?’. If I answer this with, ‘I’m a Business Coach’, that doesn’t say anything about me that’s helpful. If I go on to tell people about my coaching, are they really going to learn about my skills and experience then share it with their contacts?  

If we seek word of mouth introductions, we need to think about the people our networking partners are going to talk to. They are also our potential clients and customers. When we answer ‘the networking question’, we can share some information that’s useful about the customers we help.  For example, I might say,

‘I help small businesses find more clients and customers.’

Or, my favourite:

‘I help local and regional charities develop sustainable incomes from their activities.’

Network Engagement

If the person I’m talking to is curious to find out more, they will ask me to tell them more. At this point, I can share a story of how I helped a client find more customers, or I can tell them how I helped a local charity generate income from their activities. As I share this story, my new connection will be thinking of people they know who might want the same outcomes, which will likely generate an introduction.

Make Conversations Interesting

If you find that you spend time listening to others telling you what they do, stop asking people to tell you! Instead, here’s a simple conversation structure that will help to prompt your network partners:

  • Tell me a story of how you helped someone recently

  • What difference did that make for them?

When we share stories, we reveal valuable information about ourselves—our core values, and the things that motivate us to help our clients and customers. And we naturally share stories.  

Anthropologists believe that the human race has had language skills for 700,000 years, yet the oldest form of writing that’s been discovered is only 7,000 years old. Every culture has a story-telling tradition; sharing stories is quite literally in our blood.

When you ask these questions during networking meetings, you’re gathering stories about others, about their customers, and the difference/impact they experienced as a result of working with them. These are useful stories, and when you spot someone who has a similar need, you will be able to make an introduction reinforced with a credible story.  

The reverse is also true. If you share useful stories, your network will share them on your behalf.  The more amazing the difference, the more likely your story will be shared.

Building Relationships

A crucial part of the word of mouth introduction process is that we will only ever introduce people we know and trust. The short exchange above is just an initial engagement conversation. So that you feel more comfortable introducing someone you’ve just met to your network, have a coffee with them (face to face or online) and get to know them a little more. If you think they’re a good match, then make the introduction. Your reputation goes with every recommendation you make, so this extra step will help you make and receive great introductions.

Networking Plan

When you attend a networking event, don’t talk about what you do. Instead, ask people to tell you stories of how they have helped others. When you are asked what you do, tell a story of how you helped someone. As you meet people with interesting stories, get to know them further. It’s a great way to make more of your networking activity, and a great way to grow your business through word of mouth recommendations.

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