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Winning Strategy For Getting Referrals

Furniture World Magazine



Most business people believe that referrals are just something that happens. Here's how to create a buzz around your business so it can market itself!

Teaching your furniture store how to market itself is a tricky business.

Why? Because most business people believe referrals are just something that “happens.” But referrals don’t just happen. This is true even if your customers love you, your service, and your products. In fact, a study by Texas University found that once a customer has a positive shopping experience, 83 percent of them say they will provide a favorable referral. The problem is, only 29 percent actually do.

This article will show you how to bridge the gap, and make it simple and easy for your happy customers to fulfill their promise to provide you with a referral.

First you should reprise the last article, based largely upon "The Referral Engine… Teaching your Business to Market Itself" by John Jantsch, with insights from Jay Levinson, Seth Godin and Jay Abraham. (Check it out at: www.furninfo.com/Authors/Larry%20Mullins/9).

This second installment will present ideas from the best selling book by Andy Sernovitz: "Word of Mouth Marketing … How Smart Companies Get People Talking" (www.wordofmouthbook.com).Sernovitz takes a somewhat different approach to referral marketing. Over half of his book is devoted to “How to Do It,” complete with informative templates and worksheets.

We begin by looking at the issue of incentives. It's an area of disagreement Andy Sernovitz has with most leading advocates of Referral Marketing.

Should Incentives Be Baked Into Your Referral Program?

Sernovitz believes that offering incentives to spread the word is not only a mistake, it can actually be counterproductive. He reasons that paying them makes them feel guilty: “People are engaging in word of mouth because they love you or it makes them feel good. When you add a monetary reward (or discounts, points or miles) for a referral, you make it awkward and creepy. Just at the moment someone is about to recommend you, they think, ‘If my friend finds out I am being paid for this, they’re not going to trust me. I’d better not say anything.’” The take away here is: “The very powerful emotions that create word of mouth and the resulting affinity with your brand are nothing to be trifled with.” He goes on to caution that a loyal, supportive client could be insulted if you offer to pay for a referral.

A Preliminary Action Plan

If you are impatient and want to get started now, Andy also provides an immediate action plan on page 201 of his book, a page titled: “Sixteen Sure Thing, Must Do, Awfully Easy Word of Mouth Marketing Techniques.” Try to launch one word-of-mouth project a week. Without much more ado you can have a devastatingly powerful word-of-mouth follow-up program rolling before your competitors know what hit them.

  • Look on the web for people talking about you.
  • Assign someone to join those conversations. Start today.
  • Create a blog.
  • Make a new rule: Ask, “Is this buzzworthy?” in every meeting.
  • Come up with one buzzworthy topic. Keep it simple.
  • Put something by your front door that will remind people to talk to a friend.
  • Let your talkers sign up for a private newsletter.
  • Pick one easy way to track word of mouth.
  • Put a tell-a-friend form on every page of your website.
  • Put a special offer in an easily forwardable email.
  • Add a small gift and a word-of-mouth tool to every package you sell.
  • Have a private sale for your talkers.
  • Apologize for mistakes and solve problems fast.
  • Partner with a charity.
  • Do something unexpected.
  • Be nice.
  • And don’t forget: Do something worth talking about.

I would add: Create a simple handout to give prospects when they leave your store.

A Detailed 5 Ts Action Plan

Sernovitz presents his Five Ts of word-of-mouth marketing: Talkers, Topics, Tools, Taking Part, and Tracking. He drills down and provides an in-depth marketing plan. He suggests you walk through the 5Ts and apply them to selling home furnishings. Over half of Andy Sernovitz’s book is devoted to a practical application of his ideas. In this section of his book he explains the most successful techniques for putting them to work. The Five Ts of word-of-mouth marketing listed above are detailed with specific, simple, and inexpensive suggestions.

1. TALKERS: Find and identify them.
Who will tell their friends about you? Your job is to find the people who like you, like your merchandise and service, and who like to talk about you. If, after reading this article, you would like more information on Talkers, download the Talkers Profile Worksheet at www.wordofmouthbook.com.

Happy Customers. When it comes to referrals, nothing beats happy customers. Especially when they are also talkers. How do you identify them? Look for extreme interest - people who know the names of your sales associates and overflow with enthusiasm. Make sure your sales team understands that these people (who can be annoying) are very valuable word-of-mouth assets. Make sure you tag people who fill out comments cards, sign up for newsletters, submit questions online, or send you emails.


Online Talkers. Look for people who have posted a favorable comment about you on a website somewhere. The fact they took the time to write about you shows an unusual degree of interest. To find them, go to any search engine that mentions blogs and social media. When you find them, email them. They will be thrilled to hear from you.

Eager Employees. Your employees should be proud of what they do for you and can be great word-of-mouth representatives. To find the “talkers,” look around. They will be self-evident. Identify them, encourage them, and feed them.

Listeners. They can also be big talkers. If they care enough to subscribe to your newsletter they are hungry for the latest buzz. Find them on your subscribers’ lists. Make contact.
Fans. They may not be big spenders. If you have high-end brands they could be fans if not customers. Chanel and Gucci did not build their brands from the few super rich who could afford their products. They built them from millions of fans who dream about affording them someday.

Create A Talker Program

This can be done in four simple steps. You will need to:

  • Post a topic that you can use today.
  • Create a campaign worth talking about.
  • Become a buzzworthy company.
  • Create a newsletter.

2. TOPICS: Ones they will talk about.
Once you find your talkers, your job is to give them some buzz. Think of it as a simple message that will spark interest and conversation, nothing long, cumbersome or formal. Check out the “do-over” promotion exhibit by Homecrafters in Helena, Montana on the previous page. The Homecrafters team faced an awful blizzard when they attempted a Grand Opening Sale in February. So, to make lemonade out of a big lemon they created a buzzworthy “do-over” ad to run in the spring.

Florida-based Leather by Design (LBD), drops flyers and ROP ads periodically announcing special limited time discounts. One unusual technique LBD uses is a two-sided broadsheet wrap (equal to two full color pages) repeating the exact same offer on five successive days. This retailer gets a big discount from the paper for this effective, buzzworthy strategy.

According to Sernovitz, word of mouth is as much about product features as it is about marketing. Leather by Design features a limited number of brands, all top of the line, each with a brief, buzzworthy descriptive handle. Stressless, “The world’s most comfortable furniture.” Palliser, “Furniture designed by you.” Natuzzi, “The world’s best known furniture brand.” If you want to create a brand for your store you will need to describe and demonstrate products that people fall in love with and who are compelled to share their new knowledge with friends. In every staff meeting ask your associates: “Would anyone tell a friend about this?” If you don’t get a resounding “Yes!” You need to get to work and add some buzz.

The best word-of-mouth topics may come unexpectedly from customers. Listen carefully, and go with whatever buzz floats their boat. Word-of-mouth messages are temporary. They are not intended to be your official marketing messages; so keep them fresh. Special sales always create a buzz. So, create a hot offer, put it in an email, and ask your associates to share it with their friends.

The delivery team captain who suggests he is willing to dispose of your old stuff automatically generates extra buzz for the team and priceless word of mouth for their company. Sears lets you return or exchange major appliances, no questions asked, within 90 days. That’s an important service if your refrigerator looked great in the store, but looks terrible in your kitchen. More and more smaller independent home furnishings stores are offering “Free local delivery,” and free removal of old furniture and mattresses.
3. TOOLS: To help you become a buzzworthy company.

Charities. Partnering with a charity affords immediate buzz. Charities come with their own built-in network of talkers. National or local, small or large, supported groups have a reason to talk about you. They are organized, committed, and feature ready-to-use communication channels. Count on people telling their friends: “Patronize that store; they support worthy causes.”

"Word-of-mouth messages are temporary. They are not intended to be your official marketing messages, so keep them fresh."

Campaigns. Repeatable advertising, such as the aforementioned Leather by Design “wrap” series, always creates its own buzz. Staples came up with a good campaign featuring an “Easy Button” and the theme of “That Was Easy.” They sold over a million of these buttons. People put them on their desks. It was talked about in a million offices. They created additional buzz when they donated the profits to charity. You put a lot of money into advertising, wouldn’t it be nice if it was equally buzzworthy and repeatable?

Viral campaigns are email messages specifically created to generate buzz. They can be anything of general interest such as coupons, newsletters, or product updates. These are so common now that some people think they are the same thing as word of mouth, but they are really only one of the useful tools you can use. A viral campaign is often pure luck. A campaign offering free coffee at any Starbucks inside a Barnes and Noble went viral and created lines out the door. Who knew?

Long term, sustainable word of mouth comes when a buzzworthy company becomes truly immersed in a word-of-mouth philosophy. The best topic of all emerges when a business becomes worth talking about in every phase of customer contact. That transformation is the process by which your organization changes from one that is spending huge amounts on advertising to push their message out, to one that is pulling in customers, virtually for free, by word-of-mouth advertising. Create your own “Prospect Touch Map” from the exhibit sample provided in this article and make sure you are providing the tools your associates need to do their jobs.

Products. Extraordinary merchandise creates sustainable, long term, company-changing word of mouth. Buy with this fact in mind. Your suppliers should update you and your staff about the unique benefits and features their products possess that make people’s lives better. Everyone in your stores should learn to love the stuff you sell, extol the benefits it provides, and communicate that love.

Be Unique. Do things that are, by their nature, interesting topics of conversation. Somewhat like that old marketing principle of positioning, in which you strive to own a unique position in the client’s mind. In this case you strive to own a unique position in the client's conversation. Palliser Leather encourages clients to participate in the design of their home furnishings. In the “old days” Curtis Bros. Furniture in Washington, D.C. set aside a month to celebrate new brides. Brides could register to win an all-expenses-paid honeymoon, compliments of several participating companies. A modern version of this often neglected niche is sure to create buzz. Sernovitz reveals that Crayola’s R & D geniuses came up with Color Wonder magic markers that work only on special paper and not on walls or children. Imagine the buzz this concept generated!

Newsletters. Free Information is a great way to get people talking. Without a doubt the most productive thing you can create is a weekly newsletter. It is easy to produce, relevant to the reader, and easy to pass along. If you don’t have an email newsletter, start one today. Don’t worry about giving out too much information. The material you share proves your expertise and attracts customers. It makes them want to talk about you.

Sernovitz believes the first formal word-of-mouth marketing began in the fifties, when they were called “fan clubs.” Teenyboppers gladly paid fifty cents to join the Buddy Holly Fan Club. “You can have a fan club for anything, even WD-40.” Members get a membership card, a weekly newsletter with tips and tricks and “lots of fun.” EBay does a great job of recognizing folks who interact with the company. “Status symbols like logos, icons and various enhancements demonstrate recognition of special people. Microsoft’s MVP Program is a classic example of how to make your fans and talkers feel recognized and important.” Check it out.

As a reminder, put the message “Tell a Friend” on every page of your website. Also put these words in every email you send. Train your staff to end each sale with a cheerful: “Please don’t forget to tell your friends.”

4. TAKING PART: Join in the conversation.
Who should be involved? Everyone! Involve anyone who enjoys being online, who has a passion for your products and what you do, and has some time to do it. It’s a great way to get your staff involved and an opportunity for them to become stars.

5. TRACKING: Listen to what they are saying.
Someone on your staff should be checking the web every day for comments on your business, your brands and your products. He or she should be qualified to answer their questions and address their issues.


This concludes our two part series on referrals and word-of-mouth advertising. If you want more information, check out Andy Sernovitz’s website, www.wordofmouth.org. You can also sign up for his free newsletter there. It is outstanding.

Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for Furniture World and has 30+ years of experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. Larry’s mainstream executive experience, his creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His affordable High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. His newest books, THE METAVALUES BREAKTHROUGH and IMMATURE PEOPLE WITH POWER… How to Handle Them have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of this book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212 or at Larrym@furninfo.com. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com or www.ultrasales.com.