By Eric Groves

In Alignable’s poll of over 1,000 local business owners, 64 percent selected “word-of-mouth referrals” as the most effective way to acquire new customers—by a mile. In fact word-of-mouth was 3.5x higher than the next result, Social Media. (See full poll results).

poll results

But now what? Since you can’t simply go out and buy word-of-mouth, what’s a business owner to do to actually take greater advantage of it to drive their business success?

Know your influencers
Who has credibility with local customers that you can rely on to tell others about your business?

Your customers
There’s no doubt that your customers are your best source since they have directly experienced what you have to offer. If you provide a great customer experience they are likely to share it when asked by a friend or colleague. Be sure to stay top of mind via regular email communications highlighting upcoming events, promotions, and featured products or services.

Local businesses nearby
Other local business owners are a great potential source of word-of-mouth that’s often left untapped. Already a trusted source for local business information, simply forming good relationships with a few other business owners can result in a significant increase in your word-of-mouth traffic.

Here are a couple things you can do to encourage referrals:
• Connect with a core group of local businesses that you would like to develop a relationship with. Choose businesses who have a similar customer base and to whom you would be happy to refer your customers.
• Make sure that you make the referral whenever you have the opportunity. Nothing beats good karma!
• Regularly share what you are doing to promote your businesses (special events, promotions, new featured products or services) so they are up to date and other owners know what’s going on.
• Agree that when a customer comes in and mentions they were referred by one of the members of your group they will receive something special.
• Let the other business owner know when someone takes advantage of the referral and be sure to return the favor.
• Include your employees in the action by providing a special discount or benefit when they go to one of the other businesses. It makes them feel special and gets them talking about the other businesses too.

These simple tricks will open up an entirely new form of word-of-mouth traffic for your business, forge tighter bonds within your local business community, and make your employees happy. What’s not to love about that?

Eric Groves is the co-founder and CEO of Alignable, the free social network for local businesses and organizations to connect and collaborate with others nearby. Eric has been a local marketing expert and enthusiast since 2001, authored The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing, and believes that local businesses are always stronger together.