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Word of Mouth Marketing

Hey, everyone. I’m Mike Sullivan. Thank you for joining us again today on MO.com, where we feature small business owners and entrepreneurs and then bring you hints, tips, insights, and perspectives on what it takes to be successful.

Joining us today is our subject matter expert from Grasshopper, Jonathan Kay. Jonathan, great to have you back. Today you’re going to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to your heart, so I’m just going to turn it over to you and let you go wild.

Hey, how’s it going, guys. Good to be back. I wanted to chat with you just a little bit about word-of-mouth marketing. Being the Ambassador of Buzz, word of mouth is pretty much essential to what I do, and the cool part is that it’s a real big part of what we do here at Grasshopper. Just to make it real for you, say we get 350 signups a week, we probably get at least 120 to 150 of those via someone who heard about us through a friend, a colleague, or a family member. So, it’s real, right? This is real money. That’s as many signups as we get from someone who identifies that they heard about us via the Internet, right? So this is a real thing, like you should be having someone in your organization doing this. So I thought I’d maybe give you some clarity around what I was talking about.

So I’m kind of a big believer that word-of-mouth marketing is not customer service. That might be kind of a controversial statement, because people think, if you provide really good customer service, people will talk about you, and it’ll help spread your brand. I guess I’ll go ahead and just call, bulls*** on that. The reason I’ll do that is because if someone is paying you for a service, our average customer probably pays us $30 or $40 a month, right? You’re paying that money to have a product that works and to get customer service. They’re paying you money. They provide customer service. The second that you stop providing customer service, they should immediately stop paying you money, because logically there’s someone else who’s offering the product who’s going to offer good customer service. So customer service is not word of mouth. Word of mouth is everything and anything that you could possibly do on top of customer service.

So, for us, we offer a virtual phone system. It’s really boring. It’s not an interesting product. It’s necessary. So the people that really are brand loyalists and the people that really talk about us and make an impact on our bottom line are the people that we help with things completely outside of the virtual phone system. It’s like how can you help someone with their business? How can you help give them a tip, motivate them, make their day a little bit better, because it’s those things, those things that they’re not expecting, those things that will really generate word of mouth.

Just to give you an example, one of our competitors is Ring Central. If you were to pull up Grasshopper and Ring Central, you would literally see that the feature set is practically identical. So why do you go with one company over the other? It’s because of the experiences. So it’s like we try and sell experiences versus features. Like I love that, you know. It’s like the experience with Grasshopper is you’ve probably heard us speak, you’ve probably read a blog post from us if you’re lucky. I’ve bought you a beer. There are thousands of people who can say that. So it’s like you’re engaging when you’re taking your wallet out for the experience of Grasshopper, who is this brand for entrepreneurs, not because of the features. Because, at the end of the day, if you’re the first player in the market or the last player in the market, eventually it all kind of evens out. You all start to provide the same features.

So I would say, figure out a way you can sell your brand as an experience to your customers, and that will probably start to get them talking.

You just mentioned that customer service and word-of-mouth marketing aren’t the same thing. But does customer service play into word-of-mouth marketing?

Yeah. So for me, customer service helps you retain customers. Because a lot of us are providing technology products, and there’s always going to be, no matter how good you are or how smart your customer is, there’s just something that happens that a customer needs help with. That’s logical. Most brands and products that you interact with, you interact with customer service on some level at some point. So, in order to have that positive experience, you’re going to retain that employee. So when you do wow them in another way, it’s all positive. For me, the customer service, it’s got to be assumed. It’s just got to be assumed, man. It’s a deterrent of word of mouth. If I have bad customer service, I’m definitely not going to spread word of mouth. But for me, it’s like that’s what I expect. That’s what I expect.

I was just talking with one of my colleagues here, and I know this isn’t super relevant, but I just switched banks. The reason I switched banks is because at Citizens Bank it takes me five minutes to get someone on the phone. When I call Charles Schwab, someone picks up the phone immediately. The fact that that happens isn’t what makes me talk about it. It’s the ways that they help me outside of the banking service. But I would never recommend Citizens because of that negative.

That’s a great example that kind of leads into my next question. As you say, you are the Ambassador of Buzz. What can small businesses do to achieve what Grasshopper has achieved with word-of-mouth marketing?

Yeah. It’s actually a really good question, man. I would say two things. One, we’re really fortunate. I personally am very fortunate that our founders, David and Siamak, they buy into word-of-mouth marketing. So I’m dedicated to this. We’ve been so successful. We hired Stephanie to help do it, as well. But the point is that what I do, any founder should be doing. If you’re the founder of the company, you need to be evangelizing your own product. I know you have a lot of other things to do, but you need to find three hours a week, four hours a week to be the evangelist of your product, because if you don’t do it, nobody will.

So let me just give you an example. Recently, we had an outage. Recently we’ve also been looking for people to do usability tests. Oftentimes we have people who are on Twitter and out of the blue, man, they’ll just say, “Listen. If you have a small business, you need to be using Grasshopper’s virtual phone system.” I don’t what possessed them to say that, but it’s awesome. That’s how our business builds. So, instead of ignoring that, instead of just tweeting back at them, thank you, what we do is we find their address. So, each quarter we’re trying to test a new way to wow these customers. This quarter I met this woman, Rachel Brooks. She has a company called Cookie Crowd. It’s an Etsy store and she makes delicious, absolutely out-of-this-world cookies. Just delicious cookies. Just trust me. So what we’re doing is these people who are helping us out with usability testing, who are tweeting us, without even asking them or telling them, I’m sending them a package of two, big delicious chocolate chip cookies with a handwritten note from me that just says, “Thanks. Word of mouth is such a big part of what we do. Thank you.”

So you’re thinking, someone’s thinking who’s watching this, that’s not scalable. How do I do that? But the point is it costs me $12 and two minutes to send out one of those. No matter what your product is, the retention that comes from someone getting that is worth more than $12 to you. So, if you’re a founder, man, I challenge you. Spend an hour a week just writing handwritten notes, or just finding a $5 Starbucks gift card or a piece of candy. Or just send something, because people don’t do that anymore. The amount of time that it takes you and the $10 that you spend is worth the six months longer that person will stay on with you.

So those types of things, man, it’s small, but it’s very intimate. It has a very big impact.

Okay. Last question. How do you stay in front of your word-of-mouth marketing campaign, and where do you come up with the ideas? Where do you go to implement them? Is it Twitter? Is it social networking? Tell me more about that.

Yes, I’ll just say it’s two really basic things. First off, do what you think is fun. People always say, “How do you think of these things?” I just think of what I would like to get in the mail. What I would like. I like handwritten notes. I think cookies are delicious. I love Sour Patch Kids. If someone sent me Sour Patch Kids in the mail, I would literally do everything I could to evangelize their company. So think of things that you think are fun and do it, because you’re not that different than the average person, most likely. You have to have fun while doing it. That’s important.

The second thing is I’m not a big believer that social media is the place to build relationships. I’m just a believer that social media is the way to meet someone. So, we have this customer called, I think it’s E-Bookkeeper, and they tweeted something about Grasshopper. I didn’t have a conversation with them on Twitter. I just said, “Hey, Brad, man. It would be really cool if we could chat. Would love to hear how you came to be, what your story is.” I connected offline with him. Our second interaction was not on Twitter. It was via DM via email. I immediately got his phone number, and we talked for 12 minutes. He told me about how his company came to be. It was pretty interesting. So we’re going to feature him on our blog. So I still think, like, just learn about people. Listen to people, and find a way that you can help them. Twitter and these social media tools are a good way to meet those people, but to people who think that their social media experts and people who think that you’re going to build a relationship on these tools, you’re out of your mind. You’re out of your mind. You still need to have a real connection. So use these tools to meet the people, and then have real kind of old-fashioned connections.

Hey, Jonathan, thank you. I appreciate your perspective on this. It’s been a great conversation, and I’ll talk to you next time.

All right, Mike. Good to see you, man.

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