Word-of-mouth is how we've grown since DAY 1. And it's how we'll grow through the next stage of our growth, which is why I'm writing this article... to ask for your help to reach "critical mass" without changing who we are or how we do things, and still compete effectively against the major companies of the Web hosting world.
I love word-of-mouth, always have. We're the only company who wrote our own affiliate technology when we were small and who are still 100% word-of-mouth-driven today.
Why do I love it? Because you tend to attract people just like you.
What do I mean by that?
Well, you yourself are not here because of an ad in Wired magazine, nor due to a clever Super Bowl ad. No, you heard about SBI!. And look around the SBI! forums. All you see are individuals who are...
- smart. They understand that if you own your own PREsold traffic, you own your world. 99% of small business people still miss this fundamental concept.
- ready to do what it takes. They are not afraid to do the work necessary to build a REAL business that will generate long-term profits.
- optimistic. They are forward-looking people, determined to succeed, and who contribute generously to the forums (my favorite part of SBI!). The spirit inspires, and the collective wisdom amazes.
It is YOU who makes the forums a true "help and be helped" success, a business community unique on this planet.
"No big deal," you say? It is a very big, and rare, deal and SBI!'s system of integrated tools seem like common sense to us
-- it's so obvious. But common sense is, in fact, rare. So is the will to invest in the future through work...
No one wants to admit that they fall for Get Rich Quick. Everyone wants to believe
that GRQ is possible. Heck, we all want to believe in Santa Claus. We all
outgrew the latter belief, but so many people still fall for
good copy that sells GRQ over and over and over again ("this one is different"). Why? Because they want to believe.
Now for a purely personal statement...
I don't have time for them. I don't want to attract those people. I don't want to be part of their disappointment... I don't want to
be the one who tells them there is no Santa Claus. It's too late for that (for me and for them).
And that is why I do not want to use "big company advertising." There are other reasons, of course, such as price increases to cover the costs, distraction of my time, etc. But I fear "SBIer dilution" the most. Here's why...
Suppose your mass-market message says...
"SBI! removes all the technical, tedious, SEO, and other barriers. So you
can succeed online by making your work 100%-efficient and business-oriented."
.... do you know the only word they hear?
"Yada, yada, yada... WORK... yada, yada, yada."
Our ads would have to do the same "quick-and-easy" message as the giant Web hosts (1&1, interland, verio, yahoo!). I don't want to spread that false message. But let's say that we did -- we'd dilute the forums with surly, lazy people who expect that a REAL business can be built quick-and-easy "because my site is on the Internet."
That's why we needs word-of-mouth to grow.
Yes, We Are Growing
And we are now at that in-between size. We've left all our old
competitors far behind, only to discover the "interlands" and "verios"
of this world. We understand their power and reach. We realize
that we need to be totally in control of our destiny, regardless of what they do in the future.
This is the stage where eBay "went vertical" through big-time marketing and management. But they lost the magic along the way.
There's a reason these things happen when you reach a certain size.
You must grow even faster before you are copied by a much bigger company (ex., Yahoo! copying eBay, luckily for eBay too late). Once copied by a major, your days, one way or another, are numbered if you have not built yourself
up to the size you need to be self-sustaining, no matter what the competition does.
We need to be an invulnerable unit that can push back any challenge.
This may not seem urgent, at least a year or two away. But if I think about it then... it will be too late.
The challenge is to grow without changing, without losing the magic.
Here's an insightful thread from the forums that summarizes the magic...
How often do people write in other forums just to say, "Wow"?
Read the replies, the first two fittingly from Debs, the heart
and soul of the forums, and from Marcus, an outstanding contributor.
My reply was written at the time this article was...
The only way to penetrate the noise, to grow ever-faster without increasing price (or going broke) and without changing, is word-of-mouth. It pierces the ever-increasing noise like an arrow through clouds.
And there is major noise out there. It comes from the louder and louder GRQ outfits. And it blasts from the major Web hosts (verio, yahoo!, 1&1, etc.).
Word-of-mouth blows all that away. Why? Because you have
You have someone's complete attention. Tell the story,
Buzz It!, Call It!, WWW It!.
Anyone who deserves SBI! will indeed "get it."
What Does It Take To Make Word-Of-Mouth Go?
What makes word-of-mouth fly? First and foremost, it takes a
product that delivers more value than it costs. Much more.
And it takes people who are dedicated to its customers, not in word but in deed.
SBIers soon discover that SBI! OVERdelivers on all counts.
And SBIers succeed...
That's what it takes to make word-of-mouth fly.
- They "build it" without hiring designers, Webmasters, SEO experts, marketers.
- They build it without wasting their time on any activity that is unrelated to their business.
- They know that I care fiercely about their success, that I fix problems instead of hiding them, and that this sentiment runs all the way from the top down.
None Of That Happens at Any Other Small Business Web Host
What happens elsewhere? If you've tried elsewhere, you already know...
New customers start out excited and motivated, taken in by the
"quick-cheap-easy" ads. They soon get battered by bad process,
a lack of tools, low tech knowledge/SEO skills, etc., etc., etc. And when they try to reach out for help, well... who cares.
So the instant gratification of having "a site up in 24 hours" turns into the prolonged agony of suffocation due to lack of traffic and inability to master all the skills to manage a non-SBI! site.
But the majors churn and grow through sheer "noise"... expensive, intense and effective advertising.
Only Word-Of-Mouth Can Pierce That Barrage Of False Messaging
And word-of-mouth builds upon itself. For example, increasing numbers of SBIers improve the forums (it's why we waited so long to introduce them -- to be sure we had critical mass). The more who contribute, the greater the collective wisdom. The "network effect" grows exponentially. Naturally, "ever-smarter" forums lead to an even better experience, faster progress, and, therefore, even more word-of-mouth.
Increasing sales also bring the budget for accelerated product development (SBI! is never "finished" -- witness the recent introductions). We have grown through our own cash flow, refusing investments from almost every major tech VC. Ever-improving features result in improved experience and greater success. And that, once again, generates even more word-of-mouth.
And, of course, SBI! already gets raving word-of-mouth. That just
happened naturally. Now I am asking you to ratchet it up three notches (both online and especially offline), for all of the above reasons.
To pierce the noise and grow to be our own "island of success," big enough to be invulnerable to the large Web hosts and their hundreds of millions of dollars in false-message advertising, I'm asking you to Buzz It!, Call It!, WWW It!.
The Future Of Small Business. This Is An Important Time In our History
Think of yourself as starting with one huge futuristic head start.
You drive a just-released Ferrari that comes complete with pit crew,
while everyone else is still turning the crankshaft of their Model T.
We must keep growing rapidly to keep improving that, "our way."
I need your help to make SBI! and this community insurmountable, by making SBI! better and better and better. As I mentioned, we now compete against the behemoths of small business Web hosting. But
we're a small fish in that ocean, full of some very BIG, aggressive,
dollar-sucking fish. And we're on their radar.
They spend insane amounts to spread the false message of
"quick-cheap-easy" to suck folks in (and dollars out).
So our counter-strategy is critical...
Fight through that noisy environment by driving straight
through to the right customers. Please tell friends, colleagues, small business associates, relatives, everyone... all about SBI!.
How To Spread The Word Buzz It!, Call It!, & WWW It!
I've updated and improved two important pages from the PREselling section of TNT HQ, and I've added a third. Here's how to spread the word...
Do it on your Web site in ways that fit.
The Bottom Line
Word-of-mouth is the best way to pierce the noise, grow, and keep the magic. Spread the word to the right people. Naturally, this is WIN-WIN-WIN...
- You benefit because SBI! and its community become large enough to survive large, noisy competitors. And, of course, each sale also earns you excellent commissions, annual renewals, and even second tier sales income... all the while growing the forums and accelerating product development! That's WIN-WIN-WIN just for you!
- SiteSell benefits because it hits the critical mass required to stay itself.
- And, naturally, every person who you attract to SBI! wins DOUBLE... winning through SBI! and avoiding the typical failure story of standard Web hosting.
I can't emphasize the importance of this. Show the rest of the world how small business, "the rest of us," really can thrive in this noisy Internet world...
Buzz It!, Call It!, & WWW It!
Ken Evoy, President SiteSell.com
By Ken Evoy
C T P M has long been an abbreviation for the core SBI! process. In fact, there's a big "letter" that comes before it all...
B C T P M.
"Brainstorming" includes the whole process of developing and refining your niche, positioning and voice to the point where you have nailed down a sharp, short, brandable domain name. It is, of course, a critical part of the process, perhaps even the critical part.
But there's another concept that is growing increasingly important, one that we haven't directly touched upon. If it's going to change the abbreviation (which it isn't; we prefer to keep it short and simple), the abbreviation would become...
C T P M + E.
So what's the "E?"
E for "Evangelize."
Now, I don't want to take your eye off the "M" prize. After all, if you don't monetize well, you really don't have to worry about what happens after, right? But what about when you do?...
Plan ahead. Grow evangelists now.
We've always talked about the importance of delivering a great product, support, etc. If you basically "just" do that, customers stick with you and some will buy your next product.
Nail the basics down: great product, even better customer care service. Handle problems with class and go overboard on fairness (a great way to convert possible detractors into huge fans).
Small mistakes or oversights, or even just an off day, can hit the wrong person in the wrong way, who then complains in all the wrong places. Apologize fast and fix the problem...
You do not need "anti-evangelists!"
From here on, I'll assume that you've got the basics down.
Moving From Passive to Active Monetization
Word of mouth is nothing new. It has always been important, even if you depend 100% on passive monetization models (which you shouldn't).
It generates some quality links and mentions, which brings some traffic and, ultimately, better search rankings. So it's always been "baseline important."
Now, though, as more SBIers move from passive forms of monetization to active, it's that much more important. What happens if you go above and beyond and keep on doing it?
"Word of mouth" has become louder.
And it's not just "word" of mouth that you want...
It's rave of mouth. People have the vehicles to write paragraphs about you, personally, without being a "pro" in your niche.
Aside from those pros in your field (whom you cultivate through personal social, many more people have personal blogs, Facebook profiles, Yola sites, and often several other social presences. They participate in major sites related to your niche.
Now that social is everywhere, word of mouth is not just "nice." If folks really, really love and respect your work, and if the product exceeds expectations (or at least meets them), they go beyond "word" to "many words," raving about how great you are.
The Edge of the "Little Guy"
One of the advantages of the little guys is that they're underdogs. And folks cheer for underdogs, especially the ones that make them love a little guy. They want to both share a great-but-little-known thing with friends and followers and do the underdog a good turn at the same time.
When the occasional "word of mouth" turns into regular raving, you have an evangelist.
Nothing is better than the ongoing, free viral spread that evangelists deliver. If they have a highly followed Facebook personal profile, or an authoritative reputation in a related forum, that's all the better.
But really, any customer now has a "megaphone" online. The whole world now communicates socially. In your little corner of that world, you want them to either be...
- talking about you and your product, or
- reading about you and your product.
Evangelists help with that, deepening the PREselling and facilitating more sales. Nothing is more credible than the voice of a neutral third party.
The CTPM-E Funnel
The C T P M process is more like a "leaky funnel" rather than a linear progression.
Folks bounce around in that so-called "funnel," leak out, come back. Over time, some of them steadily move down towards the exit of that funnel... the M.
The Content builds Traffic, reaching a small number of people (relative to the total online) who become highly targeted Traffic. Of that total, a sub-set becomes PREsold. Finally, a fraction of that group Monetize and become customers.
Word of mouth helps seal the holes in the funnel, helps redirect folks back into it. Together with you reaching out on a regular basis (newsletter, RSS, social, etc.), you and your evangelists keep serious prospects moving toward that M, boosting your conversion rate.
How Do You Create and Encourage Evangelists?
It starts at the beginning, with your body of content. A certain number are going to love your material, your voice... you!
It builds with repeated contact (newsletters, social, etc.). After a while, they're pre-disposed to supporting your product and don't even know it yet.
Some will promote it even if they haven't used it! That's "PREsold Plus."
But the ones you really want are raving users. Why are they so important?
It's real. It's emotional. And...
It's not you saying that it's the greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread.
They'll be the first to call it out on one of the mega-sites in your niche. They'll post how much they love your product in your Facebook comments, knowing that they're supporting you.
So they help sell directly. And indirectly, too, by helping you build your business vibe online...
Evangelists add so much energy to everything you do. They'll enter your contests and share special new content. When you find yourself thinking, "I should pay that person," you know you have an evangelist.
Do not offer to pay them. You could destroy a beautiful friendship, changing the dynamic forever, no matter how well-intentioned your offer may be.
How do you encourage them?
"Pay them" with what matters to them. Here's what I mean...
You need to understand (without it going to your head) that you have become special, a sort-of celebrity in your field.
You know that you can't leap buildings, but they don't feel that way about you. Recognizing them is worth more than any dollars you could offer. So...
Encourage folks by recognizing their comments, and not just with a "thank you for your kind words."
Next, create tools, such as contests and hashtags, for them to use. Or schedule a live streaming session and ask folks to spread the word.
Could you start a public group about your product? Keep it open to all. Let potential customers ask questions, while existing ones leave terrific compliments.
"But what if a problem comes up," you ask? People know that problems always come up. They won't judge you on that, but rather on how you handle it! It's another selling opportunity.
All of these are things that you should do naturally. If not, work on it until it's a habit.
Growing an evangelist base is so important that I'm tempted to "add a letter"... C T P M + E.
With an increasing emphasis on higher margin products (ex, your own services and goods), and given the social megaphone in each of your customer's hands, we all need to be spending more time on growing and encouraging our evangelists.
Remember, everyone has a megaphone. Delighted fans use it; some use it a lot.
Those are your evangelists.
You want a lot more of them!