My mother would take me food shopping in the streets of NYC Chinatown during my childhood. The streets were filled with fruit and vegetable stand vendors selling oranges, apples, bok choy, etc. They would hawk their goods to onlookers by yelling “Ho Teem Ah!” (Very Sweet!), “Leung Ah!” (Beautiful!), or “Ho Deh Ah!” (Great Value!).
There’s a Chinese saying: “A flower vendor will always sing praises about his flower’s fragrance.” In other words, what do you expect a seller to say about their product? Of course, they will say that their product or service is the best. Remember the old joke: ”How do you know when a Salesman is lying?” Answer: “His lips are moving.” (No offence to sales people intended.)
Now in the same market in Chinatown, my mother (and others) would suddenly stop and think twice if a bystander said, ”Yes. I bought some yesterday and the kids loved them. They were very sweet.” or “They are $1 dollar more expensive down the street”. In Chinatown, people will especially join in the frenzy if they see a crowd huddled in front of a stand and more than one person shares a positive comment.
This is simply proof that the words from a fellow customer, especially one with a similar profile, will have infinite more credibility than hearing it from the seller.
Take for example, Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker which has more than 400,000 Facebook fans, and managed to break the Amazon Prime Day sales record by selling over 215,000 cookers in 2016. Yet surprisingly, the company does not do any TV or print advertising. Most of its sales are due to word of mouth with users who have basically become cult followers raving about the product. They talk about the product and its uses in blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook, etc. They share recipes, pointers, praises, and help answer product questions in on-line forums. Instant Pot remains the number one best seller on Amazon with over 17,856 reviews in Amazon online with a product rating of 4.7 out of 5. Each review is a mini case study of its own with the reviewer describing their own background, use case, and the features/benefits of the product.
This 25 man company in Canada has managed to outsell big brand names such as Cuisinart without much paid advertising or resorting to doing TV informercials featuring cooking celebrities with the likes of Wolfgang Puck or Ming Tsai. Yet, the social media frenzy has led NY Times and other media to write about Instant Pot based on all the viral phenomenon.
What does this mean to your business?
You have to get to the “influencers”, the customers who hold some sway in the market, those who can and want to evangelize for your product. The key is that you have to make them happy. Perhaps even help make them a super star to their audience. (Note: I would avoid giving away a product for such purposes because of the ethical issues. You can see the backlash on Amazon for such tactics. "I received this product at a discount in exchange for my unbiased review." Absolutely no credility.)
Years ago, the company that I worked for had a terrible reputation and history in software. We had to convince a very skeptical prospect base that our new products were indeed friendly, easy to use, and reliable. That’s when I focused on key influencers, the big users whom other users listened to and respected. They could be the chief engineer in a main laboratory of a worldwide company, a standing member at a professional group such as ISO, ASTM, etc., a key user at the top of the "Supplier Chain" - in a big company (e.g. a GM, Ford, or Boeing) that smaller companies supply to.
The work was to constantly reach out to these users for feedback and incorporate their requests (I even nicknamed those features to honor them). You not only want to ensure that the users knew how to use the product but also all the “cool” tips and tricks that they would want to pass along.
It made a huge difference when I was able to provide written testimonials and case studies from these users. Nothing beats a prospect gaining confidence based on knowing that someone else (with better credibility) in a similar situation can share their experience and readily vouch for you. These influencers actually became stronger advocates because they became the product experts within their organizations – a virtuous circle.
So stop telling your prospects how great your products are. They don’t expect you to say anything less. Let your happy users do the talking and selling for you.
Remember: Mind Share before Market Share.
(I ended up buying an Instant Pot myself after reading all those reviews and learned that a steel inner pot was a key difference from other brands. It is a cool product. I just became a customer advocate for them.)
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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