Bring out the doughnuts and coffee and encourage your customers to participate in an information market outlook discussion. You can use another tool to keep the discussion going between the coffee and doughnut sessions. Keep key links to these marketing information and analyses sources updated on your business website. The “tool” you are providing is a screening and conduit to effective market information and analysis — which of course is closely related to “topics” noted above.
Taking Part: Be clear about the role that your business is playing here — “taking part.” During the coffee and doughnut sessions you and/or your marketing manager need to visit with the farmers. If you and your marketing manager wear a shirt with your business logo prominently displayed, everyone will know the role you are playing. If you have a new program, such as a prepayment for inputs, be clear that it is a program your business is offering and keep the information related to the program distinct from the market analysis information.
Tracking: Finally, be diligent with “tracking.” Keep a count of the number of farmers who participate each week. Of course the most effective count you can get is to physically count everyone and record that number. However, it may be awkward to actually count people, and even if you did count everyone, you might forget the number if you didn’t write it down immediately. You can also track the number of doughnuts used, or the amount of coffee consumed as a proxy for the level of participation. If participation falls, you then need to identify the reason. If you identify that participation has fallen off because it is planting time and farmers have become too busy, then an appropriate strategy for you might be to stop the sessions and resume them when the busy season has passed. Alternatively, if you find that economic factors have stabilized and that is the reason for the declining participation, an appropriate strategy might be to have sessions once a month compared to the weekly sessions you had originally. Regularly monitor the number of “hits” to your web site. The business that operates your website should be able to provide you with information about the number of people that access your website and the number that are linking to the market information sources you are highlighting. In addition, monitor comments farmers make when you meet with them. Also, keep track of how new customers come to you — take time to ask the question, “How did you hear about us?” This information is vital in understanding how your word-of-mouth marketing program is working.
Word-of-mouth marketing isn’t deception
The important thing to keep in mind with respect to word-of-mouth marketing is that your customers will “tell it like it is.” If your business is solid and you have a well positioned product/service mix, word-of-mouth marketing can be your most effective marketing tool. However, if you have areas where your business is not as strong and/or have weaknesses in your product/service mix, then the first order of business is to take care of those weaknesses and then begin the implementation of your word-of-mouth marketing plan. If you take heed of the following points, you will be well on your way to making your word-of-mouth marketing program work for you.
Word-of-mouth can’t be faked
We noted above the importance of getting the leaders and the best producers to be your key “talkers.” However, focus on those leaders who are known as your customers. If it is well known that a particular leader does not traditionally patronize your business, then getting him or her to talk about your business will not be credible.
Just be yourself
It can be difficult when you implement a word-of-mouth marketing program because you and your staff will find yourselves in the middle of the conversations (either in person or via Internet blogs) with your customers. Simply be upfront with respect to your presence.
As suggested above, wear a shirt with your business logo prominently displayed. When you are upfront with respect to your presence, you will find your customers will appreciate that honesty and before long they will be talking as openly and freely as if you were not there.