Word of Mouth vs. Referrals: What's the difference?

If you’ve been listening to me at all, you probably know that I have a pet peeve about word of mouth -- I don’t think it’s all that!

A lot of people get their clients through "word of mouth," and often come to me when that dries up.

Because although it’s great when someone passes your name along, it’s not something you can control. So it’s very precarious to build a business on word of mouth.

Today’s guest on the Marketing Mentor podcast, Michael Roderick, makes a distinction between word of mouth and referrals. His business, Small Pond Enterprises, is centered around the idea that a brand can be more or less referable.

And we talked a lot about how to find the 3 types of referral partners you can find and engage to help you grow your business: 

  1. Angels
  2. Translators
  3. Producers

Michael is also the co-host of the Access to Anyone Podcast

How referable is my brand or your brand? Take Michael's "Referability Rater" quiz to find out.

So listen here (or below) and learn.

 

P.S. Michael was referred to me by my good friend, Terri Trespicio, who has a new book available for pre-order, Unfollow Your Passion. It's awesome!

And if you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

 

Transcript of Marketing-Mentor Podcast #427
Word of Mouth vs. Referrals with Michael Roderick

Ilise Benun  

A lot of people get their clients through “word of mouth” and often come to me when that dries up because, although it's great when someone passes your name along, it's not something you can control. So, it's a very precarious way to build a business. Today's guest on the podcast, Michael Roderick, makes a distinction, however, between “word of mouth” and “referrals.” His business is centered around the idea that a brand or a business can be more or less referable. “How referable is my brand?” I asked him. “And how referable is your brand?” It's an interesting idea. So listen and learn.

 

Hello, Michael. Welcome to the podcast. Please introduce yourself.

 

Michael Roderick  

Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. I'm Mike Roderick. I run Small Pond Enterprises, which helps thoughtful givers become thought leaders through the creation of referable brands.

 

Ilise Benun  

Alright, so break that down for me, one word at a time. What is a “thoughtful giver”?

 

Michael Roderick  

Thoughtful givers are coaches, usually coaches and consultants, who are very, very good at the work that they do, but they love to give to their audience and give to their clients. And, they tend to not do that for themselves. They tend to step away from the aspect of looking at their intellectual property and looking at the things that they create, and really trying to package those things. I help them with that aspect of becoming a thought leader by creating a referable brand for themselves. Basically, I help them think about how their ideas are going to be packaged in such a way that people will talk about them, when they're not in the room, in a good way.

 

Ilise Benun  

Alright, so I want to ask you about word of mouth and referability, but before we go there, let's just define more terms. Thought leader—let's not assume anybody knows what a thought leader is. 

 

Michael Roderick  

Sure. A thought leader is an individual who has leading thoughts. Somebody who takes their ideas and they package it in such a way that it encourages a following. People want to follow that person, listen to that person, pay attention to the things that that person puts out into the world.

 

Ilise Benun  

And the other term you used was “referable brands.” What does that mean?

 

Michael Roderick  

A referable brand is a brand that others will have conversations about, when the individual who has come up with the idea is not there. It’s a brand you already sort of remember, it already kind of sticks in your head, even if you're not in the same room as the person who just explained the concept or shared the idea.

 

Ilise Benun  

Are you an example of the type of people that you work with?

 

Michael Roderick  

Yes, in many, many ways. Back when I was mainly working in the theatrical world, I ended up coming up with a series of different frameworks around relationship building; and the more that I taught those frameworks, the more I would find that I would get introductions. People would start sending folks my way, and repeating the frameworks that I had created and actually talking about those frameworks, usually when I wasn't there. So, things were always coming to me and people were saying, “Oh, I need to know more about this particular framework or this particular idea or this particular concept.”

 

Ilise Benun  

I think one of the things we're talking about here is distinguishing between “referability” and “word of mouth,” because, as I've said to you, a lot of people come to me when I asked them how they market their services. “Oh well, I get a lot of word of mouth,” and I bristle at that response because word of mouth is not a marketing tool. It's not something you can rely on, and it's not something you can count on and, most of the time, it's not something you can actively or proactively do. But, I think your position is that referability is, and it's different from word of mouth. So, just respond to that for me.

 

Michael Roderick  

When we think about the idea of “word of mouth,” whoever is the person talking about either you, your service, your idea, or whatever the scenario is, they're in control. That could be good word of mouth. That could be bad word of mouth. That could be completely confusing word of mouth. There's really no way for somebody to control word of mouth, when people are talking about what they've just experienced. 

 

When you're dealing with “referability,” you actually give people something to talk about. And when they have that thing to talk about—whether it be your framework, your product or your service, or even just you as an individual—and you package it in such a way that it actually makes them look better by talking about it or by describing it, you end up having more people start to come to you. 

 

Ilise Benun  

You’re going to have to give me an example.

 

Michael Roderick  

Sure, good example would be the Simon Sinek “Start With Why” talk. Most people have seen this presentation. But, when you look at what gets shared in that presentation, it's the Golden Circle. He draws this golden circle that shows us that “why” is in the center. He talks about this idea of starting with why, and what ends up happening is that other people go out and they start drawing that circle for their friends and saying, “You shouldn't be thinking about what you're doing, you shouldn't be thinking about how you're doing it, you should be thinking about why.” And that basically makes them look better in front of their friends because they have that framework. Then what happens, naturally, is people say, “Where did you learn that? Where did that framework come from?” And as a result, it circles back to Simon Sinek. That's one of the core reasons why that talk has done as well as it has—because everybody can draw a circle and look smart in front of their friends.

 

Ilise Benun  

But of course, not everyone is going to be or become Simon Sinek. It sounds to me like what you're talking about is “content marketing,” right?

 

Michael Roderick  

It has elements of content marketing. But, there's also this aspect of creating. Creating an idea that, when people hear it, they want to share with others. So, it's not necessarily always that you're writing this huge piece or you're creating all of this by social media content. It could be something as simple as, you have a quote that you use in one of your talks and people remember that quote. And they start to share that quote and talk about that quote and then people start to ask, “Where did you learn that? Where did you hear about that?”

 

Ilise Benun  

Alright, I'm going to put you on the spot, and I know you don't know me very well but, based on what you do know about me and my business, would you say there's an element of what you're describing there somewhere?

 

Michael Roderick  

Definitely. You have this very specific distinction of helping coaches and consultants find the better client who's going to pay them more. There are lots of people who will tell you, “You know, here's how to grow your business” or “Here's how to market and use a lot of these sort of generic ideas.” 

 

But you're tapping into what I often refer to as a “target problem.” So we often talk about a target market but, one of the best ways to really get at the heart of something and to actually get more people to refer you is to reference a target problem. So, when I think of somebody who comes to me and says, “You know, Mike, I'm not getting paid what I want to get paid. I'm not getting the right types of clients right now, and it's really frustrating,” you have created a trigger in my brain to want to send them to you, because there is that level of specificity.

 

Ilise Benun  

The phrase that you're referring to is a tagline that I have used in various different ways over time, but it's: “Do you need better clients with bigger budgets?”

 

Michael Roderick  

Yeah, and that's the other element of that, and one of the core reasons why I remembered so much of it—because you crafted that language with alliteration. Alliteration is one of the tools that we use all the time to keep something in our memory. It's one of the core reasons why it's so easy to remember lyrics to songs versus a passage from a book. You use alliteration and, as a result, that's going to stay more within my memory.

 

Ilise Benun  

That's interesting, because I just love alliteration. That's why I use it more than anything, and you know Marketing Mentor, also I chose because I love the alliteration of it. Little did I know, 20 years later, it would be a thing that came to mind when people tried to come up with, “What do I need?” Now lately, people are literally searching for what they think they need, which is a marketing mentor, and I've been coming up for people who are not good clients for me because they usually just want to learn about how to do a marketing career. But, that's not what I teach. 

 

But, I do love marketing alliteration. I love marketing, too. And so, it's interesting what you're saying. I would connect it back to just my love of language. Most of my clients are designers, photographers, illustrators, copywriters, yes, coaches and consultants; but a lot of visually-oriented people who are not so great with the words. So, what is your suggestion for people who are more visually oriented to try to integrate some of the ideas that are part of what I imagine to be your framework?

 

Michael Roderick  

We often only look at referral partners, and what we want to find in our lives are what I call “referability partners.” These are people who help us become more referable because they can see the things that we can't. 

 

There are three types of referability partners: translators, angels, and producers.  Translators are those people who are able to see the things that we're doing and give us a very clear picture of what it is that we're actually doing. If you're a visual person and you're not necessarily a words person, having somebody within your circle—whether it be that you've hired a coach or somebody to help you with it, or whether or not it's just somebody within your circle who has that ability to translate the idea into something that has alliteration—is a very, very powerful tool. 

 

I'll just tap very quickly on the other two. Angels are people who are always in that talent-scout mode and they're looking for people who have interesting things that they're doing, and they're making introductions to other individuals that in some cases are higher levels or who have bigger platforms. 

 

The final category are the producers. These are the people who have spent a bunch of time in an industry, so they've gotten to a point where they understand exactly how that industry works, and who you need to reach out to, and how you can move faster within that industry. 

 

So, when you identify those people within your circle, who have that insight, who can see the things that you can't, you're able to do so much more, because we are just naturally far too close to our material. The metaphor that I often use is that, in our businesses, very, very often, our faces are pressed up against the TV screen, and it feels like all we're seeing are colored pixels. So, we need people behind us to tell us what's on TV, and most importantly to tell us if we need to change the channel.

 

Ilise Benun  

So, translators, angels, and producers. And, tell me if there's a certain type of person that I'm not sure fits into one of your three categories or maybe it's a fourth category, but I would call it a “Yenta,” a matchmaker. Of course, I'm thinking of Fiddler on the Roof, and people who bring people together and are excellent networkers. Where do those people fit?

 

Michael Roderick  

They usually fall in the angel category because most connectors tend to want to vary their connections. They want to find people in different industries and thread those people together; that's part of the excitement of it. And that angel category is all about thinking: who needs to know who? The thing that I'll often also see is that some people have elements of other qualities. You could have an angelic producer who loves to connect people but also really understands the industry. Or you could have an angelic translator who's really good at translating, helping people out, but they're also really good at making introductions and connecting people and threading them together. So, there's lots of different ways that this can manifest itself.

 

Ilise Benun  

Let's talk a little bit about the idea that instead of marketing oneself or one's services to the end clients that we want to work with, we would perhaps be better served finding referral sources who are in a position to make a referral, and do so on an ongoing basis. Talk a little bit about that concept.

 

Michael Roderick  

So ultimately, we share things because it makes us look better. If we're talking to somebody who is a good referral partner, they will listen to what it is that we can do for somebody else, and then they will look at their network and say, “Okay, I know somebody else who has that problem. I know somebody else who is struggling with that thing that you're talking about.” And they will go to that person and say, “Hey, I know somebody who you should talk to.” Or, “I know somebody who you should work with.” 

 

So, the more we help people who fit into that referral partner category to understand the problem that we solve, when they're out there talking to others and others speak about that problem, they're going to look good by being able to say, “I know somebody who can help you with that. I know somebody who that is exactly what they focus on, that's exactly what they do.” And it makes them look better because it makes them into a resource. 

 

One of the things that I've seen over and over and over again is that we will always try to undercut the prices of a service provider because we can always find another service provider. But, it's much, much harder to discount—or not pay attention to—the person who is also a resource where they're connected to lots of opportunities and other people, because they become an integral part of our networks and of our worlds.

 

Ilise Benun  

Okay. One of the ways that we met was through a mutual friend, Terri Trespicio, and so I want another specific example—whether you use Terri or yourself—but the question is, who are the referral partners for you?

 

Michael Roderick  

Often my referral partners are the coaches and consultants who are addressing people at a different stage in their career. So, very often, there's a timeline for pretty much any client that you have in terms of where the services land and what they decide to do. That timeline can change over time but, most of the time, there is a trajectory that people are going on. Let's just say for example, I meet somebody and their expertise is in scaling a business, where you're just getting tons and tons of people coming your way and you're not sure how to handle it and everything's kind of falling apart. They're able to help you figure out: who do I hire, who do I work with, how do I structure this. 

 

If I help someone create a referable brand or I help them create a framework that leads to them getting inundated with requests for what they have to offer, and they haven't had that before, then I'm going to refer them out to that person who understands scaling, because that's something I can't possibly do. 

 

Conversely, I've had instances where there are people in the web design space, or who work specifically on the visual side of a business, who will say to their clients, “You're not actually clear on what you want right now and you're not really clear on who you are, so you should really talk to Mike about what your big idea is, what your big concept is, and then come back to me, when this whole thing is sorted out.”

 

Ilise Benun  

All right, then my last question for you is the inverse of what you're describing now, and that is, who are you a good referral partner for?

 

Michael Roderick  

Most of the time, I am a good referral partner for individuals who are already working with coaches and consultants. So, if they've got a group that they are working with, and it's all coaches and consultants, most of the time I'm able to help them identify other people for their group. I've come in and spoken at different people's groups and organizations, and as I’m meeting all of these other coaches who then ask me, “Where is the community” or “Where can I connect,” I'm able to send them to other people. 

 

Ilise Benun  

And so, to bring this back around to Terri, it seems to me because I've seen you promoting some of her workshops and content, actually, that you are a good referral partner for her and people like her. Is that true?

 

Michael Roderick  

Yes, exactly. And, it's because she is specializing in areas that I am not specializing in, that will go in a different direction from the clients that I'm working with, and in some cases there are parallels in terms of what we're teaching but we're teaching it in a different way. We're handling it in a different way. As a result, I'm often able to say, “You actually don't need me. You need, Terri,” or, “You know what? We've done this work together, but this is something that I'm not sure is really the best fit for me, where I think I can help you. But I think Terri could help you with this.” And then I'm able to send folks her way as a result of that. 

 

Ilise Benun  

Interesting. All right. Well, Michael, please give the people a place where they can find you online.

 

Michael Roderick  

Awesome. So, if you go to MyReferabilityRater.com, you can take a test that breaks down your referabilities. You can actually look at how referable your business is. Once you've done that, you'll get the results, and then feel free to reach out. Happy to answer any other questions and all of that fun stuff. And then, I'm all over the socials: SmallPondEnterprises.com and those places, as well.

 

Ilise Benun  

All right. Thank you so much for sharing what you have learned and developed, and we will see you again soon.

 

Michael Roderick  

Thanks so much for having me.

 

Ilise Benun  

I do hope you learned a little something. Little by little, I promise it will get easier, and before you know it, you'll have more and more confidence. Speaking of confidence, if you cringe when a prospect asks for a proposal, or if you can never come up with the right thing to say in the moment, I think you'll like my latest ebook: Worth It. How Getting Good at the Money Talk Pays Off.” It's packed with case studies, resources, and plenty of “what to say when” scripts for tricky, in real time conversations and email messages. So, you never again say the wrong thing. You can find it at Marketing-Mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are practicing what I preach to overcome, once and for all, the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.