Credit: Composite illustration by Ad Age

The hotel app worked like a charm. Not only was I able to choose my room, I bypassed registration and used a digital key to open the door. Excited about this experience, I shared it on Twitter tagging a couple of CX experts, one of whom said, “love that too but at Doubletree, it’s worth stopping at the front desk for your cookie.” Touché. An app is cool but cookies are a faster to way to your customer’s heart and wallet and pertaining to this article, far better at generating consistent word-of-mouth.

As I learned in Jay Baer’s new book, “Talk Triggers,” it turns out that Doubletree gives away 75,000 cookies per day, inspiring 34 percent of their customers to talk about the brand during their stay. Those are big numbers and unusually consistent. Baer runs Convince & Convert, a digital strategy consulting firm. Wondering how Baer’s research on generating word-of-mouth might be applied to B2B marketing, we had a long discussion, highlighting among other things the need to “operationalize” word-of-mouth as a strategic pre-marketing activity.

This is about more than marketing, right?

Yes. It’s about making strategic, operational choices in your business that compel word-of-mouth. It has been around since the very beginning. Everyone knows that word-of-mouth is important. Yet, nobody has a word-of-mouth strategy. Ninety-one percent of all B2B purchases are influenced by word-of-mouth. Some of us do word-of-mouth on accident but nobody does it on purpose. It is the most important thing in business that nobody talks about.

Alright, we’re talking about it now. But what’s new here?

A lot of marketers are trying to do big crazy things. People will talk about it, and they’ll post it in social media, and it could go viral. But that’s not a strategy. That’s a lottery ticket. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try it. It’s not a repeatable strategy. Some of the best talk triggers have been around forever, like Doubletree hotel’s cookies that they give out. Talk triggers are operational decisions that create a marketing advantage. It’s something that you choose to do differently, as opposed to something that you say differently.

What are some common mistakes companies make when approaching word of mouth?

First, people tend to just want to get around a conference table and brainstorm. They want to skip the customer feedback and knowledge part and that’s typically a mistake. This is not an overnight project, nor should it be. Second, the measurement piece is hard to get at. People want to know what the impact was. That’s all knowable, but you just might have to do some work. For B2C companies, it’s a little easier to see word-of-mouth because you can see evidence in social media chatter, ratings and review sites, etc. Some of that’s true in B2B, like the example of UberConference [more on that below]. But in most B2B, you just need to actually do research.

You use the expression “same is lame” which I love and plan to borrow. Why is sameness even on the table?

This tendency is true for all companies, but it is even more so for B2B in that we tend to just follow the leaders. That makes sense intuitively, but when you do that, you can never be anything other than second best. Human beings are physiologically wired to discuss things that are different and ignore things that are average. Nobody talks about adequate experiences that they have had. The whole idea of a talk trigger is arming your customers with an easy-to-tell story that they can pass along to their friends. When people tell stories, they want the story to be interesting to the listener. Talk triggers have to be different enough to be talkable. That is why same is lame.

Do you have a B2B example to share?

First of all, the value of each prospect is so much higher in B2B, and the role of customer conversation and recommendations is so much more universal in all B2B purchases. One of my favorite examples is UberConference, a free conference calling service. UberConference’s ‘talk trigger’ is that when you wait on hold for other parties to join your call, they do not make you listen to the perfunctory, jazz knockoff Kenny G. music. They have you listen to a hilarious song about the absurdity of waiting on hold, which was actually written by their CEO and Co-founder, Alex Cornell. It is so funny that if you search ‘UberConference put us on hold’ on Twitter, you’ll see tweet after tweet. You also see it all over review platforms. That’s an example of when a talk trigger is successful by doing something a little left of center. They chose to have a funny, absurd song instead of what people expect. That operational decision creates word-of-mouth.

How about another B2B example?

A company called Americollect in Green Bay is a great example of this. All they do is medical collections calls. They’re usually seen as the bad guys, and most people in that business really lean on you. It is an unpleasant circumstance in every way, shape, and form, but their slogan is “Ridiculously Nice Collections”. Not only is it awesome from a humanity perspective, but it’s such an effective talk trigger and has created incredibly powerful results.

Out of the five different type of talk triggers that you outline in your book, which one is most applicable to B2B?

In B2B instances, a “talkable attitude” is the most commonly used. For example, Superior Glove which is located outside of Toronto, Canada, competes against a lot of Asian companies who make lower quality, lower cost gloves. Superior Glove makes something like 400 different kinds of gloves, for whatever bizarre job you have. But they’re getting undercut on price and quality. They needed a talk trigger, so that people would know that the gloves were made in North America, and therefore, are presumably of higher quality. When you get a pair of Superior Gloves now, a little patch is on the back. If you scratch that patch, it smells like maple syrup. Maple syrup-scented work gloves. That is a talkable attitude. That’s a little different than you would expect from a work-glove manufacturer.

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