These days, about 70 percent of companies use marketing automation to some extent. This makes sense; managing a large network can be challenging. However, in my experience, word of mouth is always more powerful.

If I had to guess what percentage of my business comes via word-of-mouth referrals, I'd say it's probably in excess of 60 to 70 percent. Having built a career as a super-connector and celebrity wrangler for over 25 years, my network is my stock in trade. My referrals come from a range of sources: peers, colleagues, past clients, and followers.

In a world of automated messaging and data-driven digital advertising, 83 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family more than any other form of marketing. Which just goes to show that focusing on building word-of-mouth credibility is still the gold standard.

How a Super-Connector Generates Referrals

I've been doing this for a long time, so a lot of it has become second nature to me at this point. But even if you're just starting out, here are a few tips that will help you increase your ability to generate word-of-mouth referrals:

1. Just ask!

Sounds simple, but so many people forget. Don't hesitate to ask current clients who are clearly satisfied with your work to make referrals to three or four of their peers who would also benefit from working with you. This is the "triple win" concept in action. The referrers win because they make a valuable introduction (which makes them look good), their colleagues win because they stand to benefit from your skills and expertise, and you win by securing additional business.

Even if you don't have an official process, 69 percent of companies that focus on referrals close business faster. When you see an opportunity to create a win-win-win trifecta, jump on it and make the ask!

These kinds of relationships can also develop into long-term wins for everyone. When a long-time colleague of mine referred me to someone in our industry (music/tech), for example, the new contact became a client for over five years. Then, the original colleague, who recently rose in the ranks to become a high-level executive at a market-leading company, hired me to consult with him in a role perfectly suited to my capabilities and interests. This kind of synergy benefits everyone.

2. Meet your prospects where they hang out.

Seek out your audience. Speak at industry events where your ideal clients will be, and prospective clients will approach you afterward to talk. Be a media guest on radio talk shows, podcasts, or TV shows so more people in your target market can hear and learn about you.

Publish content that gets in front of the right audience on a regular basis, whether it be in the form of podcasts, blogs, articles for prestigious publications, newsletters, videos -- the list of possible outlets is endless. And don't give up -- it's not a one-and-done, short-term solution. In fact, 62 percent of B2B marketers believe that content marketing becomes more successful over time -- and helps define you as a thought leader.

I regularly do all the things I just mentioned regarding content marketing. Recently, an article I published on the rise of virtual reality in the music industry generated several prospective leads and referrals. I'm now in the process of evaluating which of those potential clients would be right for me. Sometimes, when your content strikes a nerve, it creates a great funnel for new business.

3. Position yourself as an expert.

I've hosted my share of networking events and workshops over the years. They don't always lead to new business for me, but they certainly have at times.

However, if I'm able to make referrals of my own -- forging connections between attendees and participants that lead them to doing business with one another -- then that political capital accrues to me. Consequently, both parties will be more inclined to make future referrals in my direction.

As a bonus, create premium opportunities for participants to work with you one on one as a follow-up from these events. Generating direct business is great, but remember that the people who come to these events will also come to view you as a leader, which will make them more likely to become new clients and/or evangelists for you as time goes on.

The digital age is upon us, yes. But the real power in business still lies in leveraging word-of-mouth referrals. Dive into the realm of human connection and value, and you'll see exponential returns on your digital marketing efforts and your business growth.

Published on: Jun 25, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.