Can one sentence really create an avalanche of new business? Yes.

I have always loved marketing, and over the years I have experimented with just about every marketing method out there. It all started with my madcap entrepreneurial father who used Brainiac Marketing to grow a single carpet store into a California floorcovering behemoth. He tried every marketing trick under the sun back then -- sidewalk sales, television ads, elephants (don't ask), everything.

There is one method, indeed one simple sentence, that trumps them all, that can make all the difference.

When I started my own law firm, I quickly discovered that an apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I was, frankly, a much better marketer than I ever was a lawyer. Growing the business was fun, and I tried everything too -- seminars, Yellow Page ads, networking, elephants (no, not really), but yes, the whole enchilada.

These days, I have a content company and run websites for corporate clients, and, again, though the methods have changed, I still love playing with marketing -- pay-per-click, SEO and SEM, e-newsletters. I test them all.

Yet despite all of this freewheeling marketing experimentation, there is one method, indeed one simple sentence, that I have discovered, trumps them all, and can make all the difference.

What sentence is that, you ask?

"Would you give me a recommendation?"

Think about it. A recommendation (or, similarly, a referral) is the ultimate compliment. It is word of mouth gold, and as we all know, word of mouth is the best kind of advertising there is. Recommendations are fantastic because they come from your best, most loyal customers, telling their network that your business stands out from the crowd. These folks become your advocate, cheerleader, and brand ambassador all rolled into one.

No amount of Google ads can do that.

In fact, what is social media generally, and sharing specifically, other than a modern form of word of mouth, of giving a recommendation?  "Hey, watch this, I think you will like it!" I call it work of click.

But, no matter what you call it, having happy customers tell other people that they are in fact happy with your business is amazing because

  • It carries extra gravitas - there is an honesty to it
  • It's organic
  • It costs you nothing

Getting a recommendation can look all sorts of different ways depending upon your type of business:

  • For instance, I am a speaker (when I am not a writer.) I ask happy clients to write recommendation for me on my website. You can do the same on your site.
  • Get some letters on letterhead and post them in your store window.
  • Have a plaque or pasteboard made of excerpts from glowing thank you letters written by local notables.
  • Asking people to share their experience with your business via social media

The effect can be viral

Whatever the method, these days, the effect can be viral. It used to be one happy customer could physically tell, say, 10 friends about his or her good experience with your business. Today, online, that one person can tell 100, or 1,000. That's why I say recommendations can trigger an avalanche of business.

So, how do you get those all-important recommendations?

  1. Be worthy. The bottom-line rule is that if you want people to recommend your business, your business must be recommendation-worthy.
  2. Ask. At the end of his career, my dad had a giant banner that hung in his mecca, the carpet HQ warehouse. What did it say? What was the essence of dad's years of tinkering and testing and toying with marketing?

"Our word of mouth advertising starts with you!"

Dad distilled the essence of 40 years of marketing madness down to that one sentence. You want recommendations, and you need to ask for them.

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