The Referral Engine: A book review by Bob Morris

Referral EngineThe Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself
John Jantsch
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2012)

First, you must be (or become) worthy of the referrals you seek.

Whatever their source of power (e.g. wind, water, coal, nuclear fission), the most effective engines throughout human history share common attributes: they are well-designed and conscientiously maintained. Moreover, whenever appropriate, they are modified to accommodate the requirements of changed circumstances. For example, steam power enabled British coal companies to remove water from their mines, then remove and transport coal to mills from which steel was transported to harbors at which steam-power ships delivered it to other harbors.

John Jantsch makes brilliant use of the engine metaphor when explaining how to formulate a strategy that drives a system that “compels customers and partners to voluntarily participate in marketing, to create positive buzz about the given products and services to friends, neighbors, and colleagues.” In other words, to create or increase demand for whatever is offered by including within its marketing initiatives the active involvement of what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba characterize as “customer evangelists.” The “referral engine” really is a process rather than a mechanism. Despite what this book’s subtitle claims, no business can be “taught to market itself” any more than a piano can be “taught to play Bach.” However, as Jantsch explains, an organization’s leaders can devise and then execute the aforementioned strategy.

He cites five (actually six) of the realities to be accommodated: People male referrals because they need to (“We rate and refer as a form of survival, and, to build our own form of social currency”), All business involves risk (hence the importance of “a trust-building approach to marketing”), Nobody talks about boring businesses (“And you’re probably boring on purpose” to play it safe), Consistency builds trust (“Commitment to a remarkable difference demonstrates that yours is not a gimmick”), and Marketing is a system (However, “there is no one system that works for everyone”; actually, there is another, the most tragic referral reality of all: “How can a business owner know that word of mouth is so powerful and then do so little to take advantage of it?”

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Jantsch’s coverage.

o Staff as customer, and, Hire for fit (15-18)
o A culture of buzz (23-24)
o Meet the Four Cs of marketing (33-37)
o An expended view of collaboration (49-53)
o Fulfilling the promise (63-66)
o Visualizing the ideal customer (73-76)
o Referral brand elements ( 80-82)
o The secret sauce: TIHWDIH
o Note: This is how we do it here (83-84)
o Your strategy action plan (90-91)
o Content is the most trusted form of advertising (101-103)
o Your content action plan (114-115)
o Hidden benefits of blogging (126-128)
o A social media system example, and, Your convergence action plan (144-147)
o The ultimate measure of marketing success (160-161)
o How to activate your network (179-183)

With meticulous care, John Jantsch presents a framework – beginning with a set-up of [the aforementioned] realities – a set of overarching strategies, high- and low-tech engagement tools, and a methodology for finding the perfect culture of referral in almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. That said, he adds, “the ideal referral system, based on a strategy that gets people voluntarily talking about your business, can eliminate the need to ever actually ask for referrals again.” Meanwhile, this book will help you to craft such a strategy so that your employers, friends, and neighbors as well as customers become your “evangelists.”

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