"I get all of my clients through referrals. Word of mouth is all the marketing I need." Those words didn't come out of my mouth, nor would they. I tell people they need tools and channels and content and process and stuff. No, this was spoken by the founder and owner of a 20-year-old executive recruiting firm between bites of a Caesar salad the other day at lunch.

This guy had seen my articles in this space and just wanted to pick my brain a bit. And he was buying. So I said yes.

The first thing he wanted me to do was take a look at his website. He admitted it's out of date and doesn't really tell his story of a values-based organization very well.

Unless he was a sports agent, or a professional sports management firm, I don't think it ever told the right story. It was full of stock photography of people in formal business attire jumping over hurdles and cycling and had lots of banners and headlines about goals and finish lines and winning and all that.

I mean, those are some okay analogies, but they don't make an emotional connection. They don't tell you anything about this person, or the company, or why you would hire them. The website doesn't take you to the place where buying decisions are made.

And that's a mistake. I have heard several times recently that about 80% of the buying decisions we make either originate on the web, or involve an online engagement of some kind. That's high, huh?

80% of the buying decisions we make either originate on the web, or involve an online engagement of some kind

Maybe my lunch companion had seen the same data, and realizes he is leaving some business on the floor, or isn't seeing even more come in the door, because of ineffective marketing.

I should establish something before I go further. I am a huge fan of referrals, and have been the beneficiary of a lot of business through referrals and recommendations.

We do business with people we know, like and trust, right? And if a third party with credibility is taking our name down that path, creating that buy-in for us, the heavy lifting is done. We just need to avoid screwing it up.

We do business with people we know, like and trust, right?

So if you have lots of satisfied customers and they are generating future customers, ride that pony! But don't be a one trick pony and ignore or exclude other forms of marketing.

I was curious about the word of mouth stuff though, and decided to do a little research around it.

A 2010 article in McKinsey Quarterly looked at the impact of word-of-mouth-marketing for businesses and how companies can take better advantage of it.

The article shows how many marketers spend lots of money on elaborate campaigns when often what’s really needed to help influence consumers is a  “word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source” which “cuts through the noise” of traditional marketing methods.

Indeed, word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20% - 50% of all purchasing decisions according to McKinsey. So it works for sure.

And I think this recruiter I met with will do a new website, and begin to engage with some social media tools, and get with the program a little more proactively.

What do you think? Are there any among you in his shoes who want to tell me to trash my tweets and @#$% my Facebook fan page? Or is word of mouth not good enough these days?

Tags: Social Media, Advice, Marketing, Advertising, Credibility, Customers, Executive recruiter, McKinsey, Referrals, Trust, Websites, Word of mouth