Word of Mouth For Vertical Specialist Agencies

“If you build a great experience, clients tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

Jeff Bezos
Chairman of Amazon.com

Word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing.

I define it as the unaided spread of your brand (by happy clients).

That last part is in parentheses because word of mouth can be positive or negative.

Here's a helpful formula for creating positive word of mouth. I adapted it from author and entrepreneur Chip Conley and his formula for building client loyalty:

(my addition in bold)

You create client loyalty and word of mouth by meeting not only their needs but also their desires and unrecognized needs.

Here’s how it breaks down:




Client Intimacy

Meet clients’ needs

Meet the base expectations of your clients



Meet clients’ wants

Deliver more than what your client expects



Meet clients’ unrecognized needs

Solve problems your clients aren’t expecting from you.



Here’s an example from a well-known home gym equipment brand, Peloton:

Meet Peloton’s client needs

Work out at home

Meet Peloton’s client wants

Be entertained and inspired

Meet Peloton’s client unrecognized needs

Belong to a community of like-minded people

If you know someone who works out on a Peloton bike or treadmill at home, you know it’s much more than a piece of exercise equipment. They employ charismatic workout trainers who make you feel like you’re with them in person at the spin studio. But they have also built features into their product to make it easy to connect and built a community with other Peloton riders. These features include:

  • Leaderboards where you can see people who are currently or previously taking the same class as you, along with their real-time ranking.
  • Tags that allow you to express the many facets of your identity and connect with the various communities you're a part of. Popular tags are college alumni groups, hometown colleagues.
  • High Fives allow you to send a fellow member a dose of encouragement by tapping their avatar next to their Leaderboard name.

Here’s another example from my time at Scorpion.

When I joined the company in 2015, Scorpion had about 1,000 clients, a majority of whom were Personal Injury (PI) attorneys. 

At that time, the internet wasn’t as commonly used by attorneys as a place to market their practice, however, this was rapidly changing. Their potential clients were using search engines like Google to find an attorney in their time of need, such as if they were in an auto accident or injured at work.  Those PI attorneys websites that rose to the top of Google search results (either through PPC or SEO), would get the clicks and the clients.

Generally speaking, PI attorneys had a distaste for online marketing.  They felt like a fish out of water.  It just wasn’t their strong point.  Instead, most of them preferred to be in the courtroom, arguing a case in front of a judge. As a result, most PI attorneys would outsource their marketing to an agency like Scorpion. 

In the case of Scorpion, through our specialization on working with PI attorneys for the previous 10 years, we found that those attorneys who were the most successful with internet marketing had a great ‘intake’ process. 

Intake is what happens when a law firm receives a phone call from someone looking to hire the law firm to handle their case. Ideally, the phone is answered quickly and courteously by a knowledgeable and caring staff member. The staff member’s job is to gather some basic information from the prospective client, screen out the bad fits, and set expectations with the good ones about next steps. 

A healthy intake process means having a consistently followed process that produces the desired result, new law firm clients.

Over those same 10 years, we also found that attorneys who had a lousy intake process, or no process at all would suffer when it comes to their internet marketing. These are the attorneys who don’t answer incoming calls and take a week or two to respond to voice messages. These poor attorneys would pay a couple of hundred or thousand dollars per lead from Google, and never actually get a new client because their lousy intake process was broken.

This unsophisticated attorney would in turn simply blame the digital marketing agency handling their internet marketing for not delivering valuable leads, when in large part, the agency did their part and it was the attorney (and their staff) who dropped the ball. 

By recognizing that most attorneys fell into the lousy intake process’ camp, we began coaching those attorneys on the best practices our most successful law firm clients used in their intake process.

This not only improved the attorney’s ROI from internet marketing, but also addressed more holistic structural issues in their firm that were preventing them from growing. 

But we didn’t stop there. 

The type of law firm we served as clients were essentially what I call owner-operator businesses.  Some attorney clients were a one-person-firm, and others only had a handful of people working for them.  And because the internet was quickly becoming the primary source of new cases, they spent more and more attention on how their internet marketing campaigns were performing.  However, because they weren’t experts in internet marketing, they’d frequently call their Scorpion account manager to ask questions and talk about the campaigns. 

Our approach to managing our clients was to make each client feel like they were our only client.  We would spend time with them on the phone.  We would ask them about their business, and show a genuine interest in them and sometimes even get to know their employees and spouses (who were often involved with the firm). We would celebrate when they hit goals or milestones. We would send them thoughtful anniversary gifts, birthday cards, and flowers if one of them ended up in the hospital. 

In short, we genuinely cared about them as people.   This care transformed our relationship from a vendor into a partner (or even a quasi-member of their staff). We became a reliable and trusted advisor who was now managing this increasingly important part of their law firm. 

Our intimate relationship with our law firm clients had an additional side benefit, although it wasn’t the key driver for developing it.  Our genuine client relationship helped us survive the months of inevitable poor performance. Google and other search engines were not under our direct control, and once in a while the dynamics of SEO or PPC would work against us, creating less-than-favorable performance.  When this happened, we would take responsibility where due, explain what happened and what we were going to do differently going forward.  A month or two or poor performance rarely resulted in the client ending the relationship with us.  Instead, they knew that we were on it and things would get better soon.

In summary:

  •    Helping our clients generate internet leads would satisfy them
  •    Helping our clients improve their intake process would delight them
  •    Helping our clients by being their trusted advisor for all things marketing would transform them into loyal clients and spread the word about our company to other attorneys

Meet clients’ needs

Generate internet leads at a reasonable cost

Meet clients’ wants

Get intake coaching

Meet clients’ unrecognized needs

Have a trusted growth advisor who cares about your success

Generate Positive Word of Mouth By Meeting Your Clients’ Unrecognized Needs

To maximize the potential for positive word of mouth within your Focus Vertical, you need to start meeting your clients’ unrecognized needs. If you don’t already know what those are, a good place to start is to sit down and explore the question “what business are you in.”

For example, Starbucks isn't in the business of selling coffee. You can buy coffee anywhere. Instead, they're in the business of creating a third place.  I’ll explain.  When I was getting my MBA at USC in 2007 I had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai to meet with multinational companies who were building a presence in China. One of those companies we met with was Starbucks.

Generally speaking many people living in Shanghai lived in multi-generational homes, meaning a school-aged students live with their parents and their grandparents all in the same living quarters.  Those students have two places to be: at home or at school.  Starbucks became the third place where they could hang out with friends, drink coffee and be cool.  As a result, many Starbucks locations in Shanghai had large seating areas for people to chill out.

Shanghai Starbucks Reserve™ Roastery

Here’s the same formula as above, but applied to Starbucks: 

Meet clients’ needs

Buy coffee

Meet clients’ wants

Convenient, modern design, loyalty program

Meet clients’ unrecognized needs

Create a third place where you belong

What Business Are You In?

“What business are you in?” is question my team and I would ask ourselves often at Scorpion.  

For us, the answer was:

We are trusted advisors for our attorney clients, so they could focus on what they do best, win cases. 

The clarity this brought us helped pave the way for expanding the scope of how we helped our clients beyond basic internet lead generation, and into enabling our attorney clients to build the ultimate version of a practice they aspired to create.

For you, getting the basics right isn’t enough.

You have to do much more than provide basic client satisfaction if you ever want to grow client loyalty and accelerate word of mouth.

So the question I have for you today is “what business are you in?”

Remember, the more you can deliver value at the level of meeting clients’ unrecognized needs, the more loyalty and word of mouth you’ll enjoy.

In the bonus section of this book, you’ll find a worksheet titled “What Business Are We In?” with questions and prompts to help you discover what this is for your business.

Once you’re clear on the true business you are in, you are able to enhance the value you provide to your clients. Doing so, you’ll enjoy more loyalty and word of mouth.

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