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The Value of "Word of Mouth" Research
Before I get into specific research resources, I want to give a "plug" for
what I consider the best type of research of all: word of mouth. There is simply no
substitute for personal experience, and recommendations from people you know. In fact,
there are many very successful, excellent businesses that make their living almost
entirely on word of mouth referrals--they do virtually no advertising, and don't have to.
Their satisfied customers refer new business to them, and are happy to do it. These are
the types of companies I prefer to work with personally.
The key advantage of word of mouth research is that it is from people you trust.
You aren't just getting comments from strangers, but from people whose opinions you
respect. You are able to judge their opinions in the context of what you know about them.
You also know that they don't have ulterior motives, and that they aren't trying to
"sell you" anything.
You should bear in mind that not all word of mouth references are created equal. Here
are some tips for making the most of these referrals:
- Get Detail: You want to get as much detail as you can about what is good about
the vendor, and why. "This vendor is great" is certainly a useful datum, but it
doesn't really tell you a lot. It also leaves wide open the possibility that the vendor is
"great" in a way that means very little to you personally. Find out what was
great about them, and see if that applies to your needs and wants.
- Strength In Numbers: No company stays in business more than say, a year, having only
dissatisfied customers. Even the worst companies have customers that have had good
experiences. If you only get one referral, that is certainly of significant value, but two
or three for the same company are far better. One way to do this is to get a reference for
a company from one person and then double-check it against another source. Note that the
same "sample size" rule applies to negative comments about vendors: don't
automatically assume they are junk based solely on the bad experiences of one person.
- Be Sure The Referral Is Current: Companies change over time, and computer
companies can change dramatically. A five-year-old comment about a company may be of
limited value; in much less time than this, some good companies go bad, and some bad
companies clean up their acts. Of course in the computer industry, just having a company
stick around for five years says a lot about them!
- Use For Local Companies: Word of mouth is the best way to find out what local companies are good to work with. For large national
companies, it's relatively easy to find lots of information about them online and from
larger publications and research resources. For small local companies all you may have is
the word of other customers.
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