This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

If you’re running a successful business by your standards, then good for you. But I’m going to drop this bomb: It could be better by leaps and bounds just by asking your customers the simple question, “How did you hear about us?”

You might think I’m nuts saying you could grow your business that much with word-of-mouth, but I’m not.

We tested this out at my online marketing company, VerticalResponse. Any small business can sign up for our service by providing a few pieces of information to get a free account automatically set up. But for this test (which we ran for about six months), we included a drop down menu on the sign-up page that asked, “How did you hear about us?” In the menu, there were answers like “article,” “online ad” and “search engine,” but the No. 1 way people heard about us was simply, “friend.”

Now, I thought my team members had gone off the deep end telling me that many of our new customers probably came from existing customers. We even had the drop down menu dynamically display these answers in random order so people weren’t just choosing the first one on the list. And still, the number one answer was, “friend.”

To take it one step further, 50 percent of all people who came directly to our website to sign up for our service cited “friend” when asked how they heard about us.

That’s pretty powerful stuff. I’m sure that our business isn’t that much different from yours in terms of how people get their information and make a decision.

So what can you do right now?

  • Ask the question on your website. Do it directly to your customers and at your location. Look at trends to see if anything changes. You might find that positive changes you make to your business have an up-and-to-the-right effect when it comes to referrals.
  • Start a refer-a-friend program. A few of your customers might not mind getting rewarded for the referrals they bring you; some might just like to be your advocate.
  • Crank up your remarkableness. Since you’re probably already doing some really great things for your customers to refer you, do even more really great things that are worth talking about. Stay open later, have proactive chats on your website, get to know your customers better by using a contact management software program, and engage with them directly through social networks.
  • Listen to your customers. If your customers are telling you they want you to change specific things about your business and you take their ideas and put them to work, great! Tell them they’ve been heard in an email, on Facebook and Twitter.

The bottom line is that spending money on advertising alone just doesn’t work anymore. You are not the proud owner of your brand; your customers are. Listen to them and do whatever you can to make them happy, and watch your business grow – by leaps and bounds.

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