Local Lead Generation Through Word-Of-Mouth (You Can’t Buy It): Method-Focused Guide

Reading Time: 15 minutes

We don’t have to depend upon our gut or best guesswork when it comes to local lead generation. There are scientific data-rich tools that you can use today to reach your best local customers. We’ll be exploring how to do that and more with word-of-mouth marketing.

Updated April 2020


“No, I didn’t do that.”


The most impactful phrases of your life are so extraordinarily disappointing while remaining utterly efficient, aren’t they?


I was a junior in high school, hoping the future would be better than my life to that point: more friends, more respect, more freedom.


Along with mentally cycling through my imaginings of college life, I was a lovelorn teenager, who entertained the idea I’d one day “go steady” with someone–anyone. I was on the football team, for God’s sakes, varsity no less. But nothing ever seemed to flow my way.


Then one day, one of my football teammates told me there was a note for me outside the locker room. I went to investigate.


Outside the men’s locker room was a note scribbled in White-Out. It was all about how amazing I was in the last game, how cute I was, and it was enclosed in a bouquet of heart doodles. 


The most important piece of evidence, though, was that the author had signed her name to this professiont.


I hoped it was real. I mean, it looked like a girl’s handwriting. Once I began to entertain the idea this might indeed be the real article, my heart fluttered a bit.


When I asked my football teammates who she was, they pointed her out during lunch time.


“Oh, it’s that girl,” one fellow pointed out in the cafeteria. She glowed with this brown curly hair straight out of one of those commissioned paintings from the Renaissance–and she liked me?


I couldn’t believe it.


This was going to be great.


After checking my varsity jacket for lint, I strode to the lunch line where she stood waiting with a friend. I weaved my way around the tall metal beams meant to keep students flowing toward the cash register and caught her attention.


“I heard you were supportin’ me at the last football game,” I began clumsily.


I remember her friend squinting at me as though I were speaking a foreign language.


“What are you talking about?” asked her friend.


“He’s saying that I was cheering for him at the football game,” explained the glowing one.


She got it. She got it!


Then she said it.


“That wasn’t me. No, I didn’t do that.”


When I walked back, defeated, to my seated party, no one laughed or claimed responsibility for what had just happened. Odd. 


Chalk it up to another disappointment in the irreverent Rolodex of experience that was high school.


While I would never be totally sure what happened that day, one thing from that episode is clear: what I thought was evidence turned to be fiction.


We do the same in business when we try to accomplish local lead generation. 


First let’s get clear on what local lead generation is and isn’t.


What Is Local Lead Generation?

It is the process of


  • Maximizing sales and getting more via sales leads in your local area.
  • Getting local people interested in your business.
  • Defining who your best local customers are and could be.


Local lead generation must be about more than getting an increase of the same people who do business with you now, it should also focus on finding you different kinds of people for your business in the future.


So, in that way, local lead generation has two areas of focus:

  • Helping you grow your present business.
  • Helping you grow your future business.


Maximizing sales and getting more via sales leads in your local area

In order to maximize the sales you are getting now, you’ll need to get clear on who your best customers are now. The best way to do this is to do a buyer’s persona covering the areas of background, demographics, identifiers, etc.


Scroll down to see an example of a buyer persona below.


When it comes to getting clear on who your new best customers could be, you don’t have to guess. There are free data-rich resources such as ESRI that will give you real information on the types of customers in your area.


Scroll down for more information on ESRI’s zip code lookup tool.


Getting local people interested in your business

In the pursuit of new leads and customers, you must remember to continue meeting the expectations of people who do business with you now, unless you want to end up like ‘New Coke’ back in the day. Google it for a good background.


The short story of New Coke was that the old Coca-Cola customers were pissed at the new changes pushed on them and stopped buying. Avoid Coke’s mistake.


Instead, find non-threatening ways to meet the expectations of your best future customers. This will be critical to obtaining these people.


Defining who your best local customers are and could be

While typical strategies such as creating buyer personas focus on things that are observable, or demographics (think age, sex, and location), psychographics focus on something more enduring, the lifestyle makeup of an individual. If you look closely, it can show you how your best customers view the world and what they value.


When you can present your business in such a way that you intersect with their challenges, values, and views, you have a recipe for increasing your success.


Now with all this talk about what local lead generation can do for your business, it is just as important to cover what it is not, regardless of what others might tell you.


What local lead generation isn’t

It’s important to know local lead generation isn’t


  • A list of people who promise to buy your product or service.
  • Always a list of people who have gone to similar businesses.
  • Permission to spam people.
  • A random list of people.


Remember that local lead generation ultimately depends on the ability to get very specific with a sales lead’s location and interests. Not all types of lead generation are recommended for local leads.


If using LinkedIn for local lead generation, I would recommend LinkedIn lead generation forms


Also, depending on the business, building an expert presence might help.


Does Local Lead Generation Work?

Local lead generation is similar to getting a good health result. While you may get the result of a muscular chest, or flatter stomach from working out, primarily looking at these lagging indicators of health is not the best motivator for consistent action.


Local lead generation requires regular involvement and action on your part as a business owner or executive. 


Yes, local lead generation does work, if you continue to work it. I’ll be showing you one way to do it, coming up.


While some different ways you might try to generate leads for your local business include a focus such as


  • Social media ads.
  • Contests and giveaways.
  • Local business partnerships.
  • Word-of-mouth referrals.


We will be focusing on how to generate more local business leads with marketing for better word-of-mouth referrals.


How Do You Generate Local Business Leads?

I’m a big believer in generating leads online. That said, generating local business leads with word-of-mouth is a surefire way to add rocket boosters to your local business sales.


According to research reported by ReferralCandy,

  • Word-of-mouth is easily the most trusted form of marketing.
  • 90 percent of customers seek out some kind of word-of-mouth, like reviews,  on something they want to buy.


I’ve witnessed the power of this in my life over and over again.


Most recently, I had a work friend ask me where she could find the best cookie in Denver. I thought a moment and offered a few options.


She’d tried all of my recommendations and made a face of disapproval. As a skilled baker, getting the right cookie was no laughing matter.


“Are you kidding? Those are the best cookies you’ve had here?”


Then she asked if there was a Dave’s cookies around. I told her I’d heard of it. She groaned at my ignorance, showed me the website and would not stop singing DC’s praises.


Weeks later, I ordered a pound of cookies from them.


There was no other form of marketing or advertising necessary.


This leads me to something we get crazy wrong about word-of-mouth in marketing. Word-of-mouth is brought on by great service and delivery (or user) experience. You can’t buy it.


Service and delivery are some of the most powerful marketing tools we have available to us for improved local lead generation. I created a method for developing this kind of word-of-mouth for local lead generation.


I call it the SCI-FI Method.


The SCI-FI Method: The Fiction

Inside your business, there is a rampant fiction that’s been created. This fiction is mostly due to the business owner and the people they’ve attracted to this point (usually folks that are just like them).


I’ll use a real-life example here. Years ago, I was working with a coworking space owner on his marketing, we came up with the traditional buyer persona based upon what he shared about his best customers. It read


Buyer Persona: Remote Worker Richard


    • ·         4 year College-educated
    • ·         Mid-High level designer/marketer/software
    • ·         Slightly skews single/unmarried
    • ·         Short stint in the corporate world <2 years


    • ·         Skews male, 25 to 35
    • ·         Income: $40K to 80K


    • ·         Podcast listeners
    • ·         Into humor writing
    • ·         Reads Reddit
    • ·         Up to date on current internet memes
    • ·         DIY Attitude
    • ·         Not into small talk, likes purposeful talk


    • ·         Feeling left out, neglected
    • ·         Working different time zones from teammates, really early mornings
    • ·         Might be concerned about job security

How I can help:

    • ·         Flexible scheduling, any time of day, 24/7 access
    • ·         Provide connection to a team and community
    • ·         Help them build a network to improve security

Common Objectives:

    • ·         Don’t want to pay monthly expenses (but companies pay for it)
    • ·         Don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking/driving
    • ·         People want to project the image of a remote professional office

Real Quotes

    •  “I have to travel a lot”
    • “Don’t see my teammates”


Note: To add some context, this was a traditional no-frills coworking space operating out of a twentieth-century duplex. 


It had a downhome feel without any perks—the only events run were potlucks and the owner was the kind of guy who believed McDonald’s and 7-Eleven were fine dining experiences.


We worked using his buyer persona for a long time and had some short-lived success. However, in the back of our minds, I think we found it a bit odd that we never seemed to reach any typical remote workers in the area. For some reason we just weren’t appealing to them.

Expand past your limited view

I now believe Tony Robbins when he duly noted that the limitations of a business reflect the limitations of its owner.  


That is why understanding the best new customers in your area is critical to your growth; because if left unchecked, you will automatically create a business that fits your style and tendencies — and not that of your new customers.


Looking at the buyer persona now, I can see it was almost an identical reflection of the guy who started the business: a male, avid podcast listener with a passion for thrift and fondness for tech. 


That was not going to attract the best customers in the area.


The SCI-FI Method: The Science

It wasn’t until years later that I would discover a set of amazing scientific tools that didn’t leave understanding your potential local buyers to guesswork. The best thing is that many of these tools were free such as the ESRI zip code Lookup tool.

By looking at the findings from this tool alone, I was able to discover a lifestyle group (based on psychographics)  that was most aligned with the workspace.

Some key findings

This lifestyle group I found had the following general characteristics:


  • A median age is 32.5.
  • Found social status to be very important.
  • Were more likely to be from an ethnically diverse background.
  • Top earners in this group worked in computers, mathematics, finance, and management.
  • Were likely to enjoy wine bars.
  • Owned a Mac computer.
  • Shopped at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
  • Were likely into yoga, Pilates, and skiing.


Can you see the opportunities for improvement from where we had started?


Going with insights doesn’t mean giving up your dreams. 


I get it. The reason most of us go into business is to express our unique values and creativity to the world. We want to create a space of belonging for us and others that didn’t originally exist. So, I wouldn’t recommend that a business owner compromise on his or her vision.


But perhaps there are new avenues and growth opportunities that could be easily explored without disrupting things — those would be great places to start.

SCI-FI Method: How To Generate Local Business Leads And Foot Traffic

In the SCI-FI Method, I recommend you take the fictional current customer type that you’ve created within your business and place it at point A. Then place your scientific local lifestyle group at point B and see if there is any common ground where they might meet to create growth.


A (Current Customer) → | Growth Opportunities | ← ( Local Lifestyle Group) B


What does it look like?

Imagine Mikhail owns a hamburger shop in town, he delivers the best double bacon cheeseburgers around. Review sights love him — everything seems great. The problem is that when he looks at his numbers, they seem erratic. He wants to grow but doesn’t know how.


When he looks at his current customers, they tend to be


  • Between the ages of 40 and 55.
  • Discount shoppers who adore value and his 99 cent burgers.
  • Workers in transportation, construction and facilities services.


Now, for the sake of simplicity, say Mikhail’s best new customer was the lifestyle group we’d mentioned before. Remember they


  • Worked in computers, mathematics, finance, and management.
  • Were likely to enjoy wine bars.
  • Owned a Mac computer.
  • Shopped at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
  • Were likely into yoga, Pilates, and skiing.


What could Mikhail do?

He might decide to learn more about this type of person and get some groceries at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for 2 weeks. While he’s there, he might notice all the gluten-free options they have.


And with this knowledge, Mikhail could offer to upcharge patrons for the option of gluten-free buns for their burgers. Presumably, Mikhail could run this small test and grow his business without turning off his current customers.

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