I Hear You Knocking

Guess what I haven’t done in 35 years. If you said, “comb your hair,” I am going to give you partial credit.

But no, the correct answer is, “go on a date.” That’s because this past Monday was the 35th anniversary of the day I met my wife, Linda, effectively ending my unremarkable career as a single man.

Did we meet in college? No.

Did we meet at a bar? No.

Did we meet on MatchDotBumbleTinderHinge?

Please. It was 1988. Ronald Reagan was president. LeBron James was just four years old and had been in the NBA less than a year.

No. I met my wife in my own apartment when she showed up for an early Valentine’s Day party on the recommendation of our mutual friend, Nancy.

That’s right. My future wife entered my life by knocking at my front door. All I had to do was open it. Now if that’s not dating efficiency, I don’t know what is.

And, as I look back now, it’s likely the reason I am such a strong proponent of word-of-mouth marketing. Because that, more or less, is exactly how it works.

You’re not out there chasing strangers. Rather, you are letting the people you already know get to know you better and, by staying in touch over time, reminding them that you are alive (and in business). 

And then, when a friend, colleague, former coworker, neighbor, parole officer of theirs asks for a recommendation, your name comes to mind and they pass you along.

But it does require that you accomplish a couple of things…

#1. You have to be known for something.

Solving a particular problem. Serving a particular type of business. Working in a particular industry: 

I am a financial planner for airline pilots. Not just a financial planner.

I create explainer videos for the biopharma industry. Not just a multimedia consultant.

I specialize in creating adventure tours for seniors. Not just a travel agent.

There’s nothing wrong with being a Jack-of-all-trades with a broad range of skills and experience who can succeed when plugged into any number of situations. Assuming that is, you are looking for a job.

But as a small professional service firm or independent, you will have a hard time as a generalist. People want to hire experts; you need to become the leading expert in something.

A specific, narrow focus is the quickest path.

#2. You have to stay visible.

I don’t mean visible with people you will likely never see again. I mean with the “Nancy’s” of the world – the people you already know.

So, while it’s fine to speak at conferences, publish books, guest on podcasts, etc., that’s not where word of mouth comes from (mostly). Those people don’t know you and will forget you ever existed by the time they pour their next cup of coffee.

Instead, focus on activities that are ongoing and relationship-based. Joining networking groups, emailing or calling people to say hello, sending thank you notes, staying in one-on-one touch through social media, publishing a newsletter.

Anything that solidifies the connection with your existing contacts.

Who You Know is Word-of-Mouth Fuel

I had calls with two prospective clients this week.

One was a referral from a guy who participated in one of my six-month courses ten years ago and who I haven’t seen or spoken to live since (thank you Mark W!). But we email occasionally, and he gets this newsletter.

The other was from a woman who I’ve also met just once in the 20 years we’ve known each other. But here, too, we email or connect on LinkedIn occasionally and receive each other’s newsletters (thank you, Daphne!). 

In neither case did I target, segment, chase, or otherwise try to elicit referrals from either one of these people. 

Not to say that doing any of those things is bad. I just find it simpler, easier, and a whole lot more pleasant to just answer the door whenever somebody knocks.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where did you meet your significant other? Extra credit if it was at my apartment.
  2. Does your front door have a doorknocker on it?
  3. What is your favorite word-of-mouth tactic?

Share your answers below…

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20 thoughts on “I Hear You Knocking

  1. Mark Wayland

    1. It was in my first year of High School teaching. She was in her last year as a Senior. Actually, it may have been the other way around…. but now that I’ve got your attention.
    2. No. But there’s a security panel at the building’s front door with a camera, and 3 more CC cameras to pass by, including one in the lift. Maybe this is a sign of the times?
    3. It depends on who I’m talking to… but it revolves around two words; “help” and “because.”

  2. Jonn Karsseboom

    Hi Michael! I’m never very good at answering your questions but probably because I’m never quite finished chuckling. I enjoyed your particular point of focusing on ongoing , relationship based activities because they are the word of mouth fuel. (So publishing a regular, consistent newsletter is better than say, putting on a much rehearsed and perfected air band concert.) But having said that, there’s also the self doubting feeling that perhaps my audience isn’t large enough? or talkative enough?or even attentive enough?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Jonn! The audience size question comes up a lot, but it really isn’t a scale thing so much as a depth of relationship thing. Even 10 people out in the world who are really big fans is a lot. Just keep providing useful, authentically you information and it really does take care of itself. (LIke watering a garden, not that you need my advice on that one!)

  3. Eri Zeitz

    1. We met at the welcome to new graduate students in Classics. The party was in Downey House, a small house run by the Classics Department. He was new, I’d been a grad student for a year already and when we were introduced, he said something that — well it did not sound quite appropriate! I knew he didn’t mean it and I made a joke back. When later we progressed to passing notes and drawings to one another in the Latin Survey course, I knew we would be passing notes and giggling until the end…

    2.The door has no knocker, just a peephole.
    3. I don’t have a favorite tactic, but what I’m enjoying is writing a newsletter!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You reminded me how every meeting story is unique. Another great reason to use personal experiences when writing!

  4. Michael Mott

    Michael, I’ve received your newsletter for quite a few years and can say it’s the only one I make a point of reading. Thank you for sharing your brilliant insights.

    1 – I met my wife on a blind date (so blind I didn’t even know I would be on a date). We ended up getting married in 1988 and it lasted for 32 years until she lost a battle with cancer in 2020.

    2 – Front door doesn’t have a knocker or even a doorbell, it’s mostly glass so you just knock on the door frame.

    3 – I’ve been successfully (mostly anyway) self-employed since 1989 but still can’t really describe what it is I do, probably need to work on that.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’ve seen your name here for a long time, Michael. Showing people how to improve their presentations is your thing, yes? Seems very understandable to me!

  5. Gina Abudi

    1. At work (and that is before we had our own business.)
    2. No – but now I feel like I need one (I have a video intercom)
    3. Sharing articles and interesting news items (and not just business related – for one client who was going on vacation to a place I had previously visited I shared some restaurants I enjoyed); writing “thank you” notes (and not email notes – actual Thank you notes) and eNewsletter (eventually getting restarted.)

  6. Steve Rickaby

    1. I was working on my boat, and as a passerby, she commented on my legs. And the rest is

    2. No, but my wife has a lovely pair of petiteknockers.

    3. I start with hello.

  7. Sam

    Just found you off LinkedIn and already subscribed!

    1. I am yet to find my significant other.
    2. My front door doesn’t have a knocker on it
    3. Unfortunately, I haven’t been giving people a reason to knock.

    This letter has helped me see reasons why its important to make certain that those around me are frequently reminded of my existence and what I do to make the world a better place.

    So far I have set a wide knocker for my business (it isn’t specific enough) since I just transitioned to content writing from the academic research field. Do you think saying I’m an SEO copywriter for online brands is too limited as compared to positioning as an SEO copywriter for tech brands?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Sam. Actually, I think the distinction between online brands and tech brands will be lost on most people . Both seem reasonably narrow to me.

  8. Daryl

    1. During a tour of the FBI headquarters while site seeing at a college convention. College buddy “abandoned” her when he went to move his car, and never came back so we were stuck with each other. We even have a letter from J. Edgar Hoover as proof. (Wine was involved with our letter to him.) That was 56 years ago.
    2. No door knocker, but we do have a peephole and a doorbell.
    3. Multiple favorites – magazine articles (to attract interest), newsletters (to stay in touch), workshops (to showcase experience), and targeted networking (human touch.) That and beer — my late biz partner and I were consulting engineers — beer works in that community.

  9. Stephen Church

    1. I was working as a teacher at a military hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was participating in a squash tournament and drawn against a young lady. She trod on my foot more than once, leaving me reclining inelegantly on my backside – and on each occasion, claimed the point. Needless to say, she won the match, and over the past 43 years, little has changed in our relationship.

    2. No need for a door knocker when you have a pair of semi-rabid Rottweilers.

    3. Showing a genuine interest in others and asking 2 questions –
    (i) What do you love most about what you do?
    (ii) What’s the biggest challenge about what you do?


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