Word of mouth is the #1 influence on business purchase decisions and is best leveraged through face-to-face marketing efforts, according to a new study of US and UK executives conducted by market research firm the Keller Fay Group and sponsored by experiential marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide.

Word of mouth — one person sharing marketing-relevant information with another person — is far more influential for business executives than other communication channels. Fifty percent of business executives report they are highly likely to buy a product or service based on word of mouth; 49% pass on what they’ve heard to others. Executives report that word of mouth has more than twice the influence of advertising, direct mail or press coverage on purchase decisions.

Business decision-makers most value communication channels that provide two-way dialogue. Top influences on their business purchase are: recommendations from a colleague or friend, interaction with a salesperson, participation at in-person marketing events, conferences and tradeshows and the internet.

The vast majority of executive word of mouth occurs “offline,” with over 75% happening in-person. Online and digital media account for only a small portion of executive word of mouth, with email comprising three percent, and IM/text messaging and blogs/on-line chat accounting for about one percent each. Face-to-face interaction predominates both at the office and at home — and defies conventional wisdom that word of mouth is largely electronic.

“The study provides clear directives about the influence of word of mouth in the BtoB space and the need to engage decision-makers face-to-face,” says Laura Shuler, Chief Strategy Officer and President (US) of Jack Morton Worldwide. “Marketers need to provide a hands-on experience with the brand in a setting that’s conducive to two-way dialogue.”

Personal experience with a product or service is the #1 catalyst for recommendation, with 86% of executives saying they recommend a brand or service based on first-hand experience. 60% of word of mouth conversations include advice to buy, try or consider a brand. Fewer than one in 10 conversations advise avoiding a brand.

The study also suggests that business executives are “super influencers” who are a prime target for both BtoB and BtoC marketing efforts, as they talk about and recommend brands at far greater percentages than the general public.

“BtoC marketers should take note,” adds Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group and co-author of The Influentials. “They should reach out to business executives as influencers and ‘passionates’ for their brands and think of them as another channel for brand-building.”

When compared to others, business executives:

— Have more word of mouth conversations and talk about more brands:
Business executives have 118 conversations about products and
services per week, citing 102 brands — significantly more than the
general public, who on average have 100 conversations per week, citing
77 brands.

— Talk more about certain categories of products and services:
Executives have significantly more conversations each week about
financial products and services, telecommunications and technology.
They talk about many more brands in these sectors than the general
public: 43% more financial products/services and telecommunications
brands; and 56% more technology brands.

— Keep current and make more brand recommendations: Business executives
are 32% more likely than the average person to keep up with the news
across a range of work and more personal categories, including
financial services, technology, telecommunications, automotive and
travel. They’re also 28% more likely to make recommendations within
these categories compared to the general public.