MARKETING & ADVERTISING • April 1, 2015
3 minutes Read
Are you taking advantage of one of the most effective marketing tools available – one that won’t cost you thousands but can generate money instead? It’s one that you may not have considered seriously: referrals, which can play a vital role in growing your business. There are two fundamental laws of marketing that are – or should be – ingrained in the consciousness of every business owner:
1. Positive word-of-mouth advertising is the most powerful marketing tool, and
2. Giving a customer more than they expect is a sure way to inspire that kind of advertising.
It is for these reasons that businesses of every type and every size seek referrals. For small to medium-sized businesses that typically have limited marketing budgets, referrals are often the single most important part of their marketing efforts. As a small business owner, you probably put a lot of your creative energy into getting your customers to recommend your business to their professional associates. By following even a few of the following rules offered by referrals expert Genie Fuller, founder of CEO Network Partners, you can not only increase the number of referrals you get, you can also inspire your existing customers to be enthusiastic about promoting your business.
Define your ideal customers
Pick a time when you’ll be free of interruptions – typically away from the office – and:
• Visualize the kind of profitable customers you want to attract. What kind of customer do you typically seek, and what other kind of customers can you look for in the future?
• Make a list of what your business can offer its customers. Here’s where you’ll need to give more thought to those other customers, as well as your current customers. While you might be considering expanding the products and services your business offers, focus for now on how your current offerings might be valuable to customers you haven’t reached with your current offerings.
Tell your story
While some purchases are made to meet an actual physical need, the decision-making process is driven as much by emotions as by physical needs. To get a prospective customer to choose your business over your competitors, you will need to appeal to them on both levels. Prepare to do this by:
• Knowing your business’ mission. How can your business improve your customers’ business and personal experiences? How does your business strive to make sure your customers experience those improvements?
• Making an official mission statement if you don’t already have one. You have an idea as to what your mission is, but how well do you communicate it? Get feedback from your trusted employees, as well as your best customers. You might be surprised at what you learn from others’ perceptions. If you already do have a mission statement – perhaps one that you made years ago –re-evaluate it and see if it fits with your current business philosophy and practices.
• Sharing your story. Let your customers know, through casual conversation, regular newsletters, email blasts, and your website, how your business has evolved and what it hopes to accomplish, now and in the future.
Don’t hesitate to ask for referrals
Even some of the most savvy business owners are hesitant to come right out and ask their customers for referrals. Keep in mind that while you are asking your customers for a favor, you are also letting them know that you value them for more than the dollars they spend.
To get more and better referrals, GIVE referrals
This sounds so simple that too many businesses overlook it completely. As an example, if you owned a painting supply store, you could give your best painting contractors’ contact information to customers who come in to buy paint. Those contractors will be grateful for the referrals, and will be much more likely to reciprocate. The same principle applies, no matter what business you’re in.
Be a resource, rather than a salesperson
You probably know your customers’ industry, market, and interests pretty well, but you need to be continually on the lookout for new trends and new developments in products and services. Keep up to speed by subscribing to (and actually reading) trade journals, and by attending trade shows and workshops. By sharing pertinent news and information you’ve acquired with your customers, they will see you as a valuable resource for helping them improve their own business, and will be more inclined to enthusiastically recommend your business to others.
The old adage that “you reap what you sow” is really true where your business is concerned. By giving your customers what they need, beyond the products and services you sell, you will put them in the position of wanting to return the favor. It is human nature to want to help those who have helped you, and if you position your business as a helpful resource to your customers, they will usually respond in kind, and they won’t give it a second thought if you actually ask them to spread the word about your business. By giving you referrals, they will actually be establishing themselves as valuable resources to others. It’s a relationship in which everyone wins.
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