How to Create a Non-Stop Referral Engine
For some reason, a lot of small business owners are reluctant to directly ask their customers for referrals. Maybe they’re afraid the customer will say no and it will make things awkward between them. Or maybe they’re afraid the customer will say yes and they won’t be able to keep up with the sudden spike in demand.
The reality is you can’t keep your business afloat without a steady stream of customers. And spikes and droughts in activity create a whole other set of problems, including an inability to cultivate relationships with the types of customers you want to engage.
The key to success is having a healthy flow of existing and new customers that are aligned with your vision and you can successfully service. The way to do this is through creating a non-stop referral engine that’s built using both overt and subtle tactics.
Yes, Customers Do Want to Refer Friends
First, you should know that when asked, most customers are more than happy to send new business your way. Most of the time, all they need is a little nudge and a specific request. For example, instead of simply asking customers to refer their friends, reframe the question in a way that highlights your expertise and what makes your business unique.
For example, imagine an accountant has successfully unraveled a small business owner’s shoebox full of receipts, has maximized their client’s write-offs and uncovered, even more, tax deductions. The small business owner is happy and the accountant has successfully added a new client to their roster. Before the client goes on their way, the accountant could thank them for their business and say, “Refer your friends,” at the end of their conversation. That approach could result in a referral but the request is more likely to be forgotten.
Instead, the accountant could say, “I’m glad I was able to help you. Small businesses are my area of expertise so if you know of any other small business owners that could benefit from my services, I’d appreciate a referral.” Depending on the flow of the conversation, the accountant could take the conversation a step further by adding, “I’m looking to add one new client this quarter.” The specificity and deadline-oriented approach to the request are more likely to be remembered by the client and result in more referrals.
Driving Word-of-Mouth Without Saying a Word
Still, a lot of small business owners might not feel comfortable having those direct conversations. If that’s the case, there are more subtle ways of tapping into existing customers to attract new ones.
You can insert a line into your email signature or at the bottom of your newsletter that reads, “If you know someone who can benefit from (your expertise here), tell them about us.” Just remember to insert a live link to your website or email address.
But what if you’ve exhausted your existing customer base and want to attract new customers? There are several tactics you can use to do this.
Let’s start with your social media profiles. Going back to the example above, it helps to be specific when describing your expertise. In your online profiles, highlight what makes your business unique and the reasons customers keeping come back to you. Playing devil’s advocate with this strategy, there might be a concern that being too specific limits your audience. However, being too generic doesn’t allow you to stand out from the crowd.
To attract your ideal customers and reach a wider audience, start with a broad description of your business by category or industry and then narrow it down by your expertise. For example, an Italian restaurant could be known for it is 100- year-old secret family recipes or singing waiters. Online, the listing would start with restaurant and then narrow down the audience by listing authentic Italian food and singing wait staff. When you articulate what makes your business unique, you establish credibility as the local expert, which drives word-of-mouth.
Another way to attract new customers through online marketing is to create and curate great content that truly informs your audience instead of pitching them on your products and services. When you share your experience and expertise in your newsletters, social media or blog posts, you demonstrate your depth of knowledge and further boost your credibility.
For example, a video demonstrating little known short cuts or a newsletter article that offers tips and tricks is more likely to inspire customers to remember your advice and share it online. This is a great way to attract subscribers and online followers while giving you an excuse to keep in touch with customers between visits. By staying top of mind with your target audience, you’ll be the obvious choice when they’re in the market to buy what you sell.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to create content but want to keep a steady flow of communication to your audience, you can always curate content such as great articles, videos, and tweets that you come across. Make it your own by adding in your point of view on the subject and then lead into the curated content. The trick is to share content that reflects your business, industry, and expertise as opposed to general news items. Also, remember to always give proper credit to the original news source.
Asking for referrals and driving word of mouth is an important part of keeping the lights on but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or time-consuming. By delivering a great customer experience, engaging your target audience and finding your own comfort level in asking for referrals, you can build a non-stop referral engine.
About the Author
Dave Charest is a senior manager, content and social media marketing at Constant Contact. Dave and his team make stuff that helps hundreds of thousands of small business owners do better marketing. For lots of great, free hints and tips, subscribe to the hints and tips blog.