Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nurture Those Who Refer You

In my last post we discussed “asking for referrals” and getting in the habit of doing it “all the time.” So you’ve taken this advice to heart, you’ve role played and practiced how you’re going to approach people, and the referrals are now coming in – slowly at first and then more frequently. What do you do next? Here are 5 tips to ensure you maximize your return on your hard work.

Capture Referral Information

Like all marketing strategies, the only way to measure the success of referrals is to capture data and measure the ROI (return on investment). To do this you need a CRM of some kind. I have a bias for but there are others available.

The key to success here is training the people on the front lines. Everyone who has initial contact with clients should identify the lead source for each new client. A simple question such as “May I ask who referred you to us so I can thank them?” will always elicit a response. After all, who doesn’t like to be thanked? Don’t be afraid to ask a clarifying question if necessary. If someone indicates it was a website, probe a little further to try and identify which website. You may have a new source of leads you didn’t know about through someone who has created a link to YOUR website.

Personally Thank Them

If asked someone how often they get thanked, the usual response will be something like “not enough.” In our modern society, just like letter writing, this is a lost art and a courtesy that you can take advantage of to set yourself apart from your competition. Take 5 minutes to call a referring party and extend a sincere “thank you” for their recent referral. Assure them that you will treat their referral with the same level of care as they experienced. And don’t forget to remind them that referrals are the lifeblood of your business and that you look forward to and appreciate each one.

If you have a younger clientele who communicates most by email and the web, an email may suffice. At the very least a handwritten note may be in order. In the end there is still nothing like a personal call. Remember, the very fact that you took the time to make the call will make a huge statement about you as a business.

Learn More about Them

Take each interaction with your client seriously enough to continue to learn about them and what is important to them. Important dates, children and spouse names, interests and hobbies are just a few of the categories that you should learn about your client. Remembering things that are special to them is another subtle way to create that 1% difference and the impression that you care more about them than others.

Categorize Your Referrers

Once your referral engine gets going, you will have different categories of referring parties. All businesses have a select few who really are passionate about your product or service and will refer all the time. Others will still refer but less proactively and less frequently. You are likely to have at least 3 levels (you can name them A, B, C) of referral types and you need to know who falls into each category. Treat them all the same, but make sure you reward the top referrers differently.

Reward Them for Referring

Beyond your personal phone calls and notes to thank your referrals sources, it never hurts to show your appreciation through a well thought out gift. This is where knowing everything you can about a client is so helpful. Your gift can be directed towards an interest they are passionate about such as a sports team or activity. Alternately, your gift might be directed towards their spouse or children that shows your intuition and interest in your client. Whatever it is, make the gift something unique and personal to them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ask For Referrals….All The Time

7 Ways to turn on the power of referrals

Every business should be asking for referrals from their satisfied customers and every business owner knows it!

So why do so many businesses underperform when asking for referrals? It’s like sales, not everyone is comfortable doing it. Yet the formula for transforming your business into a “referral generating machine” is within your grasp. Just implement these 7 tips and you’ll grow your referral business by leaps and bounds.

#1. Make Sure You Ask in the First Place

Don’t assume people will tell others about you, be proactive. This is the same principal as closing a sale, if you don’t ask for the business; most customers aren’t going to buy. Once you have the right scripts, customized letters and emails, and practice this will become second nature.

#2 Have the Right Attitude: Ask Everyone

Start with the attitude that everyone is a source of referral business. It is said that each of us has a network of at least 200 people. Your goal should be to get just 1 of those people to start. If you generate a new client and do a good job, the person who referred you will continue to refer others.

#3 Understand the Numbers

Referrals can grow exponentially once you get the ball rolling. If you take just 10 clients who refer just 2 people that’s 20 new leads. If those 20 refer just 2 people, you’ll have 40 new leads and so on. Run the numbers with your own assumptions. The numbers should astound you and excite you into taking action. This is why some successful people like realtors who are good at this never have to go hunting for a new client. The new clients are always coming to them through successful referrals practices.

#4 Don’t Forget to Ask Those That Don’t Buy From You

Just because someone bought from a competitor or doesn’t need your service doesn’t mean you shouldn't ask for a referral. It is almost a certainty that they have someone in their network that needs your product or service, so ask them too.

#5 Offer an Incentive to Refer

We offer discounts, 2 for 1’s, and free products and services for everything else, why not for referrals. How about a discount on their next purchase or a free add-on product on their next sale. A cash rebate when the referral buys always works. Be creative and remember it costs 5 times as much to generate a new client the traditional way as it does to get one through a referral. You can afford to be a little generous here, especially if your business has repeat clientele like a hair salon.

#6 Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Your Request

If you do this diplomatically and explain why you’re asking, people will not be offended by a repeated request for referrals. Explain how important they are to the growth of your business. Engage people and don’t be afraid to use the word “help” to get them to participate. Most customers who patronize a business that treats them well wants them to succeed, so that they’ll be around to continue to service “them.”

#7 Practice Until You Get it Right!

Like all things that are new and uncomfortable, you have to practice, correct mistakes, and do it for a while until you get comfortable and it becomes second nature. The results however, are MORE than worth it.

There you have it. Now don’t wait, take your first prospect or customer today and ask them for the names of a couple of other people they are associate with who you could help.

To your success!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Build and Protect Your Reputation

We’ve all heard the saying “integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching.” Integrity is a word that gets tossed around a lot these days without people really understanding the importance and the impact of having, or NOT having it. The definition of integrity is to adhere to moral and ethical principles or being sound moral character. In essence it is simple honesty or doing the right thing.

Now that sounds like a pretty simple definition to me. So why is it so few people today have it? The only answer I can come up with is that people underestimate its importance. They get caught up in this fast, competitive world where a handshake doesn’t close a deal, only a signed contract does, and they think they have to bend the truth, embellish a story, or outright lie to get an edge. Wouldn’t you think that someone who actually does what they say they’re going to do, delivers when they promise, and whose handshake can be depended upon would have the edge? Today they stand out like a beacon on a foggy night.

Years ago I had a client who used to call me about projects that had nothing to do with my basic business. I would source a vendor, determine a price, manage the project until delivery, markup the price to make a profit, and then invoice it. I continually offered to refer the vendors directly to him so that he could save some money. When I finally inquired one time as to why he called me about products he knew we didn’t produce his answer was simple “I know you’ll look after it and it’ll be done right.”

What he was saying to me was that he trusted me to solve a problem even if it wasn’t my core expertise and he was prepared to pay me well to do so. By doing the right thing and having a reputation for integrity, a single client put thousands of dollars into my pocket. What did it cost me? Nothing! I was going to do the right thing anyway. You see it takes no additional effort or time to do the right thing vs. the wrong thing. Remember, it takes a long time to build up that kind of trust with a customer, but it only takes one incident of doing the wrong thing to destroy it.

So set yourself apart starting today by being the person known as the one who always does the right thing. Over time not only will you feel proud of your reputation, but good things will happen as a result of owning it.

To your success!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Don't Just Listen..........Hear What Customers Want

I saw Ross Shafer years ago at one of his speaking events. What I admire most about his style is his direct "tell it from the heart" approach that translates a story that everyone can relate to. He has the unique ability to inspire through humor and make you feel part of the actual events so that you imagine actually being there.

Everyone, and every company talks a great customer service story but few actually deliver. We all know people want service and we all know we're supposed to provide it. What most people or companies can't tell you is what it looks or feels like to their customers. It often isn't clear but can be the smallest of things if we just understand the real message the customer is telling us.

This clip from a Shafer event crystalizes how easy it is to identify what a customer wants if you really HEAR what they are saying when they talk to you. What is more important is that the action taken was such a small thing, it truly falls into the category of "The 1% Difference." The impact on the customer however, was a big WOW factor and has resulted in many years of promotion for Marriott Hotels.

Enjoy this short and humorous clip that we can all relate to.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mind Your Customers and Mine Your Customers

Mind Your Customers

We recognize long before we get involved in business that the customer is number one. Just ask the kid with the lemonade stand or the Girl Scout trying to sell cookies. Kids get this reality that without customers there are no sales. There is an old philosophy that says there is never a bad time to do the right thing for the customer. Ultimately this will be good for the company too. In specific instances one can do the right thing for the customer to the short-term document of the organization. But if we take to take a long-term view of our business, then maintaining long-term relationships with our customers is critical to the ultimate success of our business. So smart companies do the right thing for the customer even if it cost them something in the short term, knowing it will ultimately benefit the bottom line and the reputation of the organization. Companies like Marriott and Nordstrom have been very successful taking this philosophy to the extreme.

The secondary reason for looking after your customers is that it costs at least five times as much to generate a new customer as it does to look after the existing ones. So looking seriously at the complaints or suggestions of your existing clientele makes good economic sense.

In such economic times as were experiencing today, maintenance of your customer base is more than paramount, but rather critical to your company’s existence. With people scrambling to stay afloat competition is fierce and this may mean sacrificing some margin in terms of price cutting to make it economically sensible for your clients to continue to do business with you. However, there is nothing that can replace old fashion customer loyalty when trying to maintain your customer base in good times and bad. Most customers do not want change vendors and establish new relationships and will often give you an opportunity to maintain their business in the face of competitive price pressures or even be willing to pay you slightly more.

Mine Your Customers

The thing we often forget is that the database of clients is worth something more than the amount of revenue they generate each year. The goodwill created with your customers over the years can be turned into opportunity if we just remember the basic metrics and strategies of generating and maintaining clients.

It is said that each person has a circle of influence of about 200 people. Now you can debate the actual number, but the reality is that each of us can influence the buying decisions of others whether it is for personal or corporate purchases. Why not use that hard earned goodwill by utilizing more customers to help you generate new business?

The same principles that helped us generate sales when our business was new, apply at any time a business is life. Why not engage each of your customers starting with the largest and most loyal ones, and ask them to give you a testimonial that you can use when new prospects ask for references. Better still ask them if you can post the testimonial on your website. The willingness of your clients to refer you or provide testimonials will give you some sense for what kind of job you’re doing or how satisfied they are. If they are truly happy customers they will go out of their way to do this for you. If not, your customers are sending you a message and you probably have some work to do. In either case the information is invaluable.

Remember, all of us are a little lazy at times. Even your clients’ best intentions may end up on the back burner because they have more important priorities for their own business. But if they promise to help you, don’t let them off the hook or forget you. Most people who make such offers do so in all sincerity and have every intention of fulfilling their commitment. Sometimes you just need to give them a little push with a friendly reminder or by providing a draft referral letter to save them time. Even if they don’t all follow through, you will have a few testimonials and a handful of warm leads which could lead to new sales. The revenue you generate from these potential new clients could be the difference in survival until the business climate turns around for all of us.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nobody’s Perfect but Know What You’re Good At

We all intuitively know that we’re not good at everything, but the hardest thing to do is to take stock of ourselves. This kind of “personal inventory” means being totally honest with ourselves, our employees, or our companies to identify what is good, positive and successful. We never want to be accused of being too pompous or conceited, so we forget to play up our best and strongest qualities. We are always our own toughest critic.

This exercise, painstaking as it might be is a critical part of business and personal success and let me explain why. When things go well, we have a tendency to be complacent and don’t pay too much attention to the behind the scenes reasons for that success. We’re usually not sure whether it was because of something we did really well or something bad that we didn’t do. When things are going really well is the best time to take inventory and spend some time asking yourself why you are succeeding. You certainly won’t have time to do it when things are going badly because you’ll be too busy fighting fires and deciding how to turn them around again.

When we make a mistake, it is mostly obvious to us, and we often subconsciously do some analysis to determine why then taking corrective action to eliminate its recurrence. This is how we learn from the time we are babies. Think of a toddler's reaching for something on a table for the first time. At first the motions are shaky, uncertain, and almost robotic as the infant tries to control its hand and send it to the desired outcome, grabbing the object. This behavior is repeated over and over each time they make such an attempt and finally after a few tries; their hand goes right to the object they seek – sometimes faster than a parent can prevent it. We are also constantly corrected by our role models – parents, teachers, coaches when we make mistakes as they guide us to successful behavior in whatever endeavor we are attempting. This feedback has made us highly trained and very sensitive to correcting mistakes, so we do it very well.

Ah, but identifying and analyzing what we do well, now that is a different story. We don’t get nearly as much positive feedback when we do something very well. This is because it is expected by our family, class, team, or business. We’ve been trained to only look at the negative end of the equation. So looking at the positive is counterintuitive to the way we’ve been raised. But this is a must if we are to create consistent success by knowing exactly what behaviors create success and repeating them over and over again.

So when things are going well, take some time to ask yourself, your colleagues, your employees, why. Even better from a business standpoint, ask your customers what they like and don't like about your products and services. Then listen to what they tell you. Take inventory of what they tell you. Then take some time to do the same brainstorming and analysis you would do if you had a problem. Create your own strengths and weaknesses list, and then continue to reinforce the strengths and take some action to improve on your weaknesses. Change a business process, hire an employee with better skills, add some new services, whatever it is your customers and the people around you will notice the difference. But never, ever stop doing those things that created the success in the first place. They are your personal or company 1 percent difference.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Acknowledge People - Make It Personal

I have a favorite service provider which I frequent regularly. I realized the other day that the reason I prefer this provider is not just because of their services.

Except for a few exceptions, all of their people go out of their way to do something unique to make my day special. For one lady it is a perpetual smile which appears to be painted on her face permanently. When I initially met her, I was under the impression that perhaps this was a calculated effort to appear more warm and friendly when dealing with clients. However, the more I got to know her, the more I realized that this is just who she is. When talking to her the other day about her permanent smile she commented that she tries to always be happy and that one has a choice when they get up in the morning. Now when I enter their facility I find myself looking for her to handle my transactions. She can make my day with her smile which makes me feel happier, so of course I prefer dealing with her.

Another gentleman has learned my name and sticks out his hand to shake mine every time he sees me. The power of acknowledgment through touch and use of our name cannot be underestimated. We all know that there is nothing sweeter to our ears than our name. This combination of name use with a handshake is very powerful. Add to it the use the eye contact and a smile, and one has the recipe for powerful client interactions which lead to strong loyalties to a business, often for reasons beyond the basic products or services provided.

These anecdotes are strong evidence of lost or underappreciated social skills which, in a world focused on low prices and speed of service delivery could help create a business full of loyal and repeat customers. How many of these customers would be willing, or even glad, to pay more for our products and services because we make them feel special and appreciated. It's time businesses started making a concerted effort to train their employees to do these things. I’d say it’s another opportunity to create the 1 Percent Difference.