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Chances are that a good deal if not most of your sales in the first couple of years of being in business came from referrals. Unfortunately you soon learned that referrals were not going to generate enough sales for you to grow your business to the degree that you want, but they remain a significant part of your marketing plan.
Referrals are gold nuggets that you don't have to pay for and often come from unexpected sources. Reward those that send these nuggets your way. Give them a small gift, free dinner, something unexpected and not advertised. If you have a loyalty program, reward them appropriately through that program.
Some companies have had success soliciting referrals by offering discounts to customers for each referral that becomes a sale. However, there can be some issues with these kind of programs:
a) You can get leads that are not leads at all – just customers hoping to land a discount
b) You can get a referral claimed by two or more customers
c) You can create unhappy customers who think you are not giving them their just rewards, whether you closed a sale or not from their referral(s)
d) You can create unhappy customers within the implementation of the discount. I know of a few cases where customers thought this should be a discount for life.
e) You will now pay for a lot of referrals you would have received for free without the referral solicitation program
If you decide to try a referral solicitation program, I recommend that you test it. Keep track of the referrals you pay for and compare it to the number of unsolicited referrals you received in previous years as a percent of customers to see if you made any significant gains.
When you say nice things to people about your company, it’s either advertising or bragging. When your customers say nice things to people about your company, it’s proof. Share this proof - these testimonials - with all of your prospects. Get your customers’ permission first of course, and then put the best ones on your web site and in your literature. This is your brand. This is proof that you keep the promise of that brand.
You might get them mailed in with payments, in a conversation on the phone (take notes), or as comments on your web site. Use them and perhaps treat the customers who gave them to you to breakfast or lunch in exchange for their kind words.
Testimonials are proof you are what you say you are. They are powerful.
The most powerful person on your sales team is your customer.
Actively seek out testimonials from current customers. When someone pays you a business compliment, thank them and ask them if you can use their compliment in your advertising. Make a written note about the conversation (date, time, place, and any other specifics about the conversation). If you have a loyalty program, make sure the customer is rewarded appropriately.