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Customers Are Your Most Effective Sales Force

Happy, educated, results oriented customers are the greatest sales force you can employ.

You’ve probably experienced that in some manner by way of a referred lead or two. What I would like to suggest is a systematic way to willingly involve your customers as motivated participants in the growth of your business.

Here are the primary steps involved to raise the level of customer participation.

1) Educate – take the time to do two things with every customer. Teach them exactly who makes a great lead for your business and how to correctly introduce your business to a prospect. Give them the tools to do this whenever the occasion arises. 1a) Get passionate about measuring, reviewing and reporting the results you have created on behalf of your customers. Set up routine meeting to go over these.

2) Testimonials and Case Studies – For every happy customer their should be a testimonial of results and perhaps even a full blown written, audio and/or video example in the form of a simple case study. Involve your customers in this process and use their testimony in various formats.

3) Peer-2-Peer Education – This is pretty involved way to get your customers on the sales team, but done correctly, it is very powerful. Invite several happy customers to participate in a panel discussion on some issue in their business or industry and include four or five prospects as well. The discussion should revolve completely around solving issues and discussion challenges with peers – the key is that your products and services can be positioned (without any selling on your part) as the solution by your happy customers. This can even be done in person or via webinar.

4) Create a Customer Community – Once a quarter or once a year invite some or all of your customers to enjoy a great speaker, lunch, drinks or to paint the day care center at the local community center. There is something magical about this type of community building and it always produces loyalty and referrals as a side benefit.

Employing several of the steps above can help build momentum and force your business to get much more customer focused, which is never a bad thing.

So, what have you done to involve your customers?

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  • http://www.zachheller.com Tech Innovation

    I love the ideas, especially #4. Creating a community for your customers is quickly becoming the most important thing that you can do to spread the word about your product or service. Use of online services, web 2.0 networks, and the like can enhance the customer experience and provide you with free marketing. I recently wrote a few blog posts on that exact topic.

  • http://www.dollarcardmarketing.com John Valente

    Hi John,

    I enjoyed your post. Initially, I was rather surprised and thought you may have forgotten one of the best methods of getting your customers to work for you, and then I realized that there are so many, you probably just wanted to list a short sampling.

    Anyway, my #5 method would be creating an Affiliate Program for your product or service. More and more businesses are creating affiliate programs and it seems you can create one for just about any business. The bottom line is, if you’re customer is so happy with your product or service that you think they should (and likely will) refer their friends and colleagues, why not give them an incentive to do so???

    I’ve implemented the strategies you’ve posted above as well as created an affiliate program for our customers. It was actually suggested by one of our customers early on and we now have a network of several hundred affiliates posting links, forum messages, blog entries, and just plain ol’ word of mouth for our business.

    Without an affiliate program in place, I could never have hired a sales force of hundreds!

    Best Regards,

    John Valente
    http://www.DollarCardMarketing.com

  • http://smallbizbee.com Matt

    Great tips. Customer interaction is key in leading to that all important form of marketing called “Word of Mouth”. Nothing will jump start your business quicker than happy customers talking about you and your business.

    Thanks,
    Matt

  • http://www.apartmentveteran.com/ Eric Brown

    John, Great Post
    I think that you start by targeting The Influencers, which every brand has, even no brands, however one of the huge benefits of Social Media, is it is much easier to “listen for them” They are the ones leaving comments on your MySpace page, channeling folks to your Facebook page, taking pictures of your properties and putting them on Flickr, just because they thought the building had some cool features, they are the Complainers that care enough to complain, and Love You when you Listen, and Love You even more when you do something about it. Those are The Influencers, and I believe that when You Lead Your Influencers they become Evangelists.

  • http://www.for-the-troops.com Kevin Puls

    When I met my life insurance agent a year ago:
    http://www.amwellagency.com I liked our policy so much that I had to tell friends and family about it.

    And, when we launched our first, original site four weeks ago (a blog-driven, charity-based site that honors the men & women of the Armed Forces), my life insurance liked the site so much that he contacted the web designer http://www.inverseparadox.net and they are now re-designing his site for him.

    I always held strong to the belief that our small businesses are the backbone of the economy. So I always make a concerted effort to help them out & try and connect them with each other. Whether it’s for cross-promotional campaigns, which I love, or just to get them to know about each other.

    My father was a small business owner (barber) for over twenty years. I know about the impact of small business in the communities. In fact, growing up, I could never get in trouble because everyone got their hair cut at my dad’s. From the principal of the High School to our Police Chief. My father endeared himself to his customers and they kept coming back. Some would even bend over backwards to help him because of the feeling of community he portrayed.

    Thanks for your time.

    Best,

    -K
    http://www.for-the-troops.com

  • http://www.naturalmarketingblog.com Rebecca Blackwell

    John,

    This is a great post – I couldn’t agree with you more. Months ago I wrote an article about how our customers are our marketing department. With the amount of marketing “clutter” that surrounds us everyday, generating positive word-of-mouth from happy customers is so very powerful.

    After reading your post yesterday, I had an experience with a company that illustrated the exact opposite of what you suggest here. I decided to blog about it: http://www.NaturalMarketingBlog.com.

    I pointed to your post as the example of what companies *should* do, and my experience as the example of how damaging poor customer service can be.

    Thanks for the great content and the great contrast!

  • http://www.OriginalQuill.com Jared Young

    John, I think this is timely and poignant. Given the state of our economy, good word of mouth is all the more important and more valuable. As people start looking more closely at their spending habits they are more likely to make purchasing decisions based on positive recommendations from trusted sources… essentially, a reference from a friend makes a purchase a lot less risky for a timid market.

    In John’s post above he mentions rewarding clients and customers for referring your business. While this can work in many businesses, you have to be careful not to come across as “bribing” your client base. If you truly provide great service and a great product, you loyal customers will gladly refer you without a reward. A better approach is often to provide the reward to the new customer that your current clients bring in. By allowing your current clients to give out a reward, they feel less like a salesman hawking your service and more like philanthropist.

    The key is to nurture your clients so they want to help you grow your business. Make them feel valued rather than purchased.

    Jared

  • http://www.customerflypaper.com John Easton

    John:

    Giving your customer-fans the tools and knowledge of your business to be effective sales people is where most word of mouth efforts fail. I am going to promote this post among my Twitter audience.

    http://twitter.com/jeaston1

  • http://www.OriginalQuill.com Jared Young

    John and all readers:

    Today I was thinking more about getting your clients to help you market your business… it’s actually something I spoke about at a recent conference. To add to and expand on John’s idea #4, I wrote a blog post today.

    To summarize: Identify your top clients and make them part of your mastermind group. It will show them how much you appreciate them and help them feel like a vested part of your business (and you success). Plus, it’s a great way to find out what makes your best clients tick… and hopefully acquire more clients like them.

    You can read the whole post here: .

    Thanks!
    Jared

  • http://grabbinggreen.com Melissa Nery

    Great tips John!

    I was also looking through GrabbingGreen.com (http://grabbinggreen.com/home/?page=1)and they also recommend to thank your loyal customers by rewarding them. Check out GrabbingGreen.com. It’s been super helpful to me :)

    Thanks for the great advice!

  • http://www.netage.co.za/web-marketing/ web Content

    It’s soo true, your customers (or potential customers) expect you to tell them whatever you can in an attempt to make a sale, they’re far more likely to trust the advice of people not on your payroll..

  • http://www.paystolivegreen.com pays to live green

    I agree that number 4 is a great idea. I know clothing stores that host events my fiancee goes to and she loves them. She may not want any clothes at the time but will end up walking out of the store with new clothes. Customer word of mouth is huge especially if they had a good experience.

  • http://referencesuccess.com Joshua Horwitz

    Nice post John. Particularly when the economy gets tuff the value of customer references increases. I recently posted some thoughts on the topic here. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    http://referencesuccess.com/2008/10/27/customer-references-in-a-down-economy/

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