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How To Build a Business People Want To Refer

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Don Campbell – Enjoy!

What if - instead of relying on expensive paid ad campaigns and direct sales, your business thrived on referrals from happy customers?

That’s the promise of a book I read a few months ago that profoundly changed my business – The Referral Engine.

Customer service has always been important for my company Expand2Web. But reading this book made me realize something very important. Although we were getting referrals from our customers naturally, we weren’t really leveraging our heavy – and expensive – investment in customer service.

We weren’t setting expectations about referrals early in the sales process, we weren’t making it easy for people to refer us to others, and we weren’t ASKING for referrals, even though most of our customers are happy to give them!

The Referral Engine gave us a structure to leverage that investment in customer service and provide more value to our customers at the same time.

Following one of the exercises in the book, we mapped out every customer interaction to see how we could offer a truly exceptional experience, and build it in a way that customer referrals would flow naturally.

For our business, here’s what it looks like:

Customer Interaction Touchpoints

Customer Interaction Touchpoints for Expand2Web

As you can see from the map above, there are many ways we interact with our customers. Even more than we realized at first.

When you think about it, you start interacting with potential customer the first time they experience your brand, or land on your website. These interactions continue into pre-sales questions, the purchase process, support, and even beyond.

Our Referral Action Plan for Expand2Web:

Based on our map, here are a few of the things we did to improve our customer experience and encourage referrals:

1) We started setting expectations with potential customers early.

Before a customer even buys our product, we started setting expectations that we would ask them for a referral (when we deliver on our promise).

On the sales pages and other pages about our products, we explain that our mission is to make them so happy and successful they will want to tell their friends and co-workers about us.

This has the dual purpose of setting expectations that we are committed to their success and happiness, and that we will ask them for a referral once we’ve delivered on that promise.

2) We created a “Customer Welcome Kit” that welcomes every new customer, and helps them succeed.

Another excellent suggestion from the book was to create a customer welcome kit. We followed this advice and created a customer download area so that each customer could log in and get 24/7 access to the latest version of our software, our support, and step-by-step training guides.

3) We added some unexpected bonuses for our customers in the customer welcome area.

For example, we found that the biggest issue for many of our small business customers was learning how to do things in WordPress. So we licensed a series of 20 short WordPress tutorial videos and included them free to our customers.

We are also experimenting with other “surprises” for our customers, like written thank you notes and gifts, and other fun ways to let them know we care about them and their success.

4) We now ASK for referrals at key points in the customer relationship, and make it safe and easy for customers to refer us to their friends and family.

We’re learning the crucial points to ask for referrals, and how to do that in a way that our customers feel safe and want to refer us.

For example, in the book, John points out that there are key times in your customer interactions that are best for asking for referrals. Strangely, right after a support request is one of them. That wasn’t obvious to me at first. Now we’re working on ways to politely ask for referrals from our customers in a risk free way, and to make it easy for them.

Benefits For Us *And* Our Customers

This is a process that we are continually refining and improving. But already it has helped our business tremendously in four ways:

  1. An improved customer experience. Our new customer checkout experience and welcome kit has led to more happy customers, and lots of nice comments from them.
  2. A better product. By reaching out to customers in this way, we get better feedback that goes right back into making our product better. We’ve had several new releases based on insights and feedback from customers, and have another one coming out shortly that has some fantastic new capabilities driven by customer feedback.
  3. Better relationships. Not being a natural salesperson, it was hard for me to ASK customers for a referral. But asking for their help has led to deeper relationships with many customers that I never would have had before. It turns out many people welcome the discussion, and are very willing to help. They feel more vested in what we do and want us to succeed!
  4. Increased referrals. All of this has already increased sales for us in a significant way. I can see how continuing to improve and refine this process will lead to even more sales and help our customers get more value from our products and training.

Our mission now is to continue improving this process by creating an ever more compelling customer experience, from pre-sales through support, and making it easier for our customers to refer us to their family and friends.

Whenever we have to make a decision on where to spend our marketing dollars, this takes precedence. Referrals are now the primary marketing vehicle for us, and best way to grow our business.

What about you – do you have a system for asking your customers for referrals? If so, what has worked for you? If not, what are you waiting for?

Don CampbellDon Campbell lives with his family in San Jose California and is President of Expand2Web. His company provides tools and training to help businesses succeed online.