Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software

How to Use Content to Generate Referrals

You do good work and people want to refer you. That’s the truth, but, hey, we’re all busy and sometimes we need a nudge, a reminder or even a tangible way to easily make referrals that make sense.

photo credit: Hubert Burda Media via photopin cc

photo credit: Hubert Burda Media via photopin cc

I’ve been pushing anyone that would listen to create boatloads of high quality, educational content. So, here’s your reward for taking me up on that. Great content not only helps people find you and buy from you, it’s also one of the best tools when it comes to establishing strategic referral relationships.

Everyone needs content so if you can be the partner that brings content to the relationship building table, guess what? – you win!

How many times have you had a great meeting with a potential referral partner only to see actual referrals  or working together on clients go nowhere?

Below are five ways to use content to enable vibrant referral relationships.

Invited content

Some people choose to call this one guest content, but in reality if someone asks you to write a guest post on their blog or you ask someone to do the same on your blog it’s really invited content. So many content marketers try to force the idea of “guest” posts with in fact the best opportunities are earned.

Reaching out to potential strategic partners and offering them exposure on your blog or offering content in the form of post for their readers is a great way to get referred and introduced to a strategic partner’s community. This act also potentially lightens the content load for you and your partner.

Co-branded content

If you’ve created a “must have” eBook to use in your own lead generation and capture efforts (please tell me you have!) then take that bad boy to potential and existing partners and offer to let them send it to their community and even cobrand it with their contact details.

Your partners know they should be offering this kind of information and since you showed up on their doorstep with a proven winner, they’ll happily refer you by way of content.

This is a really great approach for a traditional supplier or service provider relationship too. Now your accountant or banker can logically introduce you to their other clients by providing something a bit more useful than a letter saying how great you are.

Sponsored content

One of the most powerful ways to get referred is to get asked to present your expertise to a room full of your strategic partner’s best clients.

If you’ve developed a “must have” eBook as suggested above, then you’ve got the makings of a “must attend” educational workshop or seminar. Offer to present this workshop free of charge as a “value add” for your partners and let them invite their community.

I call this approach sponsored content because the net result is that your partner is sponsoring the event and ushering you in front of an audience as a referred expert.

This approach is even better if you can bring two partners into the act and pitch it to them as a way to offer value to their clients and get some exposure to each partner’s clients as well.

Curated content

Building on the last two points consider the impact of putting together an entire day of killer content. What if you went to your strategic partners and hand selected content experts on a variety of subjects that would draw lots of attention from people interested in getting an entire day of useful information?

Select or curate a big topic and bring in partners who are willing to introduce their networks to the daylong event and pack the house with what amounts to a group referral of all of the partners.

This approach works equally well as a curated eBook of partner content that the entire partner group can share.

Incented content

This last one is mostly a customer or prospect play but some of the best content going is that which your customers are willing to create and share.

Something as simple and silly as a photo or video content rewarding the person who gets the most votes with a prize is an effective way to create some buzz while getting some great referrals in the process.

The key is to structure the ask in a way that prompts referrals – Tell us the best use of our product, show us your results, tell us why you really want to win – things of that nature can generate some very powerful endorsements as people vie for a prize of some sort.

Few of the ideas in this post are that new or outrageous innovative, but like so many things in the game of marketing it’s how you think about applying these ideas that makes all the difference in the world.

How To Make Yourself More Attractive to Potential Partners

About once a week I receive an email or phone message that goes something like this: “I really like your site, I think we have a lot of synergies, we should get on the phone or go to lunch and explore ways to work together.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, with the exception of the use of the word synergy, I’m flattered that people are reaching out to me. In fact, it would be more worrisome if nobody wanted to develop these kinds of connections.

But here’s the thing – and here’s how it applies to you – in the crazy, busy world we all live in today, if you’re going to make the effort to reach out and connect, do it with an attractive purpose.

The vague, “we should get together” could indeed mean, we should get together because I have a brilliant idea that’s destined to make you lots of money or it could just as equally mean, we should get together so I can suck about an hour of your time trying to learn how I could benefit from your network.

Now, let me share a better approach. If you want to capture the imagination of potential partners come to the table with a very specific idea that’s attractive.

So, what’s attractive look like in this context? If your potential partner does not know you, either personally or by reputation, than it’s a pretty good bet that attractive looks very much like something that will immediately benefit their interests.

I don’t mean to imply that you don’t have incredible ideas to share and that working with you might indeed make a ton of sense, but just as in any sales environment, you first have to capture my interest and you do that by helping me clearly see something that’s in this for me.

So, if you want to be more attractive to potential strategic partners

  • Suggest introducing them to one or two key people you know could help them
  • Come to the table with a killer eBook that you would allow them to cobrand
  • Ask to interview them for a segment on your podcast
  • Offer to promote their product or service to your community
  • Create a special offering, gift certificate or sample product and allow them to gift it to their clients
  • Offer to provide some product or service free of charge to them
  • Ask them to teach you the best way to refer them to your clients

I’m guessing you can see the common thread running through most of the above suggestions – one of the most powerful ways to be more attractive is to give before you get.

This is true in building any relationship – with potential partners or potential clients.

Once you’ve established trust through this initial, genuine purpose, you’ll find that the doors to “working together” may naturally swing open, but even if they do not, you’ll have established a much more potent method of building relationships in a way that will produce the best kinds of opportunities – those that are mutually beneficial.

5 Questions You Should Ask Every Customer

Constantly seeking feedback from your customers is a great way to learn how to market your business more effectively. If you’ve never done this before, do it immediately as it is one of the best ways to discover what you do that actually differentiates you from your competition.

questionsI can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with a small business that had no idea what its competitive advantage was until we heard it right from the mouths of happy customers. Seeking feedback is also a great way to get better and plug gaps. I can tell you that if you’re not receiving a large amount of your business by way of referral or word of mouth, you’ve probably got some gaps in your processes.

Below are five questions I like to pose to customers as they can provide a great discussion base for getting at what’s truly important to you and your customers. Create a form and get in the habit of surveying a handful of customers every month. I think you’ll be rewarded with tremendous insight and you’ll also find that your customers enjoy being asked what they think. One word of caution, don’t accept vague answers like “you provide good service.” While that may be true and good to hear, you can’t work with that. Push a bit and ask what good service looks like and maybe even if they can tell you about a specific instance in which they felt they got good service.

1. What made you decide to hire us/buy from us in the first place?

This is a good baseline question for your marketing. It can get at how effective your advertising, message and lead conversion processes are working. I’ve also heard customers talk about the personal connection or culture that felt right in this question.

2. What’s one thing we do better than others you do business with?

In this question you are trying to discover something that you can work with as a true differentiator. This is probably the question you’ll need to work hardest at getting specifics. You want to look for words and phrases and actual experiences that keep coming up over and over again, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. If your customers are explaining what they value about what you do, you may want to consider making that the core marketing message for your business.

3. What’s one thing we could do to create a better experience for you?

On the surface this question could be looked at as a customer service improvement question, and it may be, but the true gold in this question is when your customers can identify an innovation. Sometimes we go along doing what we’ve always done and then out of the blue a customer says something like, “I sure wish it came like this,” and all of a sudden it’s painfully clear how you can create a meaningful innovation to your products, services and processes. Push your customers to describe the perfect experience buying what you sell.

4. Do you refer us to other, and if so, why?

This is the ultimate question of satisfaction because a truthful answer means your customer likes the product and likes the experience of getting the product. (You can substitute service here of course.) There’s an entire consulting industry cropping up around helping people discover what Fred Reichheld called the Net Promoter Score in his book The Ultimate Question.

Small businesses can take this a step deeper and start understanding specifically why they get referrals and perhaps the exact words and phrases a customer might use when describing to a friend why your company is the best.

5. What would you Google to find a business like ours?

This is the new lead generation question, but understanding what it implies is very important. If you want to get very, very good at being found online, around the world or around the town, you have to know everything you can about the actual terms and phrases your customers use when they go looking for companies like yours.

Far too often businesses optimize their web sites around industry jargon and technical terms when people really search for “stuff to make my life better.”

Bonus: I’m a big fan of building strategic partnerships and networks. Another question I would suggest you get in the habit of asking your customer is – “What other companies do you love to refer?” If you can start building a list of “best of class” companies, based on your customer’s say so, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a list of folks you should be building strategic relationships with.

Image credit: Karen Elliot

Now’s the Time to Repackage Your Offerings

Perhaps you’ve done some soul searching the last few months and have determined new strategic directions, new niche markets or new offerings are in order to help weather the current slow down in your business. (I hate to keep harping too much on this theme, but people don’t seem to want to talk about much else.)

My advice is to slow down, resist over course correcting, and take a good look at some ways to repackage what you’ve already got to make it more universally appealing. It’s a time tested approach in the consumer products world – new package means new product and new product launch.

So here are some tips on putting this into action in your business.

  • Add something talkable – create or add a feature to your products or services that makes people take notice, or better yet, talk about what you’re doing. Outrageous guarantees, add-ons, and bundles are great ways to irritate your competition and get people saying – “how can they do that?” – now that’s talkable buzz that can drive business. Be bold here.
  • Add value before discounts – One of the first places businesses cave is on pricing. Customers are getting a little tighter with the cash, so the inclination is to cut the prices to make the phone ring. It rarely helps and, long term, it hurts profit. I suggest lumping in more value, more you time, more service, more bonuses from partners to overwhelm your customer with something that is clearly more valuable then the offering that is 2 bucks cheaper.
  • Create offers to act now – Now is the time to make your advertising and lead generation action oriented. Start creating reasons to act now. Offer special promotions, freebies, and bonuses as a reward for trying now, buying now and buying more.
  • Mold low cost alternatives – If you’re experiencing a longer sales cycle these days or just flat out prospect paralysis, it may be helpful to create some lower cost or lower tier offerings. Think the good, better, best or try before you buy approach in an effort to lower the risk on the part of your prospect. Let them get a taste of how great your company is before having to commit to the full scale engagement. You might just find that you can create offerings at lower prices points that attract entirely new markets as well.
  • Partner for advanced packages – Go out and get big, take on huge markets, and much larger competitors by teaming up with complimentary strategic partners to create markets and offerings that you could not even dream of taking on alone. A team of CEO level experienced SMB providers could wipe the snot nosed brats on the BigCo team all over the court. You know, if that’s what you’re into.

I’m not simply suggesting lipstick on a pig here, this is the shortest route to entirely new strategic opportunities. And, don’t forget to build your new new product launches promotions too.