Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #10: What NOT to Do

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Customer and ClerkNormally, I like to end on a positive note, so in this post, we’re going to look at the things you want to avoid… but we’ll look at them in as positives for your referral marketing communications plan. Work around these pitfalls, and you will save yourself time, aggravation, and money… and make more money in the process.

  1. Always, ALWAYS follow up. As soon as you get a referral, follow up immediately! Research the prospect, and get in touch right away and get them into the sales cycle. Not following up is like planting seeds and not watering them – they’ll never grow into productive plants. Never consider it, “too much work.” You’ll occasionally get rejections, but each rejection puts you closer to real sales.
  2. Make your process as automatic as possible. The more, “hands off” your referral process is, the more likely you and your staff are to actually use it – and profit from it. No matter how your referrals come into your business, make sure there are no bottlenecks in the process so they can get acted on right away – remember each day you delay acting on a referral is a day of lost business.
  3. Make your process as simple as possible. Every step in your referral process puts you one step further from a sale, so Keep It Simple! As you design your referral process, if there is a choice between simple and nifty – ALWAYS chose simple! Your referral program should make money for you, not cost you money.
  4. Make sure EVERYONE knows about your referral program. Don’t hide your referral program under a rock, or inaccessibly deep in your web site. Your customers won’t go looking for your program if they don’t know about it. ALWAYS promote referrals!
  5. Always be aware of changes in the market around you. As your business matures, you market changes and your customers change – it’s just good business to be responsive to changes in your market. This is also true for your referral program. If your market and your customers change and your referral program don’t, your business will suffer. Always adapt to changes in your market and watch your business grow.
  6. Always treat your referrals as the golden resource that they are. Like imitation, a recommendation is the sincerest form of flattery. If you do not treat the referred customer to your best service, it reflects badly on you, and also the friend who referred them. ALWAYS treat your referred customers like gold – they are. Of course, don’t neglect your regular customers, as they are just as important to your success as your referred customers.

In every step of running your business, always make it easy for people to do what you need them to do, and this includes your referral program.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #9: What to Look for When it’s Not Working Well

Referral Marketing Communications Plan To Do ListYou may have the finest referral-marketing communication plan ever, but occasionally, you will find some snags. Here are some ways to spot and smooth out some common problems:

  1. No one participates. Generally, either the rewards are not worth the effort for your referrers or your customers don’t know about the program. First, make sure all your customers and clients know that you value referrals and will reward them. Post it on your web site, put notices in your regular mailings, always mention it during customer interactions. Then make sure the reward is worthwhile for referrers.
  2. Your referrals aren’t interested. Getting lots of referrals, but they’re not ready to buy? Quality counts! Make sure your customers know you reward only qualified leads – potential customers who are already interested in your product or service. This way, your referrers will, “pre-screen” the people they refer to you for a more productive referral. If you put a, “qualifying question” on your referral form, that might make all the difference in the world for getting the qualified leads you’re looking for. An salon, for example, might ask about the referree’s preferred type of workout, free standing, or on a machine. When your referrer passes on this type of information, they will have, “thought through” their referral to qualify the lead and save you time.
  3. Overwhelmed by too many referrals? This is only a problem if the referrals aren’t pre-qualified before you get them. If all these new leads are well qualified, you may need to start looking at expanding your business… and that is not a bad thing!
  4. Your referrals cost too much. You know how much new business is worth to you, so make sure the value of your referral reward fits. If a new customer, for instance, might be worth potentially $100 in revenue over the next year, offering a reward worth $100 would be just wrong. Establish good value for your referrer AND for your business.
  5.  Your referral program takes too much time to administer. Like all the other processes in your business, follow the KISS Principle…. Keep It Simple! As you build your referral reward system, always make keep an eye on how much work is involved. Remember, your time has a real cost in your business, so the less time you and your employees spend managing your referral program, the better! If a simple index card system works, use that. If you can add it into your business computing system, use that. But always keep it as simple as possible and appropriate to your business style.

Keep your referral marketing program running simply and smoothly to keep the referrals coming, and keep your costs under control.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #8: Moving It Forward

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Man on TelephoneOK…your referral marketing communications plan is paying off and you have a collection of leads. These are not “hot” leads, they are only “warm.” Now you need to “heat them up” and turn them into sales… and fulfill your promise to your referrers. Before you start planning for that new computer, here are the next steps  to make sure that happens:

  1. Verify. Contact the referred customer. Many times, the information you get from your referrer is not correct, and you need to build the correct communication connection before you can even start a conversation. And, of course, occasionally, you will get a “fake” or not valid referral just so someone can get the referral reward. This is when you discard the junk and narrow it down to real prospects that you can turn into real customers – and reward the referrers.
  2. Explain. Yes, you now have a “warm” lead, but most likely, the referral won’t know how you got their name or why you are calling. Fill them in and always make sure to allay any concerns about inappropriate referrals. Let them know of your good relationship with the referrer, and how you can help them – follow all of your usual good sales practices.
  3. Attract. After this initial vetting process is the time to dig deeper into the prospect’s needs and get the appointment to start an actual sale..
  4. Sell. If you have your referral program predicated on getting an appointment, this is when your referrer is open for payment, and you should pay off quickly. No more than you will convert a prospect into a star baseball player with one phone call; you will need to nurture the new prospects to turn them into customers. Always keep the process moving… it’s just good sales practice.
  5. Tell. Let your referrer know that you contacted their referral and the initial results. An email or a post card thanking them for the referral and telling them how to claim their reward for the referral will go a long way to getting more referrals from them.

Communicate, communicate, communicate every step along the way. Communicate with your new prospect. Communicate with your referrer. Communicate with your staff if they are part of your selling process. It may seem like a lot, but, as with any business, good communication is just good business!

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #7: Make It Easy for Referrers

Referral Marketing Communications Plan CarrotFor many years in the business world, I have lived by the guideline, “Make it easy for people to do what you want them to do.” Even if you create the best referral marketing communication plan in the world, with today’s very busy life, your referral marketing program will not work well if it is difficult for people to participate. If your referral-marketing program is difficult to understand, or if you make your referrers fill out endless forms, and wade through lots of red tape, they will abandon your program before you get the leads you are looking for. Try these easy to implement tips to keep your program simple, attractive, and user-friendly:

  1. Follow the “KISS” Principle. KEEP IT SIMPLE! A complex reward system with different levels and different rewards for different customers becomes a nightmare for your customers to figure out, and a bigger nightmare for you and your staff to operate and maintain.
  2. Like good restaurants, avoid too many choices. Business surveys show that too many choices lead to indecision and, many times, making no choice – which does neither you nor your customer any good. Limit the options and keep choices similar. A $20 gift card or $20 off a future order is a simple choice, one likely to result in a signup.
  3. Make it easy for your customers — offer several pathways for customers to get referrals to you. Sure a referral page on your web site is a good start, but by opening the door to phone, postcards, and mail, you will get more leads more easily… and how about offering to let people TEXT MESSAGE a referral to you! Any way you can make it easier for people to do what you want.
  4. Don’t ask for unnecessary information. No one enjoys filling out forms! So make ti easy for people to do what you want them to do… keep your form to the bare minimum you need to make the referral work – no more, no less. By keeping the information short, you can open the dialog leading to a new sale, and you can always get more information for additional marketing later in the sales process.
  5. Acknowledge the referral. Always let your referrer know that you got a referral from them. An automatic, “Thank You for your trust in us,” is sufficient, but definitely respond with a thank you for the referral. If you have a customer relations management system, make a note on the record for your referring customer, so others in you staff can also acknowledge the referral.
  6. Reward quickly. Making customers wait is bad service… especially customers who have been nice enough to actually give you a referral to another customer. So quickly deliver the reward or certificate acknowledging the reward to the referrer – they’ll be most likely to continue passing on leads.

The easier you make it for your customers to refer others to your business, the more likely you will be to get those leads, and the quicker you “pay up” on the reward, the more likely you are to get more referral leads, so make it easy for your customers to give you what you want.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #6: Market Your Program!

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Signing with a Pen

Marketing is the same for small business as it is for big business – letting people know you are there and telling them about the good products and services you have to offer. Your referral marketing communications plan is just another part of your marketing mix that needs promotion. The only people who can benefit your marketing strategy from your referral program are those who know about it. Let’s look at several good marketing strategies that will keep your referral program front and center and productive:

  1. Your website is critical to your referral program. Whether your business is brick and mortar or click and order, your website should have a prominent referral marketing area where people can learn about and sign into your referral program – make it easy for people to do what you want them to do. You can send people there from you store or web site… just get them there and get them referring.
  2. The Back of your business card is another marketing “key promotion point.” The back of your business card is “prime real estate” for promotion. You can announce special sales, upcoming events, AND YOUR REFERRAL PROGRAM. Direct people to the referral program information page on your site… since there isn’t enough room on the back of your card for all the details, and on the web page is where they can actually sign up and give you their first lead.
  3. Offer “refer-a-friend” handouts. Your business cards are a good start, and refer-a-friend cards carry the marketing process further. Leave a blank at the top where they can fill in their own name or a referral code (for which they will get a discount or special premium on their next purchase). Then offer the person referred a special incentive also; a discount or other advantageous offer – remember, good marketing makes it easy for people to do what you want them to do. Then, reward the referrer and the person referred.
  4. Make it clear that you want referrals! Many businesses will say right in their marketing materials that they reward referrals. If you want to take a more subtle approach, suggest that if your customer enjoyed doing business with you, they can, “tell a friend,” and get an incentive themselves. Always direct people to your Referral Program so they sign up right away. This is where a Referral Program page on your web site really works well.
  5. Use direct mail and get many more referrals. Either as part of a revamp to your referral marketing program, or when you are just starting it, direct mail using postcards can be an extremely quick and effective way to bring in many referrals. This can be to your existing customers, or to a larger rented list. Let your customers and prospects know how easy it is to be a referrer and what the reward is – then direct them to your web site or let them call in to sign up. Remind them of how easy it is, and that both the referrer and those referred get a benefit… a true win/win/win.
  6. Always, “talk up” your referral program. Again, brick and mortar or click and order, as you are closing your transaction, always mention your Referral Program and get people signed up – it’s just good marketing.
  7. Make sure all you marketing materials attract people to your Referral Program. In In brochures or mailings, always put a mention of your referral program with the link to your referral page on your web site, or a phone number to call to get them signed up.
  8. Use exciting premium items. Inexpensive premium giveaway items like pens, mouse pads, notepads, coffee mugs, etc. are great places to attract new people to your Referral Program. Always select items that will stay with them like pens, coffee mugs, calendars, and note pads – the things they will use many times over rather than just one use and toss. Make sure your premium item is “premium” and conveys the image of YOUR business as a quality business. Spend a bit more for quality, and always convey the image of a quality business.

Marketing and promoting your Referral Program helps your business stay visible with your existing customers, and helps get you new customers day in and day out, so keep it visible and keep it moving.

You Need a Web Site – Build it Right

Site Build It!Today, every business must have a web site, from beauty salons and body shops, to restaurants and retailers – and online businesses too. The world is looking for information, and the internet is the first place they look. One of the best and most productive tools I’ve found is Site Build It! A great resource from Dr. Ken Evoy that leads you, step by step, through finding the right way to position your web site, selecting a site name, registering it… then they make building it really easy. Ken’s dynamic 4 Step program:

  1. Create In-Demand Content
  2. Attract Targeted Traffic
  3. PREsell Those Visitors
  4. Monetize PREsold Traffic

… will guide you, with an astonishingly complete system, through building an informative and useful web site that drives traffic to your brick and mortar or click and order store, even if you are starting out knowing absolutely NOTHING!

Look at what Australian travel site owner B. Bradtke (yep, that’s her name) had to say about Site Sell:

“I exercised due caution and did some more research first. I asked a few people, I dug around on the internet. Everybody said the same thing, “If you build your site with SBI, you will definitely get traffic.”

B. Bradtke

You need a web site, Site Build It! is the easiest way to build an extremely effective site.


Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #5: Success with Customer Testimonials

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Phone RecommendationOne of the most powerful and productive marketing tools you can use when looking for quality referrals is customer testimonials. Satisfied clients’ recommendations make your referral marketing communications plan that much stronger:

  • The testimonial builds commitment. When your customer’s name and faces have appeared in a direct mailing piece, on your website, or in a company newsletter, they are much more interested in your success, because, believe it or not, when they tell others of their success with your service or product, they are actually touting their own success – and everyone wants to look successful.
  • More referrals equal a stronger impression of your business. Prospects see a whole page full of testimonials and quotes and are much more inclined to believe that you are a strong, established business that can help them.
  • Even “cold call” leads, are impressed. When you do your own research and find “cold call” leads (second in quality only to referral leads), showing them several pages with pleased customers and clients testifying to your quality, Landscapers show completed projects with happy people in the photo, weight loss or fitness businesses show fit and happy people… why… because they work.

Don’t be frightened about collecting customer testimonials. When you look in the right place, you will get just what you, and your prospective customers, are looking for:

  • On your website, a video testimonial is outstanding. But a nice picture with a great with quote will work well also, since many people won’t necessarily want to appear “on camera.” So the photo and written quote may be easier to get.
  • Another option is an “audio quote.” You can record it simply using your cell phone or a digital recorder. Many times, this will have more value than a printed quote – combine this with a nice photo, and you have a winning combination.
  • If recording, audio of video, preview your questions to your customer, and let them know what type of answer you are looking for – this will get you the quote or answer that will serve your marketing best. You can even prompt them to say what the most effective words, and then edit out your “prompt” leaving just the words that tell your story best. When your customer knows what you need, they will be most likely to give you just the right tone. And make sure you get their approval on exactly what you will use in your materials before it is put on the web or printed in a brochure.
  • Asking for testimonials should become a habit with each transaction. And when a customer has referred a few new clients with written quotes, follow up and ask for an audio or, better yet, a video recommendation. When you are asking, never try to hide what you will be doing with their recommendation. Always ask them if they would like to participate in your marketing program.
  • Make sure you edit the comments, written, audio, or video to just the sentence or phrase that succinctly says why your service or product exactly fit their needs – not a whole story, just a precise statement of the benefit.
  • Since your business should benefit from your customers’ testimonial, you will want to create some benefit to them for their participation… without making it a direct “payment” for their participation. You really want honest responses, not ones made to; “get something” in return. So a quick thank you note, and possibly entry into a “drawing” for future discounts may be just the reward that lets you customer feel good about participating without feeling that they have been taken advantage of.

Customer testimonials complement your marketing program, and are a great way to gain valuable referral clients.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #4: Give Great Service

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Customer Service Rep on Headset PhoneYou’ve heard it before – but I’m going to say it anyway. As part of your referral marketing communications plan, the number-one way to ensure quality referral leads is to give great service. Satisfied customers are much more likely to refer their friends and colleagues your way. Here are the top six tips for making sure your current customers are happy and ready to refer you and your product or service – you can look at it as, “free marketing”:

  1. Make it easy for your customers to contact you. Telephone or email: Prominently show your customer service contact information and make it easy to find on your website, business cards, email – everywhere. Few things will build a negative customer experience faster than the frustration of being unable to get in touch to resolve a problem. The positive side, of course: Few things will build a positive customer experience faster and more easily convince customers to do business with you than knowing you are easy to reach you if they have questions or problems.
  2. Set expectations. If you’re a solo-preneur and only check email between 9-10 AM, you need to let your customers know that you’re not there 24/7. Likewise, if you only answer your phone at certain times, letting clients know beforehand will head off any concerns about non-responsiveness. You can post your “office hours” on your website, business cards, and email signature. Or create an outgoing message on your phone, or email auto responder… everything that lets people know when they can expect to hear back from you. Be careful here: In today’s “instant communications” world, anything more than 24 hours is too long… for instance, if you will be out of the office for some time, consider forwarding your office phone to your cell phone.
  3. Respond to issues immediately… if not sooner. No business enjoys reading or listening to customer complaints, but avoiding them won’t make them go away. If anything, the longer you delay, the more aggravated your customers get. Answering quickly can actually head off little problems before they get big. You’ll never get referrals that way.
  4. Under promise and over deliver. If you think it will take a day to resolve a customer’s issue, tell them you’ll get back to them in two days – and then surprise them by doing it sooner. Under promising and over delivering is a quick path to your customers’ hearts – and referrals.
  5. Take the extra step. Do whatever it takes to make the customer happy – then go one more step. Offer a refund before it’s requested and provide top notch service, then find other ways to thrill your customers. They’ll pay back your efforts in loyalty – and referrals!
  6. Hire help. Outsourcing your customer service should be one of the first efforts you make, particularly if you are the sensitive sort who will get your feelings hurt by unsubscribes, refund requests, or complaints. This may be a good time to try out a Virtual Assistant. For as little as $10/hour you can get someone else to handle your customer service for you – a wise investment.

When you implement these ideas, you’ll see your customer satisfaction and natural referrals skyrocket. And when you combine great customer service with some of the other tips in this report, you’ll really experience the landslide effect that will lead only one place – to more clients and more money.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #3: Reward the Referrer

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Business IncentiveAs part of your marketing communications plan, when you ask your friends or acquaintances to refer leads for someone who might be interested in your services or products, many may give you a name or two. But to really rev up your referral responses and get lots of leads, promise a reward. They will suddenly think of long-lost relatives and old roommates who have been looking for someone in your business or with your qualifications for quite a while.

Rewards cost money, however, so, with these five tips, create a productive referral marketing rewards program:

  1. Reward referrals only for QUALIFIED leads. What’s worse than having no referrals at all? Having a long list of unqualified leads or worse, disconnected phones. For instance, if you’re in the car business, you don’t want referrals for people who are too young to drive. If you sell cosmetics, your customer’s Uncle Joe might turn out to be a perfect lead… but your chances are much better with Aunt Betty. Do some initial qualification of your referral leads, and only reward your referrers based on the number of people who actually turn out to be at least somewhat interested in your business.
    For instance, instead of giving your referrer a $5 credit for each friend they refer; give them a larger credit for each friend they refer who actually purchases. You’ll get fewer leads, but those you get will be much better quality and more likely to buy.
  2. Reward referrals with related items. If you’re thinking of offering a free oil change for anyone who sends five new clients to your house painting business… you might want to re-think that. Try a nice discount on some trim touch-up. Make the reward fit your business model for continuity and branding; it’s just one more way to make your image stronger.
  3. Reward referrals quickly. A delay of a few months, or even weeks, slows the action-reward cycle. People who are rewarded quickly are much more likely to repeat the behavior so they can get rewarded again – nothing like enlightened self-interest to motivate people to action.
  4. Create “Bonus” Rewards also. A set reward schedule (for instance, $20 credit for each new customer who makes a purchase with you) is important. But it is even more powerful to send “surprise” rewards as well. Once a quarter or so, send a thank-you email with a coupon or other small gift to say an additional, “Thanks.” These small, surprise “perks” solidify your program in your customers’ minds and also promote repeat business.
  5. Reward the referred customer as well as the referrer. Rewarding referrers is great. But it’s equally important to reward the new lead. Current customers will be much more likely to give you the name and contact info of their friends if there’s something in it for the referral as well. You can offer $10 off for the new customer as well as for the referrer. Then it’s a win-win-win; new business for you, reward for your current customers, and rewards for your future customers.

A consistent referral marketing program as part of your overall marketing strategy will earn continuing benefits for years to come, so get going and get your rewards.

Business and Baseball: The Conclusion

Baseball and BatProgress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first. ~ Frederick B. Wilcox

While the above quote is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I hope by now I’ve shown you how the wonderful game of baseball holds a lot of wisdom and experience that’s applicable to life in general, and to those of us in the business world in particular. From setting an example of how to handle adversity, to teaching us how important it is to take risks, baseball is a great metaphor on life.

Going forward, let’s look at our nation’s favorite pastime with a different perspective, searching for more ways we can apply the lessons of the players to our everyday business lives and entrepreneurial challenges.

When you’re ready to learn, the teacher will appear – perhaps in the form of a uniform-clad second basemen.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and that you will let your friends know about our web site oriented towards small offices and those who are responsible for “communicating” the business to employees, customers, and prospective customers. I can’t guarantee you will win every time you try but I can guarantee you will lose every time you don’t try.

To your success – and to many winning seasons!

Remember, as Yogi Berra reminds us, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.


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