Generating More Referrals For Your Business

The mantra of every business revolves around growth potential. Business owners who have figured out how to generate referrals from their existing customer base are more likely to survive and thrive. A study published in the Journal of Interactive Advertising indicated that word-of-mouth advertising appeared to have a more significant impact on shopping and buying decisions than traditional marketing methods. Generating qualified referrals is a solid strategy with positive outcomes, but it is a strategy that requires planning and finesse.

The Power of Referrals

Referrals from third parties who have experienced your product or service are considered highly credible. However, these referrals should be treated as part of a business relationship. A survey by Dun and Bradstreet found that referrals and advertising topped the list of most effective marketing methods as far as small to medium businesses were concerned. With social media platforms and other venues, referral marketing involves minimal expenses. It is also a way to build customer loyalty because the referring customer is putting his name and reputation on the line by endorsing your product or service.

How to Generate More Qualified Referrals

Effective referral marketing consists of a well-orchestrated plan that starts from assessing your operations and extends to after-market follow-up. The plan should be systematic to maximize the lead generation potential.

Establish a Reputation for Trustworthiness

To generate more business from your customer and the customer’s friends and family, you need to prove that your product or service is worthy of the endorsement. Exceptional customer service and outstanding products will bring repeat business, and satisfied customers are typically happy to spread the word and bring you more business. Exceeding customers’ expectations each time will pave the way for asking for referrals.

Express your Message Clearly

The easiest way to generate referrals is to ask for them directly. Referrals may be accidental, but an effective system asking for referrals should be integrated in the customer conversion process. The message should be clear, concise and presented in a conspicuous way rather than buried in the text or lost in the fine print. Make it easy for your customers to help you by including a click-through button that leads to an uncomplicated fillable form that can be submitted online.

Give them your Spiel

Increase the likelihood of getting referrals by preparing visual aids and cheat sheets about the benefits of your product or service. Your corporate brochure should address referrals by including a brief discussion and a blank form.

Provide Shareable Content

Create or curate content that is relevant to your market such as analysis of industry reports, illustrated product reviews, research briefs and pending regulatory changes among others. Content should be shareable with one-click buttons at the end of the article or infographic.

Create a Reward System for Customers Who Provide Referrals

When you ask clients and business colleagues for something, expect them to assess what could be at stake for them. Offering a rebate or discount for a pre-set number of referrals is one of the more common referral strategies. Customers can avail of discounted rates based on the number of referrals generated.

Seek Referrals from Complementary Businesses

Find businesses whose products or services complement your own, and offer to promote their businesses if they can promote yours. In the cross-promotion process, you may also ask for referrals as you intend to provide a similar list for them.

Load up on Client Perks

Providing extra services or free products can increase customer loyalty and satisfaction. These perks can be free, and you provide the links as customers fulfill the referral forms. Some of these perks include identity theft protection products, credit cards or subscription to periodicals. Obtaining freebies is something that clients are bound to talk about with their family or colleagues.

Keep your Social Media Profiles Updated

If you’re a service provider, make sure that your profile on LinkedIn is up to date. Provide the link to your LinkedIn profile with a note that customers may forward your profile to others who may need your product or services. If relevant, provide links to your other social media accounts.

Express your Thanks

Thank every customer for referrals. This will show appreciation as well as provide another opportunity to put your name and business name in front of the client. Better yet, reach out to them offline if you see their online review; it will make them feel good that you acknowledged them.

Asking for Referrals should Become Second Nature

To establish a systematic method of generating referrals, make sure to consider this aspect at every interaction with your customers. Polish your methods and practice your strategies until asking for referrals becomes integral to your business process.

The 10 Rules of Awesomeness

1. Find Your Niche

It's extremely important that you establish your expertise in a niche that you understand, have worked with for a long time and have a passion for.
The basic tenets of local SEO hold true in all sectors, regardless of the type of business/industry. However, if you know the niche well enough, it will be easier for you to learn and execute your plan for a particular business. Moreover, when the business owner or decision-maker sees that you really understand their industry, they are more likely to open up to you and trust you. Dentists will not be impressed if you start talking about how they can optimize their marketing plan for customers who are looking for orthodontists now, will they?
When you understand the industry, it will be easier for you to leverage your knowledge of the industry in your favour. It will also be easier for you to understand where the money is. If it's a niche where people can't afford to pay you more than couple of hundred dollars a month it wouldn't make sense to pitch your whole plethora of services. At the end of the day you are running a business and you need to be profitable.
The massive advantage that you will have by being niche-focused when you're selling to the local business audience cannot be overstated. After all, even large local business sales-focused companies like Yodle and ReachLocal use industry-specific reviews to sell to the market.
Read about how industry guru Mike Ramsey is trying to build a multi-million dollar local marketing business focused on lawyers.

How to go about finding your niche:

- Look at your existing customers. If a majority of them are coming from one industry, then it makes sense to go after that particular niche, provided there is enough demand.
- Figure out the markets that need Local SEO and online marketing the most in your local area. For instance, if you're in a state with fluctuating weather like Alabama, you should be targeting HVAC contractors who are probably going to be in high demand.
- If all else fails you can go after the golden targets: legal services, home services and medical services. These industries all are very good prospects for local SEO services; you should just pick one of them.

2. Brand Yourself

For a business owner to trust your words and for people to refer your work or seek your expertise, they need to know you. For that to happen, you'll need to do some amount of groundwork that helps establish your expertise on a given subject/industry. After all, as a marketing professional, you should practice what you preach and market yourself.
You will need to create a solid presence for yourself, both on and offline.

#1 - Establish your own website and social media following

Make sure you have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and Google+; post regular updates on these sites and respond to interactions frequently. You can use software like Buffer and HootSuite to save time managing your social media accounts.

#2 - Frequent industry blogs and forums

Provide regular and easy to understand content updates in industry forums and blogs that business owners visit often. Take genuine interest and involve yourself in local chamber of commerce, business gatherings and social events. It will help develop trust and bonding before you go ahead and try to sell your services to the businesses.
For example, if you're focusing on contractors, you might want to visit forums like Contractor Talk regularly; there are plenty of online forums focused on specific industries that you can participate in and engage with potential customers. Just do a Google search for forums relevant to the industry you're attacking and you're bound to find a few.

#3 - Work towards becoming a "thought leader"

The holy grail of Local SEO marketing is becoming a "thought leader" or someone who creates content that is widely shared. This can result in a surge in customer inflow and can gradually get you to the point where you're regularly obtaining a few customers a week.

i. Create useful content on your blog on a weekly basis; and by useful, we mean something that will help a local business (your potential customer) get more from their online marketing or business
ii. Start a newsletter and curate this list to include businesses who want to hear from you.
iii. Write on other blogs to leverage on their existing readership. This can be a good start when you don't have a brand and would much rather have your content reach a larger audience.

3. Partner Up

It is extremely difficult for small firms to survive the local SEO game alone. You will need people to build, develop and execute your plans. You will need designers, web developers, content writers, assistance in responding to phone calls & emails to sustain your business and grow.

Find likeminded people that you can work with. People who have the specific skillsets that complement your own will help you support and sustain growth in the long run. It will also give you the opportunity to specialize and work on things that you do best rather than trying to be a generalist

While partnering, it is also important that you "spread the riches" - don't try to micro-manage or be involved in everything. Focus on your core expertise (i.e online marketing) and split other work (content, design etc.) with others. What you'll need to do is create a "mastermind group" - eventually, as group members succeed, they will also start sharing with you and you'll all grow together.

5. Lead Generation

Closing sales is one thing, but generating leads is something completely different. Lead generation is mostly a numbers game where you'll need to get as many (high quality) leads as you possibly can in the process of doing it.

The general mantra with this activity is experiment, track and expand the strategy that's working out well for you.

Typical sources for leads include:

#1 - Cold Calls

The most abused lead-gen strategy there is. Works for some, doesn't work for many. The secret to this strategy is volume, a proper script and quick hand-off to a real consultant. Stay away from this strategy if you're afraid of rejection.

#2 - Direct Mail Campaign

Contrary to popular belief and opinion, this still works. While sending out direct mail, it makes sense to personalize it a little bit. Go one step further and tell them something they don't already know.

#3 - Your Online Presence

Making the best use of the internet to make sure that your name is visible to people who could end up potential clients is an absolute necessity. Some of the things that you can do to achieve this are:
- Optimizing your website
- Posting on SMB forums
- Referrals

#4 - The Conventional Approach

The fact that people spend most of their time online has not rendered the conventional way of doing things obsolete. The good ol’ tried and tested methods to reach your customers and thereby keep the leads coming in are:
- Advertisements on Online Directories/Newspaper sites
- Flyers
- Radio ads
- TV Ads
- Newspaper Ads

Each of them have their pros and cons. You will need to try them you to find out what suits your need the best.

4. Solution Provider

Let's be honest - we are all skeptical of the dreaded sales pitch. The over the top promises, the hyperbole, the lure of the Promised Land that fails to be delivered.

Rather than selling them a cookie cutter rehearsed sales pitch, provide a solution to their problem.

#1 - Do your homework about the business before you go in for the meeting or get ready to send out a proposal

Do they have a website? If yes, is it responsive? Are their title tags optimized? How big is the company? How long have they been in business?

You should be able to find all of this information fairly easily just by looking at a business' website. To make things easier, analyze the important steps in the Local SEO Checklist to see if the business is doing everything right.

#2 - Take a look at how their business is doing online, and more importantly, what their competitors are doing

Nothing closes a sale as fast as telling a business owner what their competitors are doing and how that's helping them outrank. It drives the point across with evidence and helps you sell better. You can use a whole host of tools to check on competitor data including Synup, Ahrefs, Spyfu and SEMRush

#3 - Ask the business owner the most important questions you need to ask without wasting their time

Before you take the time and effort to prepare a proposal for a business, make sure you spend a few minutes with them on the phone asking the right questions. Ensure that your questions are short, concise, easy to understand and don't take a long time to answer. The last thing you want to do is waste the business owner’s time on something you could have already gotten the answer for looking at their website.

Some questions I like asking when I'm doing pre-sales are:

- Are they doing any online marketing right now? Have they used consultants in the past?

- What kind of results have they seen with online marketing so far?

- What kind of budget do they have for online marketing?

You should structure your questions based on what you think is important to ask.

#4 - Create an uncomplicated, easy-to-follow proposal

Break everything down to steps that the business can implement with your expertise that can help improve their performance. Show the business owner in steps what you'll be doing, how long it'll take and how it'll impact their performance.

This will help them understand how you're going to go about doing things and will also allay any unrealistic expectations they may have of you.

Be straightforward and promise what your can deliver. Believe me, it will take your business relationship to a new level when businesses know that you are not bullshitting them.

The business owner will actually appreciate the fact that someone is being honest with them unlike 1000 other cold callers who all promise them the first spot in Google overnight.

6. Customers First

Every business has their strengths and unique set of problems. Do not go to meet a prospect thinking you know exactly what their problems are. You'll end up alienating the client by trying to find problems to suit that services you can sell to them rather than finding a solution to the problems they are facing.

Listen to them closely, ask probing questions for more information and take a genuine interest in their affairs before you start talking money. They will appreciate it if you tell them that you may not be a good fit for the kind of services they are looking for. It’s good to say ‘NO’ upfront, rather than delaying the inevitable.

7. Don't talk Jargon

We all understand that SEO is a complex process that takes a while to understand. Do not expect your customers to be familiar with the technical terms that are prevalent in the industry.

Do not use jargons like robots.txt, xml, disavow, penguin, panda, pigeon, goat, unicorn etc and complicate things. Most business owners will not understand what these words mean.

All they understand is "leads" and "revenue". Educating the client on what we do is part of the job description. However, we do need to know where to draw the line, as we are not trying to train them to become local SEO specialists.

8. Diversify Revenue

Cashflow is the lifeblood of every small business. Keep tracking that at all times and make sure that one client alone doesn't make up more than 15-20% of your revenue source.

1. One big client = bad news

The biggest mistake you can make running your consulting business is to have more than 50% of your revenue coming from one client. A lot of us have been guilty of doing this and have learnt our lesson the hard way. Always keep looking for ways in which you can diversify your revenues to come from multiple clients.

You shouldn't be a single-client’s “hostage”, so to speak, and should have the freedom and liberty to drop a client if you need to.

2. Always collect money upfront

There is nothing wrong in collecting an advance from your customers. You are providing top quality services and need to be paid well in advance. If you feel guilty collecting money from a customer, or have a customer who doesn't trust you paying in advance, you should just fire them.

Never make the mistake of giving a customer a line of credit, whenever a client asks you this, ask them if they would work without getting payment from their own customers.

9. Engage

Even the experts need help at times in this ever changing world of Local SEO. With the number of animals & birds (a-la penguin, panda, pigeon etc.,) the search engines are throwing into the mix every few months one needs to take a step back and learn about the latest and greatest in the industry.

Here are our top 3 forums run and frequented by industry experts who can be of tremendous help -

- Linda Buquet's : Local Search Forum

- Max Minzer's : Local Search Google+ community

- Local U forum : Frequented by industry stalwarts

10. Sell

Now that you know all the things that you need to do to become an expert at local SEO sales, the only that is left to do is sell your product. Though I agree that this is much easier said than done, there are a few things that you can do or keep in mind before you successfully close deals week in, week out.

1 Set Targets

There is no absolute number when it comes to the sales targets that one should set, for it differs depending on the size of your firm. In any case, the intention behind founding any firm is to grow, and having a high yet achievable sales target for the growth of your firm will be instrumental in making you reach greater heights. A growth rate of 20% in sales will be a fantastic target to maintain, though it is completely up to you to come up with a practical figure on this front. Set a target that will help your firm scale rapidly with time.

2 Make Friends

Nobody wants to be the client of a firm that doesn't make them feel like that they're their biggest customer. May it be with your partners or your clients, make sure that you have a healthy relationship with them that makes them feel happy to be associated with you. Establish a dedicated client success/support team for this purpose. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't cut ties with a customer that demands more for less or treats you badly. Weed them out if you need to. But make sure that the customers that you have feel comforted by the fact that you are taking care of their online marketing and local SEO. This especially helps when the client likes you a lot, to the point where they start recommending what a good job your firm is doing to other businesses. And other businesses = more potential customers, and more potential customers = more sales

3 Practice

This might seem like something too basic to read so far down the post, but no expert became one without months (if not years) of practice and experience. Countless hours of trying and failing at something is the key to honing your skills, because failing helps you develop an instinct that will tell you what will work when you're selling and what won't. Don't expect the time spent reading and writing about the subject to get yourself to the top. As much as they will help you, the only way to truly becoming a rockstar in sales is to sell, sell and sell even more.

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