5 Perfect Times to Ask for a Referral

5 Perfect Times to Ask for a ReferralAsking for referrals makes many small business owners and salespeople uncomfortable. However, if you do a great job for customers and they are happy with you, customers are usually pleased to help you succeed and give you a referral. But customers often won’t think of referring your small business without prompting. You have to ask.

The most effective way to overcome reluctance is to build asking for referrals into your regular habits. Here are five ideas you can consider as “triggers” to asking for a referral:

  1. When a customer submits a glowing customer service review
  2. In the middle of a project, when the customer is most involved in your work together
  3. After delivery of a product, when the customer is most delighted
  4. At your anniversary date with a customer, as part of a broader “It’s been an outstanding year” message
  5. During any conversation with your customer when they are particularly pleased with your small business

As a bonus, these are also perfect times to ask for a testimonial. Why not do both?

Think Like a Minimalist to Get Your Marketing Message Across

I’m helping a client design a consumer rewards program, with the goal of increasing our competitive advantage and attracting new customers. Because the product mix has excellent margins, we can offer a program that provides high value to the customer. To give you an idea, joining the rewards program includes ALL THESE GREAT BENEFITS:

  • Minimalist Marketing StrategyFree product for signing up
  • Points on every purchase
  • Free product on your birthday
  • Referral rewards

Our marketing challenge is to motivate customers to sign up for the program through on-site signage and online advertising.

Because customers will only give your marketing messages a glance (if you’re lucky!), what they see needs to be arresting. Our marketing strategy for launching the consumer rewards program is to minimize what we tell customers– only try to communicate what the customer needs to know for the next step.

Marketing Communication Strategy

Step 1: Sign Up – Enjoy a free product today for signing up

Step 2: Repeat Purchases – Earn points on every purchase

Step 3: Feel Delighted by Our Brand – Surprise customers with a free product on their birthday

Step 4: Refer a Friend – Earn referral rewards

Although it’s tempting to tell customers all the great reasons they should sign up for this program and the many ways they will benefit, they may be too busy or distracted to notice a list of features. It’s the marketing communication corollary to Steve Yastrow’s sales tip, Don’t Load the Slingshot.

By sharing one compelling benefit at each stage of the customer lifecycle, we’re offering a reward for taking one specific action right away. Minimalist marketing goes against many companies’ instincts, but it matches customer behavior and attention spans perfectly.

 

A Small Business Marketing Campaign that Understands the Customer

James Free Jewelers is enjoying success with a clever marketing strategy tailored for engaged couples. With any bridal purchase over $5000, customers receive a free 4-day, 3-night honeymoon cruise.

Small business marketing campaign

This offer is much more attention-grabbing and interesting than a straight percentage discount, while still preserving margin for the retailer. A full-price, 4-day Bahamas cruise with Norwegian starts at $658/couple. That’s 13% of a $5000 purchase. Considering the bad PR that cruise lines like Norwegian have received in the recent past, James Free Jewelers probably doesn’t pay full-price for these complimentary cruises, allowing them to preserve even better margins.

Changing the conversation from a 13% discount to a free cruise shifts the purchasing decision away from raw price calculations into a more imaginative realm. You can picture a couple debating about which engagement ring to buy, and one of them says, “That other jeweler may be cheaper, but they don’t offer a cruise!”

Also, the promise of a cruise could push couples to spend more money with James Free Jewelers. They might opt for an engagement ring that’s a bit more expensive to qualify for the promotion. Also, the offer might motivate them to purchase the engagement ring and wedding bands from James Free, instead of shopping around and buying the pieces from various jewelers.

I encourage other small businesses to get creative with their promotions and use James Free’s campaign as inspiration. Think of experiences or benefits that would complement your products and services, like a honeymoon cruise for newlyweds. You’ll give more of a WOW factor and likely end up spending less marketing budget.

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

Precise language is one of my joys. It’s exhilarating to find exactly the right word that communicates in the best way possible.

Which is why it pains me to admit that accuracy isn’t all that important if it’s boring. For marketing communications, you must be interesting first and precise second. To catch a customer’s attention, it’s best to spark their curiosity with memorable content.

Words become boring through overuse. When a word is ubiquitous in the culture, customers start to overlook it, like static in the background. Sometimes, these words are useful descriptors of what your company does, but it doesn’t matter if customers have grown accustomed to ignoring them.

Instead, choose words that are easily understood but unique in the context of your business. Compare these two marketing campaign approaches from Mosquito Joe and JH Mosquito Control Services. Mosquito Joe takes a friendly approach that is much more interesting and memorable than JH’s technical description of its service special.

Mosquito Joe – Outside is fun again.

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

JH Mosquito Control Services – Mosquito Control Special!

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

Some Terms that Might be Accurate, but are Terribly Boring:

  • Solutions
  • Collaborative
  • Communication
  • Service
  • Special
  • Alignment
  • Outside the box
  • Cutting edge
  • Turnkey
  • Innovative
  • Expert

Perfection is Illusive, but Keep Working on It!

True marketing magic happens when you find precisely the right words that also perfectly describe what you do and why customers should buy from you. I advocate striving for that goal!

In the meantime, though, you have to keep marketing and selling. “Don’t let perfection become the enemy of good,” is a powerful business adage. As you move forward, infuse more interesting and unique language into your marketing. You’ll attract customers’ attention, and they will allow you more time to explain accurately what you do.

Teaching Children the Value of a Nickel and a Dime

It’s rare that I’m pleased to receive direct mail marketing, but I eagerly opened the nicely-designed piece sent from the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. They have some exciting shows this season, including adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and Tarzan.

But I found one aspect of their season ticket pricing off-putting. A “Season Infant Lap Pass” costs $1 per show.

Season Infant Lap Pass - $1

That’s right, if you need to bring an infant along to a performance, you have to pay one dollar for the privilege of holding a squirming baby in your lap.

As it Turns Out, Dollars are More Valuable than Nickels or Dimes. Lesson Learned!

There’s no reasonable business case for this strange charge. The Children’s Theatre might generate up to $20 in revenue per performance from the fee. That hardly seems to offset the risk of annoying customers by making them feel nickel and dimed. If even one family decides not to purchase a season ticket package because of this policy, the theatre loses money. (Also, if the theatre is trying to dissuade families from bringing infants to performances, this seems a heavy-handed approach).

From the theatre’s website FAQ’s, it appears the change is new to this season:

“Starting in the 2016-2017 season, every person, regardless of age, will need a ticket.  Children ages 0-1 year old who do not need a seat and will sit on your lap will be required to have an Infant Lap Pass for $1 for each show in every seating location throughout the theater.”

I suspect this policy will not be popular with customers, and it will be interesting to see how the Children’s Theatre reacts. In the meantime, small businesses should take a lesson from this example. Evaluate your pricing structure to see if customers might have similar reactions to your fees. And remember, a dollar is always more valuable than a dime!

Campfire Stories and Small Business Marketing

Campfire Stories and Small Business MarketingA great campfire story compels the audience to listen, eager to hear what happens next. And they will remember the story, to share with others later. Wouldn’t you love for your marketing to capture some of that feeling? Unfortunately, small business marketing tends to focus on tangible features and benefits, i.e., “Enjoy life in your new kitchen with a state-of-the-art redesign!” A new kitchen is great, but communicating in facts and figures just isn’t that memorable or motivating.

If campfire stories were like most small business marketing campaigns, they would go something like this:

“It was a dark and stormy night, exactly 7:03 P.M. Scattered thunderstorms approached from the west, as lightning created significant property damage. Seeking shelter from these dangerous conditions, two young adults overcame their fears and entered a house that had a reputation for being haunted. After recording some rather disturbing experiences in a journal, they disappeared… never to be heard from again.”

“Just the facts” is a terrible way to interest and motivate customers. Get out your marshmallows and dream up a story that will help customers remember you in a meaningful way.

My #1 Web Design Tip

The message this week is short but powerful. It’s my #1 web design tip, which is:

Design your website for what your customers care about.

Don’t design for what your CEO cares about. Don’t design based on your past websites. Don’t guess.

If you’re redesigning your website, ask your customers what they care about. Make that the center of all web design efforts.

Cookie Monster is Happy Again

A few years ago, in the face of the obesity epidemic, Sesame Street tried to give Cookie Monster a new slogan: “Cookie is a sometimes food.” Cookie Monster bravely faced this new challenge, giving up his favorite phrase, “C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me.” Fans were not so kind. Petitions, blogs and forums sprang up protesting the change to fans’ beloved furry muppet.

I’m pleased to see Sesame Street has finally listened to the fans who miss Cookie Monster’s favorite line. In this new music video parody, Cookie Monster sings “Share It Maybe,” and follows up with an interview assuring us he’s not giving up cookies:

Video – Sesame Street: Share It Maybe

So what does this story have to do with small business marketing? Cleverly hidden among the muppets is a marketing lesson. When you have something customers absolutely love, don’t change it. Marketing and product improvements are essential when customers simply like them (or don’t like them at all), but when customers love something about your brand, it takes discipline to protect it from changing fads and trends.

Also, I just loved having a reason to share an awesome music video featuring Cookie Monster. Happy Friday!

Why Isn’t Every Business Using Yelp for Customer Service?

My husband and I had a great experience dining at Jimmy G’s, so I wrote them a five-star review on Yelp.

Positive review of Jimmy G's on Yelp

Less than an hour later, I received an email from Ross, the manager, thanking me for reviewing the restaurant. At first I thought, “What courtesy! How kind! How unusual!”

But then I thought… “Why isn’t every consumer business doing this?” Ross’s simple message turned me into a raving fan. I’m even giving them publicity on my blog. And it only took five minutes of his time.

How long would it take you to write a short thank-you message on Yelp to each of your reviewers?

Beyond thanking positive reviewers, what if you could repair customer relationships that resulted in negative reviews? Usually, it wouldn’t take more than an apology and a token of your sincerity.

Wouldn’t that be valuable to your business?

Yelp for Small Business Marketing

Your small business is already on Yelp. People are voicing their opinions about your business, and others are listening to their advice.

Yelp reported that 61 million people visited the site in the 3rd quarter of 2011.

Many small business owners don’t realize Yelp’s influence, let alone contribute to the conversation on the site. Including Yelp in your small business marketing plan can be a great way to build word-of-mouth-marketing. You’ll develop relationships with influential customers and encourage new customers to give you a try.

What is Yelp?

I would describe Yelp as an avid online community of passionate reviewers, eager to uphold their reputation and grow their influence. Casual users visit the site to find recommendations about nearby businesses, whether that be near where they live or where they are traveling.

Yelp got its start with restaurants, but it’s not just for restaurants anymore. You’ll find reviews on dentists, retail shopping, hair salons or even hardware stores. In many cities, the company has invested in local Community Managers, who develop and nurture relationships with local businesses and power reviewers.

Yelp Advertising

Of course Yelp would tell you the best way to improve your marketing with their site would be to buy advertising. Advertisements appear in search results and on competitors’ business pages. Below is an example showing Hannoush Jewelers’ business page with an advertisement for Rogers Jewelers:

There are a few other perks to advertising, such as the ability to display a video. Advertising on Yelp ranges from $300-$1000 per month.

Yelp Deals

Yelp also offers a way to provide customers with discounts from your business page, called Yelp Deals. Customers buy the “deal” from the site, and Yelp keeps 30% of the sale. Here’s an example of a deal, shown in a search result:

It’s hard to say how effective Yelp Deals are, but they might be worth an experiment, especially since there are no up-front costs.

More Marketing with Yelp Tips

There are several things small businesses can do to improve their Yelp marketing efforts without buying advertising or posting deals. I recommend taking these steps before making any ad buys.

First, ensure your business information is complete and up-to-date. On your business’s page, “unlock” your listing to add hours of operation, menus, pictures or an OpenTable reservations widget. Here’s a screenshot:

Once you unlock your business’s page, you’ll also be able to see handy data about the visitors to your page.

Another benefit to unlocking your page is that you’ll be able to communicate with your reviewers. Responding to your reviewers can build your relationships with them… if you do it carefully.

To respond to a negative review, consider the customer’s input constructive criticism, and try to remedy the issues the customer experienced. If you can “make it right” with the reviewer, chances are she will revise her review more positively. Even if the review is unreasonable, your business will not benefit if you reply angrily or defensively.

Responding to a positive review is much easier. Consider sending a private thank-you to the reviewer with a personalized note that shows you truly read and understood the review.

To really engage with Yelp, find out if your city has a Community Manager. This person organizes events for Yelp reviewers, and you might be able to improve your standing with local reviewers by hosting a free event just for them.

For more information about marketing with Yelp, send me an email: amanda@zooinajungle.com, or you can check out some of my reviews on my Yelp profile.