Sometimes we focus all our sales and business development (BD) efforts on individual prospective customers. In doing so we can miss getting close to those people who bring numerous customers our way. These ‘friends’ are hugely valuable to our business and yet we don’t often factor them in to our marketing and BD plans.
When you think about it, a business friend who recommends a number of customers to you can dramatically reduce the cost of those sales. What’s more, because they have made this recommendation, the customer is already warmed to you and the process of winning their business is often a lot easier.
So who are your friends?
Each and every business will have friends or advocates and it really does pay to spend a little time thinking who they are. It could be that they work in a organisation that has some synergy with you – say a website designer and a copywriter. It could be that the type of customers you both serve are very similar or you both specialise in the same market sector – say selling products/services to the catering trade. It could even be that you met at a business event or you work next door to each other and you get on really well.
So sketch out a list of the friends of your business and consider who does (or could) recommend good quality customers to you. Also consider what volumes and values of referrals and recommendations you’ve received to date (and do this regularly). It’ll show you which friends you need to look after and nurture.
Encourage referrals – building friends into your marketing and BD plans
When you have an idea of your business’s friend network you can focus on encouraging them to send leads your way. This benefits from a careful approach that takes into account each individual’s situation and personality. Whilst this may sound a little labour intensive, it does generate better results than a ‘one-hat-fits-all’ endeavour. When you consider that each friend will represent a number of potential new customer leads, it really is worth the effort.
So how do you build those friends into your business marketing and BD plans?
Step 1 – What do you know about them?
Your business’s friends will be more motivated to send recommendations your way if you’ve done the same, or helped and added value to them in some way. To achieve this, you really need to have a good understanding of that friend’s business, their work challenges and opportunities, their ambitions and even perhaps their personal life. Just as you would with a personal friend, you need to grasp what is making them tick at the moment if you are going to offer help and support that hits the mark – rather than misfires.
If you can help that friend they will feel more obliged to reciprocate. So schedule a coffee catch up or spend a little more time on the phone with them when you next speak. Ask how things are going and what they’re focused on at the moment. It may be that you can’t offer help directly but have someone else in your network who could. This will still impress them.
Do show an interest in your business’s friends and, if they’re social media addicts, offer friendly comments and replies to their posts and updates. Demonstrate you’re listening and interested in what’s happening in their world.
Step 2 – What do they know about you?
It’s possible that these friends only see you offering one type of product or service rather than your full repertoire. It’s also likely that they don’t know what your ideal client is. So it is worth educating them about this (and at the same time they can do the same about their customers). Sometimes it’s difficult when a friend refers a customer who then proves to be hugely unprofitable and difficult for our business. To avoid this scenario, invest a bit of time guiding your friends on the types of customer you excel in serving.
Try also to articulate the trigger signs or situations potential customers typically face and which your business easily solves or supports. Give your friends examples of how you have helped your customers so they a) understand what’s involved and b) can relate this to their contacts when they’re in the process of recommending you.
Step 3 – Prove that their referral is in good hands
Anyone who recommends you is putting their trust in you. Their professional judgement is on the line and possibly their relationship with that customer so it’s vitally important not to let them down.
Always respond promptly to a referral and thank that friend for this opportunity. Do a great job on it and try and keep your friend posted on progress, so they don’t have to worry what you’re doing with their contact.
It is also a good idea to reward them once the sales lead has been converted. What form that reward should take depends very much on your friend. For some a box of chocolates or bottle of wine may be fine. For others they’ll be after a commission or reciprocal recommendation (by pigford). Use your fact-finding with them early on to understand what reward they’ll find valuable and what will motivate them to send more referrals your way.
Make more of your business friends
Your business’s friends are hugely valuable to its long-term success and should be factored in to your marketing and business development plans. They help to sell your product/service offering and build a positive reputation for you in your market, through their word of mouth activities. So treat them as you would a key customer:
- Expand your knowledge about them
- Look after them
- Guide them on the types of customers you do a great job serving
- Prove you deserve the recommendations they pass your way
- Thank them in a way that encourages them to recommend you time and again.
The author – Michelle Daniels, Managing Director – Extended Thinking
An experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle has built a successful career increasing top line growth for service businesses and organisations. She helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with her ‘hands on’ support and practical advice. A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results. She has written (and ghost-written) for many professional and business publications and is a chartered marketer and member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy. Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth. Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans. We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing.