Think about how you choose to make your purchase. There’s research you do online, or perhaps you’ve bought a product or service from a particular company before, and you’re comfortable doing so again. But if you wish to buy something or get a service from a business with whom you’re completely unfamiliar, do you prefer to start the buying journey by checking out online reviews, or asking for a recommendation from someone in your network of family and friends?
As Business 2 Community notes, customers “trust recommendations from their friends more than they trust any messaging that comes directly from brands.” That’s because referrals “feel authentic and organic,” and are therefore considered more reliable than a sales pitch or marketing campaign.
So how do small businesses go about organically generating word-of-mouth sales referrals? Here are tips to keep in mind:
Start with your happy customers.
People who have purchased your goods or services in the recent past (particularly those who do so on a regular basis) are a great starting point for a referral program. Reach out to them and ask for brief testimonials you can post on your website and use in your marketing materials.
Ask precise questions they can respond to (i.e., Why did you choose our products? How did this purchase benefit you in your life/business? What would you say to others considering a similar purchase?). While you’re at it, ask if they will supply a photograph to go along with the testimonial.
Reach out on social media.
Chances are, you already have numerous fans and followers on your social media platforms. Without resorting to a hard sell, encourage them to share their experiences regarding your products or services. (They can also make a short video on the topic, if they like.) Make it into a contest with a prize for most inventive product success story. Invite people not only to post their comments on your sites, but to actively share them with their friends. The key is to get some buzz going and see where it goes from there.
Start a referral program.
A referral program is pretty much just what it sounds like—“a system set up through your business that offers rewards to customers for sharing the good word about your business,” as Business.com describes it. Rewards can range from exclusive discounts to news about product upgrades and advance sales notices.
Let customers know about the new referral program through a targeted email campaign that explains what you’d like them to do and what they’ll receive for following through. Be sure to add an easy-to-use referral link these valued customers can include in posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other commonly used social media platforms.
Two more tips:
- Make certain your referral program is integrated into your brand app and that it’s mobile-friendly for use on mobile devices.
- Provide a prewritten referral message people can pass along, but consider offering users the option to personalize the messages they send out on their own.
Sponsor a giveaway campaign.
For prospective customers who don’t have any experience with your business, consider a limited-time giveaway campaign for your branded products. (If you offer a special service, offer a “giveaway experience” so people can see for themselves what it’s like to experience your service.)
This approach often succeeds “because it gives followers something they already want, but can also draw new people to your brand,” Referral Rock notes. And if people like what they receive, “they’ll be willing to buy from you in the future.”
Finally, keep in mind that with business-to-business referrals the process works both ways. When you reach out to a potential referral source—that is, another business who has benefited from purchasing your products or services—let them know you’ve heard great things about their business and would like to find out more so you can refer clients to them. This will likely result “in a productive meeting where the source will learn about your business and be in a position to refer their contacts to you.”
This way, everyone wins!