Happy customers are your greatest marketing resource. Not to imply that you should leverage your customers to get more business. Nothing so brutish...
But if the experience of doing business with you is so overwhelmingly positive that your customers are happy to say nice things about you, or refer you to their friends and peers, that's a different story.
Customers will only advocate for you if you've done exceptional work but even when you have, there's no guarantee they'll take the initiative to send business your way -unless you ask.
Many of us are shy about asking for business in general, much less asking for someone to vouch us to their personal network. It's a big ask and could potentially backfire, if your request is ill-timed.
There's a right way, and more importantly, a right time to prompt customers for reviews, referrals, and other forms of advocacy. There's also a specific type of reciprocity that's appropriate (e.g. incentivizing, but not paying for reviews).
In this post I'll outline a simple, foolproof method for consistently generating reviews and referrals while enriching your sales and marketing materials along the way.
A few ways happy customers can help you grow...
Before we get into the specifics of how to engage customers to generate referrals, let's review some simpler ways that satisfied customers can help you grow by providing testimonials, reviews, case studies, and other social proof.
Review sites are an increasingly powerful force in search; ranking at or near the top of the first page for any software related keywords.
Between the growing host of review sites eating up first page real estate and their massive appetite for keywords, it's likely your potential buyers will encounter reviews of your product before ever visiting your website.
Craft attractive, informational profiles right away, and find at least 10 customers willing to leave a review (per review site).
TESTIMONIALS / QUOTES
A good positive testimonial can do wonders for your sales process. Deep down everyone knows how hard it can be to get someone to say nice things about your brand; so people tend to take it seriously when customers advocate for a business.
Plus testimonials and quotes can be used in many different ways, such as website copy, email signatures, sales materials, and more, making them a worthy and versatile marketing asset.
Extremely happy customers, with great results, can be featured in case studies that explain their mission and challenge and how your solution helped them achieve their goals.
Case studies should focus on explaining the A) problem faced, B) the solution employed, and C) the outcome achieved.
The final output should be engaging and informative and fit neatly on one page -designed for glancing at, not reading.
Advocacy / Affiliates / Loyalty / Rewards
When you've gotten your customer flywheel turning, new buyers come to you by way of existing customers. To scale this effort, you need a formalized system. Brand advocacy, such as affiliate programs and referral incentives, is a way to capitalize on the good will you're generating with your great customer experience.
Loyalty and rewards programs, by contrast, are all about re-engaging with your existing customers -but happy clients that become loyalty customers may also become brand advocates, after further positive experiences.
Building & Leveraging Social Proof
There are many ways you can document people's positive reactions to your services, including, but not limited to, the examples I just mentioned.
After you've collected data, testimonials, and other tangible evidence of your good work, you'll need to render what you've collected into presentable materials to share with anyone who might eventually refer you business.
Some of the many useful ways this data can be incorporated include:
Sales Enablement Materials
If you want to close deals, equip your sales team with top notch materials that impart confidence and authority by prominently featuring customer testimonials and quotes, case studies, and other social proof.
Don't tell, show. Demonstrate your commitment to quality by tastefully presenting your work in a positive light, with your results front-and-center.
The sales deck is the samurai sword of the salesperson. It's like the infantryman's M-16 rifle in Full Metal Jacket...
"There are many [sales decks] like this one, but this one is mine."
Which is to say that you don't go into battle without a sharp sword and you don't sell without a sharp sales deck; one that tells a compelling story.
Customer data and quotes can be integrated throughout your sales decks, on transition slides, as call-outs, in headers or footers, etc.
Sprinkle social proof throughout your sales materials to add a subtle
touch of authority and confidence to your sales experience.
PDFs are universally viewable, can be attached to sales emails, and either printed on 8.5x11 copier paper or viewed on mobile devices seamlessly.
For each product in your catalog, consider creating a "one-sheet" or product sheet which conveys all the pertinent data visually.
Incorporating social proof -testimonials, in particular, in the header or footer of the product sheet is a great way to get your customers' positive reactions in front of your potential buyers while they're evaluating your product.
The average length of a landing page visit is only a few seconds because so much of the traffic will inevitably bounce.
Do whatever you can to hold their attention for a few seconds longer, like providing a killer testimonial right at the top (and another potentially at the bottom) of the landing page.
Repurpose case studies, testimonials, and quotes into "snackable" digital assets that can be used on social media, shared via email, and embedded into blog posts (or thought leadership content).
Short quotes might fit into programmatic or social ads. You could feature quotes in native content or promote a case study. Social proof can be repurposed in many ways and come in handy in many different situations.
When is the right time to ask for reviews and other forms of social proof?
As with all things, there's a right time to ask for reviews and other social proof, and there's a wrong time as well.
Asking too early can put your relationship in jeopardy and once the right moment has passed your attempts are likely to fizzle.
So, when is the right time to ask buyers to become advocates?
When it's obvious they already are.
This is what NPS surveys are designed to uncover and what, in situations with manageable numbers, you can determine by having relationships with your clients (your salespeople certainly do).
There's also a lot of different ways they can help but you can only ask your customers for so much good will.
To help you walk this fine line, here are some guidelines for when (and how) to ask for reviews, testimonials, and other social proof.
- Complete your initial business before asking for more - It's offensive to ask customers to provide feedback before they've experienced the benefits of working with you.
- Don't wait too long - The ideal time to ask someone a favor is very shortly after you've completed a task successfully to their satisfaction -days, not weeks or months, later.
- Always give more than you request - Deliver on your promises before you ask your customers for anything beyond their business and make damn sure they're going to say something nice about you when asked.
- Write a separate email dedicated to your request - Don't allow them to dodge the question by burying your request in an email with other correspondence.
- Set measurable goals that, when reached, trigger requests - It feels strange to ask for favors, so follow a system to ensure you're reaching out to all your customers; when the time is right.
- Test the waters with NPS or personal outreach - Make sure that the people you're going to ask for commentary will advocate for your brand. If they want to talk smack about you brand, best not to give them a platform to do so.
- Deliver a quick win - Help your customer in a big way that A) provides relief, B) cuts costs, or C) generates revenue and they'll be receptive to almost anything you have to say.
When is the right time to ask for referrals?
It's best to start with a small request and build up to asking for business. If you can be in dialogue with several customers at once, you can gain more traction in less time.
You should request social proof, such as testimonials and reviews, before asking that customer for referrals. Their initial feedback will give you insight into how they'd respond to your bigger ask (referrals).
This means, of course, that you should apply all of the logic above to determine when you should or shouldn't make these requests.
If their feedback is a glowing, positive review, you know that you've done good enough work for them to ask for a bigger favor. If their feedback is positive, but not glowing, then be grateful for the social proof and double your efforts to impress this customer before asking them for anything further.
Never ask for a referral if your customer hasn't fully experienced the benefits of your product or service and had an excellent buying experience. The last thing you want is negative social proof and an offended customer.
Build a feedback loop into your customer experience.
We've discussed the importance and benefits of collecting positive feedback, the ways you can make use of it, and the conditions you need to meet before asking for favors.
Let's bring it all together, step-by-step, in a simple, repeatable process that you can integrate into your customer experience -after you've impressed them, and before they've moved on mentally to their next challenge.
Step 1: Finish the job
Do a great job for your customer, impress the hell out of them, and make sure all the loose ends are tied up before asking any favors.
Step 2: Ask permission to post on social media about them on LinkedIn
A simple, non-invasive way to start the dialogue about using their name in marketing is to ask if you can post about working with them on LinkedIn.
You might send your contact an email something like this:
"Hi [person's name], I just wanted to say that it's been such a pleasure working with your team on this project and we're excited to see your results. We like to post about completed projects on LinkedIn, to keep people informed about the work we do. Would it be alright to mention your brand in an upcoming post? It would look something like this..."
...and then provide a draft of the post copy for them to approve.
Step 3: After A Pause, MENTION YOU'RE BUILDING A CASE STUDY
If your results are at all remarkable, create a case study to highlight your success in this industry/vertical/niche -it might come in handy one day.
Draft this case study (and make it look sexy), then present it to your customer for approval. Let them know you're proud of the work and that you'd like to include their brand name, if that's alright with them.
Again, their reaction to this gesture will tell you a lot about how they feel about your work. Being a case study should stroke anyone's ego, so you're unlikely to encounter friction unless there underlying dynamic exists that you should be aware of.
If it's all good, ask them for a quote / testimonial that you can use in this case study "and other places" where you need to show credibility.
Publish the case study, share it on social media and tag your customer in the post, thanking them profusely for their business/partnership, etc. Add their testimonial to your website and any relevant marketing materials.
Step 4: Create A "BROCHURE" Featuring their testimonial
Produce a one page overview of your capabilities that visibly features the quote they provided and send it to them with a personal note like this:
"Hi [person's name], the quote you provided was really great and it's now featured on our website and in a few other places. It really helps when potential customers are evaluating us online to have folks like you sharing your positive experience. So thanks again for all your help, it's been such a pleasure working with you!
I sincerely hope we can [continue to work together or work together again] in the future. Please let us know if there's anything else we can do for your team.
Likewise, if you know anyone who might need our help, please keep us in mind. I've attached a copy of our new capabilities one-sheet that includes your quote, as an easy pass-along in case an opportunity presents itself.
Take care and enjoy the rest of your week!
Make the email that contains this attachment as genuinely friendly and personable as possible. Establish rapport, show gratitude, and then ask for referrals in a way that doesn't put any pressure on your relationship.
"Attaching this just in case..."
Because of the great job you did for them and because of the likable and respectful way you've conducted yourself, you've ostensibly (and deliberately) treated them better than they've treated you -despite asking for a few favors along the way.
If you just ask someone for referrals you may offend them but if you ask for their feedback, their thoughts on your brand (testimonial), their point of view of your approach (case study), and then make it very, very easy to promote you; they just might.
The dual keys to this strategy are being patient and paying it forward. You need to avoid an air of desperation at all costs. People will be more comfortable doing you favors if it's crystal clear you're not trying to take advantage of them.
So treat your customers right, give them time to feel the benefit of your work, and then there's no reason to be shy in asking them for positive feedback, social proof, and customer referrals.
There's just a right way, and a wrong way, to go about it.