The end of the year is a good time to take inventory of your customer, partner and colleague referrals. It gives you a chance to look back at the referrals you’ve received and put plans in place to receive even more in FY 2017. Are you getting as many referrals as you would like? A better question is: are you getting as many qualified referrals as you would like. It’s always surprising to us how many firms are disappointed in the quality of referral business they receive.
But there’s good news here. And as is often the case, it’s made possible by marketing.
If you received fewer referrals than you projected, or you would like to improve your organization’s referral program, read on.
Referrals come from three sources: current and past customers, business partners and other colleagues. Employees, too, are a lead source that should never be taken for granted. But like sales, referrals don’t just fall out of the sky. As marketers, you have to help make them happen. Referrals take solid strategy and well-executed tactics.
Here’s the formula for receiving quality referrals:
Provide excellent services and/or products + Stay at the top of prospects’ minds + Enjoy good relationships + Provide Motivation = Receive High Value, Sustainable Referrals
How to Earn More Referrals
You should be getting lots of referrals. If you don’t have a program in place that’s working for you, now’s the time to begin implementing. Follow the tips below, and by the end of FY 2012, you will be reaping measurable returns:
1. Institute a Formal Referral Program
Measurable results start here. There is absolutely no substitute for having a structured program with incentives in place to encourage your customers to refer you. You must stay top of mind. For a good example of this, think about your real estate agent. He or she knows that referrals are a major part of their business. They are always incentivizing by giving away restaurant and movie certificates and other gifts. They know we have plenty of options and understand the value of being at the fore of our thinking.
Define what the program “payout” will be based on the sale that’s closed. The amount of money you spend on a referral program should be consistent with the dollar value of what you’re selling. If you’re a low margin reseller, the referral gift will be very different than if you’re making product sales of $50,000 and up. You must pick a referral gift that is to scale.
As for the payout, it’s recommended to only give these referrals gifts upon close of the sale.
2. Look Outside Your Customer Base
The program should apply to more than your current customers. You should also open it to past customers, as well as business partners and other colleagues. Anyone who has interaction with prospects you’d like to add to your roster is a candidate for the program. If you have a board of directors, they should be bringing you leads. If they’re not, find out why.
3. Promote the Program
Without promotion, your referral program is like a tree falling in the woods. Your customers and partners won’t always be thinking of you. They certainly won’t go out of their way to identify opportunities to bring you business. But if they respect your organization, know you appreciate referrals and have incentives for bringing you good ones, then you’re on the right track.
It’s essential to continually remind clients and partners of your services and value proposition. Tell them you value their referrals. You can promote the program through newsletters, invoice mailers, special direct mailers, or when sales representatives or project managers meet with your customers. Special events to thank customers for their business are a powerful way to build good will and encourage them to provide you with qualified leads.
4. Give Them Something of Value
It’s always recommended to give your customers standard referral gifts, particularly if the product or service you’re selling is a standard item. People talk. If one customer finds out that they got a $20 gift certificate, and another got a gift of 10 times the value for the same type of referral, you could burn bridges, all in the name of trying to build relationships.
If your organization has clients on maintenance contracts, think about giving “gift certificates” that can be applied to service contracts, additional services or sponsored company events, such as customer conferences. This is a gift that benefits both the customer and your company. We have seen this company gift certificate approach work well time and again. It’s well received by the client base, costs the company soft dollars, and improves your relationship with your client. There aren’t any losers with this type of program.
5. Arm Sales to Gather Referrals
Your sales people understand the value of referrals. Make sure they are part of the program. If sales is integrated into this program, they can use it as a tool to touch base with your customer base, warm up leads that have cooled, or resume contact with a customer who hasn’t purchased from you recently. In this way, your referral program is an integral part of your sales and marketing strategy, not a bolted on after-thought. Integration is essential!
6. Measure the Success
The only way to know if your program is successful is to measure its results. Results of this program should be relatively straight forward and easy to measure. Since your client or partner will be receiving a gift for referring you, they will help ensure that the lead is traceable back to them. Otherwise, how do they get their gift? If you are promoting the program and your customers are talking to other qualified leads, you should notice an increase in the numbers of referrals you’re getting and the number of sales closed. The only way to be sure of this impact is to measure it.
Referrals can be a valuable part of the growth strategy for your business. If you need more motivation, think of the opportunities you’re missing by not putting a program in place.
For more information on creating a successful B2B Marketing Referral program, contact us at The Borenstein Group at 703-385-8178 or via our web site’s contact us page.
Remember that feeling of accomplishment you had receiving your college diploma? “I’ve made it,” you probably thought. “I’m finally ready.” Then came the sobering discovery—the realization that post-graduation life from the status of making it in the ‘real world’, has its own challenges and impediments.
It’s the same story for Small Business. Once they’ve graduated from the SBA program in an IT NAIC code, they find themselves competing in a different world. It’s called ‘No Man’s Land’ where titans and gnomes are equally competing for the same RFP capture. So, often we see the smaller companies’ revenues drop; key employees get poached; worst of all, buyers use “comparables” to consistently undervalue their company’s true worth.
According to a study from the Merrill Advisory Group, the four critical components of Government Contractor Valuation are:
1. Business Focus
2. Financial Operations
3. Unique Characteristics
4. Company Brand
But what are Unique Characteristics? That’s the question most Small Business government contractors aren’t prepared to answer. Assuming all things are equal (including past performance, business focus, and financial operations), what makes your company worth more than your competitors?
Often, the answer is rooted in a company’s Strategic Brand Proposition (SBP), or lack thereof.
SBP, like marketing in general, may sound superfluous to most government contractors. But you’ll find it’s intimately and inextricably linked to your company’s growth post-graduation. Buyers and investors have many names for it, “Good Will,” “Intellectual Property,” and “Reputation with Customers, Suppliers, and Partners,” to name a few.
When stakeholders visit your Web site—your digital brand identity—what will they find? User experiences, thought leadership pieces, and collaborative technologies that demonstrate your unique value proposition? Or a hollow, unconvincing mission statement bootlegged from a competitor: “We’re the only company that’s truly customer-focused,” or “We deliver solutions!”
Few Small Business entities have invested the proper time to position themselves for optimal value. The same IT systems integrator can be perceived as an “Architect” (highly skilled strategic partner), or as “Mr. Fix It” (low-cost vendor). Savvy entrepreneurs know that brand equity and the art of strategic communications can make or break perceived value to both Federal customers and potential buyers.
Often, we hear Small Business graduates lament that they can’t afford marketing, advertising, or public relations. It’s the equivalent of bemoaning the need to buy a suit for your first real job interview. Image matters, particularly when you’re building your company for higher valuation. And that, Small Business graduates, is the bottom line.
Ready to chart a different course? Contact us at The Borenstein Group and we can help evaluate what you need to do to make the neccesary changes.
As the CEO of a digital branding agency, I get the extraordinary opportunity to often meet with many executive managers in Corporate America’s boardrooms. My favorite part is identifying perception gaps that exist between internal and external forces (such as customer vs employees), so I get to interview many key managers that lead operations, delivery and development within both product and service organizations with the goal of identifying their current brand value and name equity for new business, existing business, or when they seek to expand. I work hard to be a trusted partner. What does this mean?
The one question, that seems to consistently impact a company’s brand equity and valuation, is whether the company is thought of as a Vendor or a Trusted Partner?
What my experience has shown me time and time again is, that often, if you want to know if your company will be your client’s partner next year, simply deconstruct the above question and ask, ‘Are we our clients’ vendor/supplier or are we their trusted partner?’ And to be honest, most of us think of ourselves as trusted partners. But are we really? Consider this.
Many of us, in the professional business community, tend to think myopically about our narrow field of service within the giant conglomeration of a service contract or the delivery of a system or products. We count on quality assurance reports, customer satisfaction surveys, and follow-up calls and questionnaires that are supposed to tell us whether the mission set has been accomplished.
I find that often those KPIs are inherently disconnected from what truly matters to buyers when they categorize you between Vendor and Partner. But if you really want to probe and find out, ask yourself or your management team to answer these five self-probing questions. It might hurt a little, but the ultimate gain will be great.
1. Is your company indispensable to your customer?
Many IT companies assume that because they have a legacy system in place that requires a fork-lift, the cost of removal makes them indispensable. Just imagine how many of them went out of business because of Cloud migration and Software as Service providers, which simply disconnected one cable and migrated entire databases to the cloud. Indispensable means that when your customer is thinking of a change, material or cosmetic, they call you to consult. If they don’t, you’re a vendor.
2. Is your company product-agnostic or product-centric?
Especially in the services industry, many companies tend to rely on one relationship with a major credible supplier such as Staples, Amazon, or Xerox (just examples). But if you are unable to offer your clients the choice of other platforms, solutions, software, and ideas that fit their requirements, chances are that you are a vendor. Yes, maybe the margins are higher in the short term, but long term any disruptive technology, process or system will displace you overnight. Just look at how CRM transformed sales to the embedded base and customer satisfaction again and again, and how Amazon went from selling books to selling data centers, invading the space of large data companies that don’t sell books! In my opinion, if you are a trusted partner, choosing which platform you use is secondary to what your client objectives are. It also shows and presents you as a renaissance and evolved thinker that truly looks out for their client’s interests.
3. Does your company provide its clients with customized education or canned teleprompter demos about ‘what’s next’?
Not everyone can afford producing their own training, but imagine what your client or customers feel like when they receive a canned presentation with a slap-on logo for your company. The CEO is thinking, “You’re a vendor…. you didn’t customize it to my needs.” Or, maybe she’s thinking, “65% isn’t relevant to me.” A trusted partner takes the time to at least edit that product video or PowerPoint presentation and show how relevant it is to the target audience in mind.
4. Does your company truly appreciate its customers or does it hold food-rich customer appreciation days?
Let me be clear – taking a client to lunch or inviting them to an open house where free beer flows, beef burgundy, and Mexican guacamole are plentiful does not equate to providing meaningful value. Yet, in many user conferences, it appears that the food is more valuable than the presentations. A true partner invests in making their customer the subject matter expert by being their shadowed mentor.
5. Does Your Company Say, “YES”, before truly analyzing and understanding the client requirements?
I have interviewed many buyers of products and services that tell me that they test their vendors for a measure of trust by often throwing an impossible-to-fill scenario their way, just to see how they approach their answer. I am not talking about a fake requirement but a real-life simulation of something they really need. A vendor jumps in and responds with, “No problem, how many do you need”; but a partner thinks first and asks why, how, and when they need it and most importantly, does it really make sense given who they are as a customer? There is a lot that a true partner considers before giving a well thought-out response. It can be the budget, it can be the technology, it can be anything. Just don’t say, “YES” and “How many do you need?” because then you lose your license to be their true partner.
The bottom line: Every executive in the role of production, customer satisfaction, or sales and marketing struggles to balance the monthly goals against investing additional time to develop a trusted partnership with their client. It may be a longer-cycle marketing process, but in my experience of surveying and working with hundreds of successful companies, that extra time invested will lead you in the right direction to become your client’s true partner… instead of just their vendor.
About the Author: Mr. Gal Borenstein is a recognized expert and strategist in digital branding, marketing, social media, advertising, online reputation management and public relations matters. He is the founder and CEO of the Borenstein Group, a top digital marketing communications firm in the Washington DC metropolitan area that serves clients locally and globally. He is the author of new business leadership book, ACTIVATE! How to Power Up Your Brand to Dominate Your Market, Crush Your Competition & Win in the Digital Age, available in premiere bookstores and on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Apple’s iBooks. Gal has published his first business leadership book What Really Counts for CEOs in 2009. Since then, Borenstein has been featured as a guest commentator on CNN and Fox Business News on strategic marketing and branding issues, as well as, been one of the top digital content contributors to influential business leadership social media networks such as LinkedIn, PR Week’s The Hub, Advertising Age’s BtoB magazine, HR.Com, Smart CEO Magazine, DuctTapeMarketing.com and others. He can be reached at 703-385-8178×28 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @galborenstein on Twitter.
On April 14th, Google has altered the way in which ads are displayed in the search results. Due to this, the visibility of an ad is dependent on the position and the ad format. These ads display relevant information such as address, phone number, and business hours. Google has also changed how the ads look by removing one column of useable space. This means businesses have less space to advertise and must compete for visibility.
In today’s world, having visibility on Google is crucial for any business. Google’s recent changes to their ad settings will directly affect small businesses. For a business to succeed with Google ads, they must have high quality, professionally designed ads that receive more clicks than other ads. How can you ensure visibility on Google with the increasing competition and exclusivity of Google ads? Borenstein Group recommends 4 essential tactics to ensure visibility on Google that will help combat these changes, increase quality competition, and bring the exclusive advantage to you, the customer.
The first essential tactic is quality. A higher quality ad generates more views and in a way, becomes more popular. Google places ads based on their “quality score.” Make yours high. Focus on relevant keywords instead of ‘keyword packing.’ Put high priority on relevancy and specificity, and you’ll be more likely to see a higher rank for quality. Every impression counts, so make yours a good one.
Second, localize. It is all about locations. Google has included maps in their ranking factors. This provides businesses with the opportunity to target people based on locality–take advantage of it. Ads will now show up on maps, and your ad will not show up anywhere without your location.
Third, mobilize your ads. The most recent Google change only impacts desktop searches. Desktop is important, but mobile searches are dominating the market more and more. If you want increased visibility, make sure your ads are mobile friendly. If you are not focusing on mobile, analyze your strategy and make mobile part of your future.
Fourth, explore new strategies. Google Ads are not the only way to be seen. Ads should be a part of your strategy, but not the whole thing. The best way to increase visibility while being cost-effective is improving your SEO efforts. If you have a strong SEO strategy, your ads will get high ratings on Google. Your SEO efforts should mirror your Google Ads strategy- increase quality, localize, and mobilize.
We hope these tips help you navigate the new ad changes. It is crucial to stay on top of new changes and trends, especially with search engines. And remember, it’s always best to ask for help from professionals to achieve success and avoid common pitfalls.
As my digital branding and marketing firm, the Borenstein Group, celebrates a special anniversary of being 21 years in business, serving the world’s best B2B brands, it almost feel like the parallel to certified adulthood with all the rights and privileges but also the duties and responsibilities.
To most people I meet, it looks like a tremendous accomplishment that any self-funded American entrepreneurial business, can survive 21 years with all the economic turmoil, changing trends and fads, normal and abnormal employee churn, strategic paradigm shifts, personalities and egos, the need to stay relevant and indispensable, technological evolutions and revolutions, not to mention the constant need to ‘feed the beast’ with capitalization and finance. So when people ask ‘how did you get here’? How did your business survive 21 years when most go out of business within the first three years, I defer them to the top 10 things that I was told for which why my business will FAIL.
Truly, no matter how hard was the challenge or situation, the one motivational element that stuck with me, even after all these years, is what negative people told me when I was just starting out, when Borenstein Group started with the impressive startup budget (NOT) of $300 and up to $2,000 in Extended Visa Convenience Checks (that carry a 5% redemptions fee for ‘free’). Yes, this was the budget, and it was my reality.
So, if you have a boss, colleague, partner, advisor, friend or a local community banker (my favorite group of folks that deserve a special place for being non-supportive), here is what I was repeatedly told almost every year in our 21 years in business.
“I’d like to thank you for keep reminding me why you, the negative and uninspiring people who told me ‘it can’t be done,’ ‘it’s not going to work’ and that ‘you are nuts’ for being my great passionate motivation to succeed, even against all odds. It’s funny how it works, but the greater the insult, the more successful I was determined to become. ”
As Spring comes along, you might want to clean your entrepreneurial brain from statements that you were told at one time or another. None of them truly matters if you have a strategic compass and self-confidence in your abilities.
1. You Are Too Young and Inexperienced.
2. Your Financial Ratios Don’t Align with Industry Standards.
3. You Business is Too Small to Compete Against Bigger Firms.
4. You Suck as a Boss. I Quit.
5. You Have an Accent. You’re Not from around here, are you?
6. You Are Too Expensive.
7. You Are Way Too ‘Out There’.
8. You Are Politically Incorrect.
9. You’re not a ‘Culture Fit’ within our corporation.
10. You will never make it with this ‘whatever it takes’ attitude.
For those of you who are facing a dilemma of expanding into an unfamiliar territory, whether it is within an organization, or in starting your own business, or departing to a new partnership, I say, ‘listen to your gut.’ Your gut may not be right 100% of the time, but as long as you keep true to who you are and what your passion is, results will come. The worst thing that can happen is having lived a life of ‘could have’ or ‘should have’.
About the Author: Mr. Gal Borenstein is the Chief Strategy Officer and CEO of Borenstein Group, a top digital marketing communications firm in the Washington DC metropolitan area that serves clients locally and globally. He is a recognized expert and strategist in digital branding, marketing, social media, advertising, online reputation management and public relations matters. He is the author of the business leadership book, ACTIVATE! How to Power Up Your Brand to Dominate Your Market, Crush Your Competition & Win in the Digital Age, available in premiere bookstores and on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Apple’s iBooks. He can be reached at 703-385-8178 x28 email@example.com.