When most people think of a small business owner, they tend to envision the proprietor of a restaurant, the entrepreneur behind a successful salon, or their CPA. We don’t immediately think about the realtor, the IT consultant, or the jeweler because our paths don’t regularly cross with theirs.
Yet small business owners who sell big-ticket items on an infrequent basis know how important it is to stay top of mind.
While all businesses are relationship based, those built around high risk and high rewards have a unique challenge in cultivating long-term customer relationships.
Consider the nature of their sales cycle. We know that the more expensive the item, the longer the sales process. The longer the sales cycle, the higher the risk of the deal going south. This can sometimes lead to an eagerness to sign a deal, any deal, as opposed to the one that’s best for the customer.
Instead of aiming to simply close a transaction, trust that a great customer experience will lead to a slew of lucrative referrals.
For small businesses that specialize in selling higher end goods to a single customer once, or possibly twice in a lifetime, here are three ways to build a sustainable referral engine using email and social media.
1. Reconnect with your recent and most engaged customers
Now this doesn’t mean to only reach out to the biggest spenders as you’ll also want to include those that will be vocal advocates for you.
Recall the experience you had with each customer and jot down a few notes that you can use to create a personalized message. Within that message, include a memorable thank you.
For example, a realtor may team up with a local landscaper to include a gift certificate for a free lawn care service inside the personal note. The new homeowners are pleasantly surprised by the gesture and will be inspired to tell their friends. Meanwhile, the lush lawn helps promote the landscaper’s business.
If your business sells services to other businesses, you can earn referrals in lots of ways beyond doing a good job. This includes sharing your best practices so the customer is not beholden to you. Also, provide a transparent and easy to follow explanation for the ROI on the project.
2. Educate potential customers by sharing little known information
When you provide as much unbiased information as possible, you demonstrate your expertise and shorten the sales cycle because you’re empowering customers to make the right decision for themselves.
If the education process leads them to decide that now is not the right time to make the purchase, this shouldn’t be considered a loss. You’ve saved both parties a lot of time and have created goodwill that will translate to word-of-mouth referrals. And when they are ready to buy, they’ll come back to you.
To engage lots of potential customers at once, share the questions you’re frequently asked as well as those that aren’t asked, yet should be. Include them on your website, in a special edition of your newsletter, and post them on Facebook to initiate dialog and inspire social sharing.
3. Master the art of the referral
It’s quite simple and effective to add the “referrals welcome” line to your email signature, newsletters and Facebook page. But if you want to stand out among the competition, remember that actions speak louder than words.
Specifically, if you have a sales team, enforce a sliding commission scale based on the customer’s level of satisfaction. Then share the customer survey data in your emails and on social media to reinforce why your business is the better choice.
Also, think about how you can create a memorable customer experience. Selling boats? Invite prospects aboard a private cruise where they can mingle with customers and learn first hand what it’s like to own a boat. Consider it a worthwhile investment in your business since it’s more cost effective than cold calling.
When a single signature can make the difference between a zero and a hero year, the business that engages, educates and invests in creating great customer experiences is the one that’s more likely to close the deal and fill their sales pipeline.