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Referral Madness

Gain referrals by marketing your business to customers every step of the way.

Referrals are perhaps the ultimate measure of success for your marketing efforts. People refer for logical reasons (because they have determined that your company offers good deals or great products) and for emotional reasons (because they enjoy doing business with you).

One of the keys to gaining consistent referrals is identifying and addressing all the customer touch points--steps in the customer life cycle that lead them to believe that your organization is one they can trust, buy from and eventually refer.

I say this often, but it's worth repeating: Every element of your business that comes in contact with a prospect or a customer is performing a marketing function. Your organization's brand is essentially determined by the sum of these relationships.

Even if you're just getting started, it's absolutely essential that you understand the critical stages involved in developing a customer's trust and that you fill in the gaps with every contact.

Here are the seven steps you need customers to take toward making referrals and the tools you should use to get them going:

1. Know: Use advertisements, articles and referred leads to get prospects familiar with your business.

2. Like: Your website, reception area and e-mail newsletter will set you apart from the competition.

3. Trust: Your marketing kit, white papers and sales presentations are key to building trust with customers.

4. Try: Use webinars, evaluations and nurturing activities to encourage customers to try your services.

5. Buy: Lock in customers with fulfillment, new-customer kits, and delivery and financial arrangements.

6. Repeat: Post-purchase surveys, cross-sell presentations and customer events will get customers to come back.

7. Refer: Results reviews, peer-to-peer webinars and community building are all great forums for inspiring customers to make referrals.

The key is to think far beyond your core products and services and start developing ways you can gain trust with prospects by offering valuable, informational products. Only then should you start to pick apart your actual product or service to make sure you're delivering on the promise you built before the sales process began.

Finally, you must intentionally build systems and processes that allow you to deliver such a wonderful experience that your customers have little choice but to rave about your company and its services to their friends, neighbors and colleagues at all stages of the life cycle.

One of the best ways to increase your understanding of your business's customer life cycle is to create a visual diagram consisting of the stages mentioned above and map out every touch point you have (or should have) with your customers. It's amazing how this process, when viewed through a marketing filter, will allow you to identify the places where you can immediately affect your customers' experiences with your business and, as a result, gain key referrals. With a little thought, creativity and consistency, you can turn every customer-business relationship into an opportunity for a winning referral.

John Jantsch is a marketing and digital technology coach, award-winning social media publisher and author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide. Find out more at ducttapemarketing.com.

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.

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This article was originally published in the June 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Referral Madness.

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