In this economy, where no customer can be taken for granted, growth of market share through retention of a company's most profitable customers should be the first priority. So you don't want to lose a sale among multi-influential women of color. These women represent $1 trillion in buying power, and they can be a powerful referral source. To the extent that you are able to secure the trust and respect of a woman of color and provide outstanding service throughout her experience with your brand, you will create a built-in referral source and positively impact your company's future sales.
This column, the last in a four-part series, focuses on ways to win multi-influential women of color as referral sources.
A woman will refer up to 26 individuals to a company, product or service if she is happy with her experience, according to Winning the Toughest Customer:The Essential Guide to Selling to Women, by Delia Passi. Men, on the other hand, will refer an average of 11 people, even with the highest degree of satisfaction with a comparable product or service. Therefore, by a two-to-one margin, multi-influential women have incredible referral energy.
At the other extreme, women and women of color have very strong veto power. If she is not feeling comfortable with a product or service approach, she will reject that company as an option. She has the power to veto in 95 percent of purchasing decisions that involve a spouse or partner. Therefore, as an entrepreneur who wants to grow her customer base, you'll want to provide outstanding customer service to multi-influential women of color so that they will become your allies.
- Start with Current Customers. Start by letting current customers who are women of color know that you are actively looking for referrals. Let customers know that you want to grow your business through the personal recommendation of friends that you trust. Let them know you can keep their referral confidential, if they desire, but that you would welcome their support throughout the referral process if they are comfortable with that approach.
Here's how you could initiate a referral discussion:
"I have been trained in how to stage homes so that sales values are maximized and homes move quickly in your market area, and I am expanding my network of women and diverse clients as a result. Based on the successful relationship we have, whom do you know who would appreciate my expertise in this market? Would you be comfortable in providing me with their names? Would you like to think about this, and we can talk again in the near future?
- Present a welcoming environment. Creating a referral climate among your customer service staff and in your office environment is an effective way to subtly remind customers that you are open to their suggestions and ideas for new clients. Some strategies that have been effective with women of color include the use of voice-mail tags with language such as:
"You've reached the voice mail of ___. I am not in the office today but will return your call within the next 24 hours. If you are calling because someone referred you to me, please leave that person's contact information so that I might thank him or her."
In e-mail communications, you may want to craft a tagline such as, "Thank you for your business and continued referrals." And, in general, the ambiance your customer service staff presents can be reinforced with a framed message such as, "The finest compliment we can receive is the referral of a satisfied customer. Please let us know how we might help you." Women and multi-influential women will most certainly appreciate this message.
- Take the mystery out of the referral process. You'll want to build trust with multi-influential women of color from the very beginning by reinforcing the importance to you on a personal level that they are comfortable providing assistance to you. You'll want to take the mystery out of the referral process by clearly explaining how the process works, ensuring that they will not be embarrassed or compromised in any way, and that you will keep them apprised of the development of the referral should they desire. Make sure you answer questions and, knowing that some women of color may be reluctant to ask pointed questions, suggest some areas of potential inquiry and respond as appropriate. Be sensitive to body language, words stated and words not stated as you move through the process. Reassure them that you will not work in isolation, but that you will make sure the process meets with their full approval.
A conversation could begin with, "We've been working together for a long time now and I've always valued the honesty and candor of our relationship. It's important to me that you are 100 percent comfortable with the idea of how a referral works, so with your permission, I'd like to take the time now to walk you through the steps I would normally use when meeting a prospective referred client. Feel free to let me know if you think your friend, ___, will feel comfortable with this approach or if I should make any modifications in how I reach out to her."
- Leverage the referral moment. Timing is everything in a referral. You want to make sure that you ask for a referral after you have had a moment of success with a customer (e.g., when a customer has shared a positive experience about your product or service). Make sure that you explain the referral process. For example, you may want to train your staff to say something like:
"I'm glad you see the value in the service our company has provided to you. We agree that this is very important and that this service can help a lot of people. Because of this, I was hoping we could identify some people you care about who should know about this important service that our company provides."
You can then go on to explain how no one is contacted without approval from the customer. Depending on the line of business you are in, such as financial services, you may want to suggest a meeting with the customer, referral and yourself as a way to break the ice and make people feel more comfortable. Reassure the customer that you will do nothing to make her feel uncomfortable or awkward. This is particularly important to put multi-influential women of color at ease and maintain their trust and respect throughout the referral process.
- The final thank you. Obviously, you should always thank your customers for any referrals given. However, from a multi-influential point of view, you want to make sure the acknowledgement is personal and relevant. Personalized and handwritten notes are always welcomed; they show an additional level of care and "high touch." A letter from you, as the CEO of the company, will go a long way to show how much you appreciate your loyal customers. A thank-you gift certificate or discounted coupons for future products are also welcomed. Multi-influential women of color represent a gold mine of future referral business for companies. Nurtured properly, with outstanding customer service, they are an unprecedented source of power that will sustain business for years to come.
Read the previous stories in this series: