How to Get Your Employees and Customers to Market for You

Two easy-to-implement, on-site marketing tactics that use your best assets: your employees and your customers.

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Incentivize Your Employees and Customers to Market for You
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In their book No B.S. Grassroots Marketing, authors Dan S. Kennedy and Jeff Slutsky present local business owners, retailers, service providers, restaurateurs, and professional practice owners with a tactical grassroots marketing plan to help increase customer retention, generate greater referrals, and build a thriving business for the long-term.

Some of the best grassroots marketing tactics are comprised of ideas that can be done on site. The obvious advantage to these types of promotion is that you have total control over their implementation, since you are not promoting in conjunction with another merchant or organization.

Plus, anytime you can arrange a low-cost promotion that does not require you to leave your operation to implement it, you've met one critical condition of a No-B.S. Marketer solution with local level marketing: Your investment of your time is minimal.

Related: Marketing Math: What's a New Customer Really Worth?

Here are two easy-to-implement, on-site marketing tactics that use your best assets: your employees and your customers.

Employee Contest Solutions
The employee incentive contest is a fail-safe idea that can be done several times a year. It takes very little time to set up and almost always provides a super return. First, create certificates that have a strong offer on your product or service. This offer should be better than any standard coupon or discount that you would use. The actual printed piece can be one-fourth of a piece of paper and works best when printed on colored card stock with one color of ink. This special certificate contains a line at the bottom for your employee's signature and a date.

One of our clients in Gastonia, North Carolina, received 942 redemptions, of which 250 were first-time buyers from a single crew referral contest promotion. They had a 27-percent conversion ratio of first-time to regular customers. That means that of those 250 first-timers, 67.5 became regular customers valued at about $500 annually. So for the 12 months following the crew contest, our client added $33,750 of additional top-line revenue from a promotion that cost him, at the most, $50.

Here's how it works: Participation in the contest is voluntary. Any full- or part-time employee can participate. Give each participating employee 50 of the certificates. They sign them. Then you explain that, on their own time and beyond the perimeter of your parking lot, they can hand them out to friends, family and anybody else they come in contact with, like the postman, cashiers, and so on. Their signature authorizes the special discount.

Related: 5 Ways to Position Your Brand for Pinterest

The contest can run for four weeks. If a given employee runs out of cards, give them more. The results of the contest are based on redemptions. The employee with the most redemptions each week wins the first-place prize, second most redemptions gets the second-place prize, etc.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on the prizes; try bartering for prizes by collecting gift certificates from other area merchants, especially those you've done cross promotions with. These prizes could include car washes, restaurant gift certificates, movie passes, free oil changes, books, small electronics, and so on.

At the end of the month, you tally up all the redemptions and award your grand prize. We've given away items like flat-screen TVs, MP3 players, and Xboxes, but the one prize that had the most impact was the one that cost the least: a day off with pay.

This simple contest is a lot of fun for your crew. They get to provide their friends and acquaintances a really good deal at your business, and you get the distribution of that printed piece that provides motivation for new customers to come in. Additionally, that piece was personally handed out by an employee, adding integrity to the program.

Customer Referral Program
Every businessperson will tell you that referrals are the best form of advertising. It certainly has the highest ROI since it costs you nothing. But you can't always rely on your customers to aggressively promote you as much as you'd like them to. So give them a little extra incentive to think of you when they are talking to their friends and acquaintances.

When a person first buys a membership in a health club, karate school, yoga class, Lamaze class, dance school, or other self-help activity, that is the magic time when you are most likely to get referrals. You have a window of about two to four weeks, which is the time they're most excited. But instead of leaving their referral effort to chance, make it easy for them.

Related: Making Mobile Marketing Work for Your Business

With each new membership or student sign-up, the new member is given three referral cards good for one free week or two free classes. The member signs and dates the cards to authorize the free trial program for his or her friend. If the friend signs up for a full membership, the referring member gets a something in return, like a free month of membership or a cash reward like $25. Cash seems to make the bigger impact, but either way can work well. Unlike the employee referral contest, this is an ongoing promotion. If the member uses all three of the "buddy passes," he or she can get more.

With a slight modification, nearly any type of business can use a customer referral program. One client, a Mercedes salesman, offered dinners for two at a very nice restaurant if we gave his card to a friend who would come in for test drive. He felt so strongly about the appeal of his product and his ability to sell it that he gave us the spiff just for access to the right people, whether they bought or not. Clothes, jewelry, greeting cards, insurance and just about any other kind of business could benefit from an organized customer referral program. This is one of those promotions that is a "must have" in any No-B.S. Marketer's war chest of tactics.

Dan S. Kennedy and Jeff Slutsky

Dan S. Kennedy is a strategic advisor, marketing consultant and coach in Phoenix, Ariz. New York-based Jeff Slutsky specializes in developing and implementing local store marketing programs for multiunit operators. They are co-authors of No BS Grassroots Marketing (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).

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