Ever felt too shy to ask for a recommendation from a customer? Ever kicked yourself later that what they had to say could have really helped win a piece of new business? Are you concerned that some recommendations sound a bit salesy or fabricated?
One of the things social media is helping us overcome is a hesitation to use recommendations and testimonials in our sales efforts. It’s now not uncommon for us to see displays of customer quotes, case studies and endorsements on websites, in promotional literature and on social network profiles. What’s less apparent though is a strategic approach to this vital sales support tool, one that ties in with the business goals of the organisation or the individual.
Positive feedback is, of course, very nice to receive but to get recommendations that help grow our business; it pays to think more strategically. Try and answer these 3 questions…
- What specific service, product or message are you trying to raise awareness of in your current marketing and sales plans?
- In the process of buying from you, what aspect might a potential customer need reassurance with? What concerns would they have at this stage, that need to be addressed?
- Which names or types of businesses would look good and impress potential customers, if they were seen to be endorsing, recommending or even referring business to you?
Your answers to these questions will influence the types of recommendations you should be trying to harness and the people who could provide them.
One lawyer, I spoke to recently, had thought just along these lines. She was fed up being type-cast for one area of expertise when in fact there were several areas she was highly skilled at. ‘I decided to ask clients I’d worked with in these other areas to write a recommendation on LinkedIn about what I’d achieved for them. I was also careful about my profile updates and only gave examples of work relating to these ‘unknown’ areas. It soon paid off. Several clients came back saying ‘wow I didn’t know you did that as well, can we meet for a chat?’ ‘
Presenting the customer’s viewpoint
Similarly, a hotel manager I came across really thought through their customers’ buying process and turned recommendations to their advantage. In selecting a hotel, the manager realised many customers were interested in specific details about the quality of the bedrooms and hotel ‘experience’. Rather than profiling general comments on the hotel’s website such as, ‘we really enjoyed our stay’, he encouraged customers to describe specifics that they liked about their visit. This generated comments such as ‘the comfy beds with the Egyptian cotton bedding gave us a great night’s sleep’ and the ‘home baked pastries you served at breakfast were divine, what’s your recipe?’ being promoted. It also influenced some of the key words the manager built into his website’s search engine optimisation. He soon experienced a sharp rise in web enquiries.
Earn the right
Of course, you have to earn recommendations. As well as delighting the customer with your product or service quality, you have to build up a degree of goodwill so they’ll happily invest time and energy to endorse you. So consider what you can do for them before you ask them to do something for you. Can you help them in any way with anything? Can you recommend them in a testimonial or to a specific customer?
Go for specifics to be genuine
And if you have done a great job and a customer appears delighted, invest time to find out the specifics that they liked so much. These will help make any testimonials sound genuine, as they’ll be in the customer’s language and not yours. In fact invest time anyway to capture all feedback (good or bad) as it will help your business to improve and gain a competitive edge. Often customers are happy to give time for something they value, if they think it will a) preserve it or b) improve it.
Different recommendation tactics and uses
When you receive some great customer feedback, ask if you can use it to inform others. In doing so, it’s wise to test what the customer would be comfortable with – for example, would they be happy to:
- Give a written recommendation that appears on your website, promotional materials, social network profile etc?
- Act as a referee for you, if a potential client wanted to have a chat with an existing user of your products/ services?
- Feature in a case study which you publicise?
- Co-write an article or joint piece of publicity with you touching on their experiences?
- Endorse you in a competitive pitch situation?
- Refer contacts from their own network, who may be facing a similar situation?
Recognise and reward
Always stick to their preferences and bear in mind that, If there’s a reward in it for them (such as publicity they can use for their own business purposes or some form of reciprocity), they’ll be more willing to help. Whatever support they lend, it is important to thank them in some way. And, of course, never let them down with anyone they refer to you, as their reputation and judgement will be put on the line.
Once you have recommendations what should you do with them? Well it very much depends on their content and the purpose they serve. For some you may indeed want to broadcast them all over your promotional and sales materials. For others you may want to keep them safely hidden until a specific stage of relationship development with a prospective customer. The trick is to keep recommendations closely linked to your business plans. Think strategically and you’ll secure a better return from them.
About the author: Michelle Daniels, Managing Director – Extended Thinking
An experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle has built a successful career increasing top line growth for service businesses and organisations. She helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with her ‘hands on’ support and practical advice. A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results. She has written (and ghost-written) for many professional and business publications and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and professional services marketing group.
Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy. Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth. Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans. We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing.