Business Banking E-Newsletter - October 2013

5 Proven Tips for Generating More Referral Business

You've worked hard to make a customer happy. Now how do you get them to send more customers your way?

Every small business owner knows that the best clients and customers often come as a result of a solid referral. And with so many businesses vying for your potential customers' attention, it's difficult to stay top-of-mind. So how do you stay relevant and encourage those referrals? Here are five tested tips on generating more referrals from several small business owners who profited.

1. Share your secrets.

Articles online and in print publications help establish you as an expert in your field, not only attracting clients directly but also making them likely to recommend your article and you. Edward Laurenzo, a tax consultant in West Warwick, Rhode Island, writes for his local newspaper and chamber of commerce newsletter. He selects topics based on questions raised by his clients, such as how to respond to a letter from the IRS.

"We always give away our best information," says Jennifer Bourn, creative director and co-owner of Bourn Creative, a Sacramento-based Web and graphic design firm. "We don’t hide anything or hold anything back, and say we won’t tell you this unless you pay us." Their candidness has created "raving brand evangelists" who share articles far and wide and recommend the company to friends and colleagues, she adds.

2. Ask for online reviews and endorsements.

When a customer expresses excitement for your product or service, don’t be shy about asking them to post their rave review online, says Karin Crawford, owner of God’s Garden Treasures, a florist in Tempe, Arizona. She goes one step further by emailing a thank you note, with a template including links to popular review websites and some wedding review sites for wedding customers.

"I always try to be personable," Crawford says. "I start with an intro, and then say here are some possible links, use your favorite. If they found [the shop] on a particular site such as Bing, I encourage them to review us there." Since Crawford started the simple strategy, she has watched God’s Garden Treasures climb the rank s for area florists on Google and Google Maps.

3. Invite your customers to contribute.

Coffee Shop of Horrors, an Orlando-based specialty coffee retailer, has seen revenues hop by 40% since last September, and the top reason why is increased online engagement, says co-owner Roxana Stan.

In addition to generally ramping up its social media presence, Coffee Shop of Horrors launched a blog about the coffee and tea industries and invited fans and customers to submit their own articles or publication for publication.

"In an age where we're bombarded on all sides with advertising, small businesses need to employ unique and sometimes necessarily inexpensive ways to stay in their customers' minds," Stan says. "Giving our customers a louder voice costs us very little, but it builds a community and culture around our brand."

4. Personalize thank-you gifts.

Many businesses send the same gift card to all their customers or referral sources, but selecting a more personalized present can be a real "relationship-builder," Bourn says. For example, if a Bourn Creative client likes eating healthy food, she might send a reusable shopping bag in a favorite pattern. "Anyone with whom we’ve tried this always refers more business to us," she adds.

During the holidays, Bourn sends all clients a box of mandarin oranges from her family’s orchard, shipped early to arrive around Thanksgiving. Some recipients have posted box photos on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, further increasing Bourn’s exposure.

5. Listen up and start talking.

Finally, don’t throw away the most old-fashioned referral-building tactic of all. Wherever Laurenzo happens to be, he keeps his ears open for people who might need tax help, such as one now-client whom he overheard asking a post office clerk for tax forms. In another example, his bank’s assistant manager mentioned privacy concerns with her brother-in-law who had been preparing the family tax return. "They are coming to me for the first time this year," Laurenzo says.

Keep in mind, though, that when you are ready to sell, the customer may not be ready to buy, he adds. The key is to be polite, not to over-sell or be pushy, and sit back and wait.

"You give them a card, leave your name, and eventually you get a call saying, 'I talked to you a few months ago, I have a problem,'" Laurenzo says. "Can you help me?"


4 Tips on How to Open a Successful Sales Presentation

Sales presentations can be a double-edged sword. You want to “wow” the client without coming across as too pushy or slick. Since first impressions tend to stick, prepare an enticing opening that will get them to trust you without feeling like they’re being sold.

There’s no one formula—the way you kick off a sales pitch should take into account the client’s personality, their problem and what you can offer. Four small business owners offer their insights to openings that have worked for them:

Establishing a connection

Clinton, Miss.-based business advisor Marianna Chapman insists that successful presentations must start with an emotional connection. “Avoid the gimmicks and take time to connect with the client on a personal level,” she says. To prepare, you can glean any information on hobbies and mutual contacts through Facebook and Twitter.  If you connect on interests like children, golf or mutual charitable concerns, Chapman says, you’re much more likely to score the job. 

Then follow up that initial personal connection with facts and numbers to prove you operate from both sides of the brain.

Drawing them out

Too many sales reps lose points by launching into a history of their company. To engage your audience, Bowie, Md.-based sales and marketing coach Henri Schauffler suggests getting potential clients to talk about their business. Questions like, “How did you get started in this kind of business?” are also an opportunity to mention something you learned researching the company. 

Next, Schauffler suggests asking questions that help both parties pinpoint exactly what problem needs solving.

Mentioning past successes

To showcase his expertise while putting clients at ease, Mike Michalowicz, president of Boonton, N.J.-based Obsidian Launch and Wall Street Journal columnist, says he always opens sales presentations with a story of a similar client he was able to help. “By referring to a third party about the challenges they faced and how you solved them, you remove the sales distaste,” he says.

Dangling a carrot 

“Give a little bit of free advice,” says Los Angeles-based business coach Tiffany Bradshaw. “I offer people a free marketing assessment and use that to get my foot in the door.” She starts with a checklist of marketing-related tasks and asks clients to indicate what they need. 

In doing so, she’s able to bring up techniques—a best practice or business development program—that have worked for others in their industry. “I think this works so well because instead of me telling them what they need, they end up telling me,” Bradshaw says.


7 Great Business Reasons to Say ’No!’

Business is filled with opportunities, and it's nice when you can say yes to customers, employees and vendors. But there are absolutely times when saying yes will lead to difficulty or even disaster.

Here are seven scenarios where no is the only way to go. Some may seem obvious, but smart people can get themselves in trouble by thinking they will somehow work everything out. Don't put yourself in a bad position unnecessarily. Recognize these 7 scenarios and just say No!

1.  Say NO! When No One Is Ready

Many people say yes to a boss or customer request when the pieces of the puzzle aren't in place. Great work requires preparation. Great teams require alignment. If your team isn't prepared or aligned, agreeing to take on difficult initiatives is a disaster waiting to happen. Young companies often try to speed forward before their organizational structure or business model is ready. They instead end up burning investor money while killing dreams and reputations. Say No! so you can get everything and everyone on board and ready. Then you can say yes with confidence.

2. Say NO! When It's Not a Fit

Salespeople and entrepreneurs alike tend to see the potential in everything and everybody. But a ton of time is wasted on prospects who are never going to be customers, never going to invest, or never going to be amazing employees. Instead of looking for all the reasons why things will work out, save time by focusing on the reasons they won't. Even if you say No!, you can always revisit the opportunity if compatibility improves.

3. Say NO! When You're Overloaded

Some people are afraid to say No! even when they have too much on their plates. They think it's necessary to respond positively all the time to avoid disappointing others. Then they let things fall through the cracks, get sick or have a breakdown. In this case, an impossible yes causes far more frustration then just saying No! in the first place. Have a realistic sense of your capacity and don't go past your limit.

4.  Say NO! When It's Unrealistic

You can't assume that every request has been thought through in detail. Often people ask for what they want with little or no consideration of what's involved for delivery. I never subscribe to the "customer is always right" theory. As a consultant, I wonder, if they are always right, why would they want to pay me? Be the expert when someone asks for something. If you don't know how it works, do your homework and say yes only when you know it can really happen. Otherwise, keep that "maybe" handy.

5. Say NO! When You Have to Go Backwards

It's hard enough to move steadily toward your goals without having to regain lost ground. When approached with an opportunity that doesn't obviously propel you forward, ask yourself: "Why am I even interested in this?"  You may be surprised to find there is simply no justification for saying yes. When that happens, loudly declare No! and move on to opportunities that better align with your goals.

6.  Say NO! When It's Unprofitable

You are in business for many reasons, but nearly everyone--founders and employees alike--is in it to profit. Not all profit is related to money, although young entrepreneurs should take note that consistent monetary profit does help your sustainability and your valuation. Sometimes a transaction can pay off in connections, exposure, learning, satisfaction or, yes, money. But when a transaction does nothing to better the people involved, then the word No! should be used. The key is to make sure everyone in the company can understand, recognize and justify a profitable deal. That requires openness and education, so get to work.

7.  Say NO! When You Can't Meet Expectations

People are often optimistic about how quickly and how well they can get things done. Combine that hopefulness with the desire to please a customer, and you are left over-promising and under-delivering. Save yourself the mea culpa and say No! to what you know you cannot do. Be accountable and manage expectations. Whatever you do, don't say yes to get the deal signed if you're assuming that, once the prospects are in the door, they'll have to adapt to your change in quality, timing or price. After they realize what's happened, few will come back to say yes and do business with liars.


2 Types of Slacker Employees--and How to Get Them Back on Track

It takes all kinds of people, experience, backgrounds and personalities to make a business successful. If everyone were a cookie cutter of each other it would make for a pretty boring and frankly unimaginative place.

But what happens when slackers infiltrate your efficient culture and how do you light a fire under their a#@ or suffer their far reaching negative effects?

Excuses Ethan

We all know an Excuses Ethan. Yep, he's that guy that has an excuse for everything. He may have started the habit long ago with the proverbial, "the dog ate my homework" and has now adopted it as standard operating procedure, much to the chagrin of everyone that has to work with him. Ethan knows far too well how to work the system with one excuse after another but the real danger is Ethan rubbing off on your other great team members.

What message does it send to your team when you let an Excuses Ethan continue his charade? Think about the impact this has. Do you send the message that it's okay? Nip this one in the bud pronto. Give Excuses Ethan specific measurable goals with a heavy dose of accountability. You may just turn him into Eager Ethan by showing an interest in what he does and how he does it. Too often Ethan-types fly under the radar, when what they really need it a bit of managing.

Deadline Debbie

Debbie is darn good at what she does and she knows it. But, there are heaps of people who depend on Debbie and when she's late with projects, they're late and the landslide starts. It's not pretty. Debbie may even be bold enough to start pushing her work on those around her. Soon enough large projects don't get delivered and your customers are impacted. Debbie's co-workers start to resent her and something needs to change. STAT.

You need to get to the bottom of Debbie's struggles fast. Is it a resource issue, or does she just suck at managing her time? What help can you, or someone else provide? Get Debbie's buy-in at the start of a project about how long it will take. Negotiate timelines if her needs are unrealistic. You need to let Debbie know that she's responsible for making deadlines not only for her own sake, but for her co-workers and your customers and that deadline creep is unacceptable. She can certainly come to you if there is an unforeseen risk that will impact the deadline, but otherwise you need to empower her to make the deadlines that she has agreed too.

Do either of these slackers sound familiar? If they do, get involved and provide coaching and help to turn them into productive contributors. They'll thank you for it and so will the rest of your team.