The Referral Engine BookBeing part of a company with roots in web design for small business, I’ve heard it quite often. “I don’t need to market. My business is referral-based.”

That’s fantastic. I love and have run referral-based businesses. ITD Interactive gets most of our clients from referrals. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work at it.  We work hard to make sure our business is referrable.

I mentioned in yesterday’s Whiteboard Wednesday: How to Get Testimonials for a Website that John Jantsch’s book The Referral Engine  is one of my very favorite business books. This book can change the trajectory of your business in a hurry. Read it.

John’s chapter “Content as Marketing Driver” speaks directly to the “I don’t need to market” small business owner.  (It happens to be saturated with Inbound Marketing philosophy.)  You may have been thinking that Inbound is all about bringing in new business via search or social.  While that certainly does happen, Inbound is also about revving up your referrals.

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Education Breeds Referral

One of the illustrations used in the book is Sy Syms, who famously marketed the statement “An educated customer is our best customer.”  Why should you care what Syms says?  I’ll let Forbes explain it.

Syms’ profit margin is among the highest in all of retailing–about 13% on sales last year before income taxes–and over the past five years it has had an average return on equity of about 30%.

Blog posts, whitepapers, ebooks, case studies, how-to-guides, and videos are all part of educating your customer.  And how does that help you get referrals?  Here are 5 ways that content puts your referral engine in 5th gear.

  1. Builds Trust. A referral is a valuable asset that changes hands.  If you refer someone, you want to make sure that everyone involved comes out happy.  You want to make sure that the asset you are handing out is valuable, because it reflects on you.  By creating content, you are showing that you know your stuff.  The referrer knows that you are up-to-date on the market and the services that you provide.  If they trust you, they’ll refer you.
  2. Provides Talking Points. By creating lots of “education-based marketing messages” online, you are arming your referrers with the same talking points that your best salespeople use.  [Here’s an example: We like to say that blog posts are “durable assets”.  That means a blog post can draw traffic well into the future, they’re durable, whereas Pay-Per-Click ads vanish as soon as you stop paying for them.  You are now educated with one of our talking points and you might just use that when you are referring us.]  It also helps your referrers express your “Talkable Difference” verbally when they are talking with friends.  Your content educates the referrer so that they can easily state what makes your business better, different, unique and why that matters.
  3. Proves Thought Leadership.  When you make what you know public, you push yourself to know your material better.  You do not want to look like a fool.  The more you publish, the smarter you become, and the more the industry begins to recognize your expertise.  One of our whitepapers is being downloaded by lots of other web designers.  When you are looked up to by other folks in the industry, you are more likely to receive that “Let me tell you about the best firm in the business . . .” referral.  Your competition may really know their stuff, but if nobody knows they know their stuff, nobody cares and nobody refers.
  4. Provides Referral Tools.  I really prefer email when I’m connecting someone or making a referral.  I like to make it easy for the person I’m reaching out to to find the information I want them to see.  I use a lot of hyperlinks in emails.  When you make a lot of content link-able on your website or social media, you are making it VERY EASY for your referrers to share your content with their friends.  If the friend has expressed a specific itch that your company scratches, the referrer can send a link directly to your eBook describing how your company scratches that itch.
  5. Eases the Sales Pressure.  Most folks do not like high pressure sales.  If I know a company employs high pressure tactics, I’m going to be reluctant to refer them.  I don’t want my friend getting hounded by a pit bull.  A business that uses content marketing is usually low pressure on sales.  They understand that by providing all of this great info online, the customers are selling themselves before they even make a contact.  As Jantsch puts it “through the consumption of your content, they have convinced themselves that your products and services hold the answer to their particular needs.”  That means you don’t have to work nearly as hard on the sales contacts.  The people who refer you understand that too.