Leverage all your existing contacts to increase sales

Winning new customers is flat-out hard work.

Today, budgets are tight. Buyers are skeptical. And to prospects, most companies look the same. They can't tell who's different, better or worse.

You've likely heard how it's many times more difficult to win a new customer than keep one. This is very true.

You've also likely heard how referrals make the best new customers, and that you should ask for them. This is also true.

Have you created -- and followed -- an actual plan for getting these referrals?

If you're like most businesses, the answer is "No", despite your good intentions.

Don't beat yourself up.

Reality shows us two facts about referrals:

2) Customers don't freely offer referrals, no matter how good your product or service is.
1) Most businesses don't regularly ask for referrals.

So if customers don't readily give referrals, and most companies don't ask for them, how do you get them? If you haven't considered this, do so now. The few moments you spend mapping out this plan can prove enormously profitable to your business.

Here's a simple strategy that's very effective.

Create a plan to leverage your customers' and your vendors' endorsement of your product or service to their customer bases through a value-adding offer.

For example, if you're a printer who wants an endorsement from your accountant to access her client base, you could approach her with the following offer:

  • 1) Tell the accountant that you want to add more value to the service she provides to her clients.

    2) You will provide a free gift or special offer that she can give away to her clients -- in her name -- as added value to her relationships.

    3) The offer could be something like: "$200 in free printing compliments of ABC Accounting." Or, a catered one-hour workshop on "How to reduce this year's printing costs by 10 percent or more."

    4) Ask her to endorse your company to her clients.

    5) Mail the offer to the accountant's client base along with the endorsement of your services.

Why should you consider this strategy?

  • 1) In today's economy, you likely don't have all the business you want; or even need. This is a great way to generate new business while truly helping others.

    2) Your customers and vendors are probably in the same position. New business is likely difficult to win, making customer retention a high priority. They'll appreciate your concern and innovation for their business.

    3) You'll have access to a much larger "warm" prospect base, with little work or hassle.

    4) A personal endorsement from a customer on his letterhead is powerful; it's certainly stronger -- and more credible -- than the biggest, most expensive advertisement you can place.

There are more reasons.

  • 5) You're honoring the law of reciprocity: that is, giving before receiving. By doing so, you strengthen your relationship with your customer or vendor. (Caution: you truly have to want to give to benefit your customer or vendor, not yourself, for this strategy to work. If your customer or vendor sees only dollar signs in your eyes when discussing their customer base, you can harm the relationship.)

    6) Lastly, and most important, it's far less expensive than waging an advertising or media campaign to generate more prospects.

Here's a quick and easy seven-step process you can start today to get the plan rolling:

  • 1) Thoroughly review your customer and vendor database.

    2) List all the companies that have a target audience similar to yours.

    3) Narrow this list down to your "A" list. An "A" list is those vendors and customers who think your company and its services are "golden". They're zealots; they'll recommend you without hesitation.

    4) Determine what you can offer of value to each company's individual situation. (Note: Spend more time on this step than all others combined. You want the offer to be as relevant, sincere and beneficial to your customers and vendors, and their customers, as possible. You'll likely have very different -- very specific -- offers for each customer and vendor.)

    5) Contact the company and tell them what you're thinking. Tell them you appreciate your relationship with them, and that you truly want to help their business. Then go into the specific offer you're considering.

    6) Ask to set up a meeting to learn their thoughts, and to tailor the program as necessary. (Some of the best ideas come from these "brainstorming" meetings. Energy is high, and the atmosphere positive. This is the fun part! The part that brings you together on a personal level, not just business. Bonds can be strengthened.)

    7) Execute! The time to act is while enthusiasm is high. Whatever offer you've agreed to, get it out to the company's customers' now. Don't hesitate, or it likely won't happen.

Tough economic times call for creative thinking while getting back to the basics.

And there's nothing more basic than giving before receiving.

Give of yourself and your company to your customers and vendors, and help them to sustain and grow their businesses. After doing so, you will soon see a pipeline of new business that never existed. And all involved will be better off for it.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.