But Bill Lee, author of a new book called The Hidden Wealth of Customers (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012) has a different notion. Wouldn’t it be far more effective if you let the customers you already have help drive your sales and marketing efforts and fuel your growth? Makes sense, right? No matter how much you spend on marketing and advertising through outside channels, they are still at least one layer removed from actual buyers. Existing customers have the best handle on understanding your potential customers, hands down.
Lee’s research has revealed this: Businesses that achieve rapid growth are the ones that don’t just think of customers as “people or businesses that buy stuff” but rather as advocates, influencers and contributors.
That’s a key mindset that can work magic for small and local businesses of all kinds, no matter where they are or what they sell. Instead of thinking only about a return of investment (ROI) on your marketing dollars spent, start thinking also about a “return on relationship” (ROR) with your customers.
The truth is, says Lee, your customers are incredibly well equipped to market, sell and even help develop your products and services.
Here are six ways that customers can help grow your business better than you can:
1) Attract high-value information from and about other customers and prospects.
Existing customers have inside knowledge of their peers that can be super valuable. For example, they know what movies they watch, which restaurants they visit, where they like to travel and so on. Consider a company called Westlaw, which provides research services for law firms. It realized that its clients were interested in how they and the markets they served stacked up to other firms and markets. So Westlaw created something called Peer Monitor, which collects and aggregates client information (anonymously, with their permission) and turned it into a lucrative new business.
2) Believably promote your product or service.
No matter how hard you try, you can never be as believable in promoting your own business as one of your customers can. It’s this simple: You’re trying to sell something. Your customer isn’t. That fact alone makes them far more credible to other potential customers than outside agencies or internal employees.
3) Close the sale.
Yes, customers also make better salespeople than you do. They can honestly say, “This product or service worked for me and it can work for you too.” Look for ways to connect existing customers with prospects. Many business owners find that prospects are far more interested in talking to other customers than to you or others at your firm.
4) Connect with their peers (your prospects).
Prospects are much more open to opportunities of connecting with friends and peers than they are with getting close to companies. That’s human nature. But too often when companies try to form “communities” around their business or brand they put the focus on the business logos and a company spokesperson. Instead, look for ways to creatively foster dialog between customers and their peers that touches on issues related to your products or services.
5) Energize your online and social media marketing.
Try as they might, many small businesses get nowhere with their social media marketing efforts. Often that’s because they try to force traditional ways of communicating into the social sphere. Try other creative ways, such as video and mobile to engage customers in social media.
6) Help you enter new markets.
Typically, a small business hoping to enter a new market will hire and agency or use employees to help with research. How about using local customers in those areas? Find and engage local VIP players to play a central role in your effort. Use them for product testing and feedback and to communicate your message.
Too many small businesses say, “customers are our best assets” but never leverage those assets. By using social media and other methods to harvest those assets, you can spark a new source of growth for your business.
Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.