As a small business owner, your customers are your life source. Earning their highly guarded trust depends on your ability to capture and maintain these relationships.
But if you only go after potential buyers, you’re assuming that your prospects live in isolation. In reality, they’re part of an influential web of relationships and often learn about your company well before your initial interaction with them. To win their trust, you have to go to the source.
When current customers and other connections trust your brand and find value in your product, they become vocal supporters. By tapping into a few influential networks, you can prep others to become brand advocates and start selling long before a customer comes knocking.
Here are a few key players who can support this process:
- Past clients: This group already understands the value in your offering and knows what to expect from your service. If past clients have a positive impression of you, they’ll likely refer others or could potentially become repeat customers.
- Service providers: These include businesses that serve a similar market or general connector types such as real estate agents, financial advisors, and lawyers. They’re often tapped for their networks, so if you provide value and referrals to them, they’ll return the favor.
- Community leaders: Your city or town likely has an economic development office or business improvement district filled with super-connectors who love to champion small businesses. Whether they’re connecting you with top talent, increasing your local prominence, attending events, or navigating civic issues, prominent figures in entrepreneur organizations or state-level agencies can be hugely beneficial, even for e-commerce companies.
4 Steps to Maximizing These Relationships
“Social proof” is your most powerful sales tool; all the Internet ratings in the world couldn’t match the referral of a trusted friend. Staying top of mind with people who influence your audience is critical, and you can do that by nurturing these relationships and offering your connections something valuable.
Here are four ways to capitalize on your relationships:
- Capture and organize your contacts. Choose a tool that works for you, whether that’s an Excel spreadsheet, a scrap of paper, or a contact database. Keep track of everyone you meet, and constantly update your system with details you learn about each person.
- Prioritize and plan your follow-ups. Which people in your list are most likely to send you business opportunities? Make sure they receive the most attention. We use a “net promoter score” to track the likelihood that a customer will refer us. We ask, “How likely are you to refer us to a friend?” and the answer feeds directly into the net promoter score.
- Consider adding past customers to a mailing list, and send monthly coupons or offers. It’s low-tech, but it works to keep you top of mind. If it’s a high-value relationship or a past customer who constantly refers business, use handwritten cards to recognize their birthday or some other personal event.
- Set aside time to focus on relationships. Have a designated time each week that you spend nurturing relationships. Blocking out time on your calendar will guarantee your full attention.
- Take action. The biggest thing that separates you from the competition is your ability to take action. It’s important to get out there, actively meet and interact with key influencers, and provide value in any way you can. Invite them to private events, remember personal details, or offer an affiliate reward for their business.
As a small business owner, it’s easy to be consumed by the most visible and pressing daily tasks and stay hunched over your desk. However, your customer acquisition plan is what wins over potential customers and keeps your business alive and well. And it starts with leveraging the sales power of the people who influence their decisions most.