We all have experienced the power of a referral, whether it is for our business or from our personal experiences for products and services that we needed.
Referral Marketing is Important
I’ve worked with many small businesses that join business networking groups to build a referral network. I’ve done this for my business too – I am currently a member of several local chambers, and I’m also a member of a local Business Network International (BNI) chapter. Let’s be honest, most of us join these groups for the networking and ultimately the referrals that we hope will come.
While these networking groups can be a great source of referrals, I think that many businesses miss a big opportunity by not developing a formal referral marketing program. It is important to take control of the referral marketing process as it is arguably the most important marketing program that many small businesses can develop. And even if a business has developed a robust referral marketing program, there is a component that many businesses miss – incorporating and owning the online review process.
John Jantsch has written an excellent book on referral marketing – The Referral Engine – that does a fantastic job of laying out several referral techniques. I encourage people to read this book and think about how they can use it for their business.
I want to focus on how online reviews can be a powerful addition to a referral marketing program.
Online Reviews Are Trusted
Increasingly, online reviews are playing an important role in not only helping be found online but being seen as a trusted business. Keep in mind that 88% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal referrals. These personal referrals include recommendations from family and friends!
Online reviews are read by nearly everyone who uses the internet. According to Adweek, 81% of customers conduct research online before buying from a company. For certain industries like restaurants or retail, 93% of U.S. consumers check online reviews at least some of the time.
Strong Online Reviews Don’t Just Happen
If a business does not take control of the online review process, a couple of things typically happen – neither are good for the business:
Reviews skew to the negative – good reviews are almost under-represented.
No reviews – if a potential customer finds your business on your Google My Business page, or Yelp, or other important review-oriented sites, and they don’t see any reviews that also says things about your business.
If you don’t own the review process, and make it a habit of asking satisfied customers to write reviews about your business, your online reputation may be less than impressive. People are often more motivated to write a negative review.
Online Reviews Help With Local SEO
Online review sites are really important for local search engine optimization. Local SEO is triggered by many searches on a mobile device or by searches that include a product or service in the search phrase along with a location. An example would be “Home Remodeler St Charles MO”.
Having several strong reviews on sites like Google My Business, Yelp, and industry specific sites like Zillow (for realtors), Avvo (for Attorneys), HealthGrades (for Medical Professionals), and Houzz (Home Remodelers and Interior Designers) can make your business findable. It is not uncommon that your business listing on one of these review sites might show up higher in the search results than your website.
Some businesses are concerned that if their customers write online reviews for their business that it will make it easy for a competitor to poach their customers. But it is far riskier if there’s no information, or luke warm to poor reviews, out there about your business or about what it’s like to be your customer. Invisibility is a worse problem.
Taking Your Online Review Process to the Next Step…
Hopefully you agree that online reviews are important. Now how can you take these to the next step and strengthen the referral marketing aspect of online reviews?
First, make it as easy as possible for happy customers to write reviews about your business by creating a review funnel that makes sure their reviews are on the most important review sites for your business. Satisfied customers are willing to write reviews if you ask them, and you make it easy and convenient for them.
Turn your customers into advocates. One of the important tenants of developing a strong referral program is educating your champions. Your customers can be some of your biggest champions, so consider educating them on what is important for your business. Ask for authentic but specific reviews about your business that will help you attract your ideal customers.
An educated customer is often a better customer. Spend time with them to understand their problems, explain your processes, why you are different, and what value you bring. This will all translate into information that your customers can use to write those online reviews – or when talking with friends and family.
Nothing beats the power of a personal referral. But online reviews can serve as a strong second with the added benefit of helping people find out about your business 24-7-365. Your referral partners are always available with someone has the must have or must do need, but with a strong online review management program you can! Consider adding a customer online review component to your referral marketing program.