The following post was published as a Guest Blog post at Boating Industry, one of the organizers for the recently completed MDCE. It makes sense to share it here, just in case you missed the post there! And a Very Happy Thanksgiving to all!
I just got back from the Marine Dealer’s Conference and Expo in Orlando and have had a day or three to catch up with stuff and gather some thoughts that I’d like to share.
First off, Boating Industry magazine and the MRAA did an outstanding job pulling together so many incredibly bright and accomplished people to speak for the benefit of their constituencies. The exhibitors were enthusiastic and the attendees were purposeful in obtaining the latest and greatest news and techniques to further their customer service and, by extension, their profitability in this difficult environment.
A common thread that I heard mentioned over and over was the importance of Word of Mouth in obtaining new business. Everybody from the keynote speaker at the beginning (who was excellent, I thought) to the presenter of the Sell More Service panel at the end of the show implored their audiences to seek referrals from their existing customers.
Why all this mention? Even though we know the answer intuitively, it sometimes just needs to be drummed into our heads. It’s the best new business you can get. It comes predisposed to spend more, spend more quickly, and costs less to generate. It comes predisposed to TRUST you.
I remember a sales manager I had in a former life that used to console those that found themselves in a dry spell by asking “Remember that technique that worked so well you stopped using it?” That happens with everybody, and the repetition of the referral theme at MDCE tells me that those who consistently and successfully seek referral business are doing well.
We know that a referral is simply a positive review of your performance in a recent interaction. We also know that people seek information about their future interactions in greater and greater numbers. These conversations are moving to the internet at an incredibly rapid pace – we handed out some statistics (available at the MDCE page on the BoatingIndustry.com website) that show the numbers and trends in this direction.
It used to be that most of this “reviewing” happened at the marina or boatyard – Hey Joe, where d’ja get that new widget? With the growing impact of the internet in sharing information, people are talking about you on line whether you like it or not, just as they were on the docks. It’s easy to do, people can do it at any time of day, and often times it’s done anonymously. It’s easier now and it helps you to be aware of as much of that conversation in any way possible. There are services out there, such as BoaterRated and/or Engaged!, that offer assistance in monitoring the internet for information about what’s being said on line. You’ve worked hard to establish a positive reputation, it is important that you monitor it and seek to influence the conversation positively.
How to get people to offer their experiences on your behalf is a very individual thing. There are as many ways to ask (or nudge, or suggest…) as there are conversations that happen in the course of any day. The fact is that a good number of your customers will refer you to others if they are only made aware of the opportunity. However subtle you feel you need to be, you should tap that resource. You worked hard for that customer. If they’re happy with the service you provided, they are more often than not willing to “bring in a buddy” next time they visit.
But there are times when something goes wrong, and word of the error will find its way into a conversation somewhere. These are the ones you really need to be aware of. How you respond is watched by the world, and a successful resolution of a problem is likely one of the best reviews/referrals you can get!
I was honored to have participated in a panel discussion at the MDCE of digital strategies exploring various ways of using the internet to reach your customers. At the end of the presentations some very good questions were asked by the substantial audience. Questions regarding obtaining referrals and how to handle them were a good indication of the priority that the industry is beginning to put on this area. We will be following up with some ideas and tips in future posts, but in the meantime try to think how you will establish and maintain a referral network in the internet age.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!