A burned-out car handed the Stanley brand a gift last week.
A woman posted a video to TikTok showing her destroyed vehicle… in the center console was an intact Stanley mug. The ice in the cup wasn’t even melted after the fire.
Stanley caught wind of the video, and within 24 hours, they’d shared the incident on their own social media, sent her some free merchandise and bought her a new car. Not a cheap investment, for sure.
Why did they do it?
Because it’s priceless for the brand. The viral video is a ringing endorsement of Stanley’s quality. It builds the company’s reputation with thousands of people. But it wasn’t sales or marketing that made the brand go viral. It was a customer.
I’ve known some great salespeople. People who made great commissions, built relationships, added tons of value to their companies. But the best salespeople don’t work for your company.
They’re your customers.
So how do you turn those customers into salespeople?
Your Best Salesperson Doesn’t Work In Sales
People trust people more than brands. Customers are four times more likely to buy a product or service when referred to it by someone they know. 92% trust a brand more when referred to it by a friend, and 43% are more likely to try something when they see it on their friends’ social media. Provide your customers value and treat them with the respect they deserve, and you’ll build an army of evangelists.
Plenty of companies have used this successfully. Duluth Trading Company and Milwaukee Tool have built word-of-mouth reputations on tough, reliable tools and gear. Audio retailer Sweetwater continues to thrive even in the face of Amazon competition because of its stellar customer service and selection. Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson’s commitment to over-delivering to his fans has built a business empire including the biggest Kickstarter of all time.
To build and keep the kind of reputation that turns customers into salespeople, you need to deliver consistent quality. And when the opportunity comes up (like in Stanley’s case), you need to surprise and delight your customers.
Finding Your Customers’ Conversations
There’s more to the formula than just quality and great customer service, though.
Turning customers into salespeople takes more than just delivering on your brand promise. You need to engage your audience where they’re talking about you and amplify those conversations. With the advent of social media and digital communications, the way we build our brands has changed. Companies used to be architects of their brands; now they’re more like gardeners. Brands don’t own their message. They can guide and shape it, but customers now own the brand.
Customer conversations about your brand will take place on their own, without any compensation or partnership on your end. But you can also generate other conversations by partnering with those who are already favorable to you. Both conversations are useful; neither should be neglected.
Content without Compensation
Some conversations don’t involve monetary compensation or partnership. They revolve around what we call “social proof,” a term coined by author Robert Cialdini and defined as “a phenomenon where people follow and copy the actions of others in order to display accepted or correct behavior, based on the idea of normative social influence.”
Social proof is a simple concept: if other people are doing it, why shouldn’t I? Good marketers use social proof constantly. Testimonials are used to show that other people found the offer useful. With user-generated content, marketers find, incentivize and amplify conversations that build social proof. And referrals are a direct word-of-mouth application of social proof. Whatever the avenue, this concept turns customers to salespeople without you having to “prime the pump” of the conversation with a partnership or monetary compensation. In fact, kickbacks for this kind of content are counterproductive at best and unethical at worst.
In a testimonial, one of your customers gives a brief account of how your business solved their problem. It doesn’t have to be more than a couple of sentences. These are usually used on your website but can be included in email, sales sheets or other forms of marketing.
If someone sends an email thanking you for the work you’ve done or tags you on social media, they’re a great candidate for a testimonial. Reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to send you a short endorsement you can use.
User-Generated Content (UGC)
UGC is one of the most powerful sales tools in your arsenal. It refers to content people create about your brand — like the Stanley example we started with. Soliciting UGC may involve giveaways, drawings or prizes, but sometimes all it takes is a good hook.
Smart brands incentivize and nurture UGC by creating interesting hooks for people to engage with, then amplifying the resulting content. Think of the “Share a Coke” campaign, where Coke put common names on their bottles and encouraged people to share pictures with them. The campaign generated over 600,000 uses of the hashtag on Instagram and bumped up sales, particularly among the critical teen and young adult demographics.
It doesn’t have to be that complicated. One of my friends runs a speakeasy-style bar in Oklahoma City with a hidden door. She told me recently that the door and the mural of the bar’s logo just inside the door were specifically designed to be eye-catching so people would post them on Instagram and TikTok. And it seems to be working.
For more on UGC, see our article “Social Proof: The Power of UGC.”
When a customer has a good experience, they’re likely to pass your name to other people who need your services. Thank them for the referral (publicly if on social media) and prioritize the new customer who was referred.
You always want to make sure your customers have a good experience, but it’s doubly important for referrals. A good referral snowballs; when you provide good service to someone who’s been sent to you, you build your reputation, the reputation of the original referrer and the likelihood that the original person refers people to you again. You made them look good — it’s a win-win.
Conversations with Compensation
You can do a lot without investing money. But if you want to add extra clout to your outreach, some customer conversations need to be paid for.
Paying for content doesn’t mean that the conversations are completely motivated by money — in fact, the best of these relationships AREN’T exclusively pay-to-play. If you’re building a promotional relationship with somebody, start with someone who already likes you. Audiences are wise to paid endorsements, and if it seems like your partner is promoting you solely for the money, you’re not going to get many sales. Focus on motivating fans to promote their passion: you.
Affiliate marketing may not have the same buzz it did in the early days of blogging, but it’s still a viable marketing tool. It can help you drive traffic to your website, especially if you have a large Internet-savvy client base with websites of their own.
Create a page for your affiliate marketing program so people can sign up, then give them a unique link which gives them credit for the traffic and sales. Consider creating a campaign aimed at customers who might have enough traffic that affiliate links would make sense. Then let them be your salespeople.
For more on affiliate marketing, read our article “Find the Right Affiliate Marketing Program for You.”
Influencer marketing is a hot trend that accesses the audience of an outside social media account and leverages that account’s social proof with their followers. In the early days, many companies would just spam any account with a following to tout their product. Now, influencer marketing is more measured. Audience size isn’t the only consideration; relevance and engagement are critical too.
The best influencers are customers who already love your product or service; genuine enthusiasm will drive more sales than someone checking a box for sponsor money. Reach out to people who are already using your product or your competitors’ product
For more on using influencers, read our article “Building Trust with Influencer Marketing.”
Your Secret Sales Team
You have an army of salespeople at your disposal, even if you’re the only person on your sales team. Social proof has power. Promoting your brand using other people’s experiences and reputation will help you sell in ways you can’t with just your in-house sales team.
Trust your audience and their passion for your brand to help you build your business. Turn your customers to salespeople. And if you need a hand getting started, don’t hesitate to reach out. Just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services