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Build loyalty by promoting your customers

Businesses put a lot of time and effort into promoting themselves, running ads, pushing their websites and social media efforts, sending out newsletters and even doing some old-fashioned direct mail.

But it's smart to do more than talk about your own business. You can build loyalty and inspire positive behaviour from your customers and target customers by promoting them or their businesses along with your own.

It's a great way to share best practices, reinforce relationships, reward achievements and inspire other customers to step up their games.

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I've done this in several ways.

For instance, in one business-to-business company, I created annual lists of top 10 dealers for particular territories – say the top 10 for a province or a country. I didn't restrict criteria to sales numbers so that smaller shops could qualify just as easily. Rather, I based my picks on a range of factors, including percentage sales growth, the number of products regularly stocked, feedback from end users or timely payment of bills.

I never used a specific ranking but rather put them in the top 10. Then I would offer them a small certificate or plaque that they could place in their own store. I would also highlight them and what they did to achieve this status in all of my own company's communication with dealers.

It achieved several purposes: Winners got a pat on the back, recognition in front of their peers and validation to use in their own promotions. Other dealers got to see examples of best practices from businesses just like theirs that could inspire them to achieve their own such recognition.

And, of course, it was helpful to my own relationships with these customers as well.

At a small-town retail store, I promoted customers who were early adopters of new products, participated in special events or bought distinctive or highly customized – read, high margin – products. It didn't take much money or effort: I used self-produced, in-store posters and my own channels of communication, such as newsletters, my website and social media.

In both business models I did "customer spotlights," redistributing press releases to do with them or their businesses.

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Such efforts show that you are more than a supplier to these customers; you are also a partner and supportive friend.

The value to your customers isn't exactly quantifiable. But you don't have to have a huge audience to make a huge impression. The customers you honour will be thankful that you noticed their efforts. Those that didn't make the grade will be exposed to proven success criteria and reminded that your company is an important ingredient in their recipe for success.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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