4 Things You Should Be Doing Offline To Build Business Online

4 Things You Should Be Doing Offline To Build Business Online

You might think that because we’re a digital marketing company, we’re only advocates for online marketing tactics and efforts. Not so! One of the best things you can do for your business is actively put forth effort both online and offline. Many times, offline efforts end up showing up online, and since the two really go hand in hand, it’s time to start thinking of them as two pieces of the same puzzle. Alright, let’s get right to it….Here are four things you should be doing offline to build business online:

Sponsor local events, activities, and sports teams.

Sponsoring events, activities, and sports teams is a great way to build brand awareness, earn a reputation, establish trust and authority, and stand out in your community. People want to do business with local companies who are invested and established, and community sponsorship is a great way to communicate that you’re that type of company. 

Whether it’s a little league team, an annual town parade or festival, or a charity event, sponsorship is a great way to get involved in the communities you serve and let potential customers know who you are and what you’re about.Little-League-Baseball-Team-In-A-Huddle

An added perk is that, oftentimes, these sponsorships will earn you links or citations online. Think about it: it seems there’s a website or a landing page for just about every event out there. When you’re a part of an event, there’s a good chance your company will be mentioned or linked to on the event’s website or landing page. In other words, your offline efforts could end up not just building authority and boosting your rankings with potential customers in your community, but also building authority and boosting your rankings with Google.  

Invest in B2B relationships.

Don’t embrace the scarcity mentality that’s so prevalent in business and think you have to cut yourself off from everyone and hoard customers for yourself. Instead, get involved, network, and invest in building relationships with other businesses in your community and industry. When you build authority and trust with other businesses in your community, they’ll be proud to pass your name along to their customers, because they’ll know you’ll provide excellent service and an excellent customer experience.

Connecting with others and developing referral relationships can lead to more (and more satisfied) customers; a stronger, closer-knit community; and maybe even links to your website from your referral partners’ websites. Let me give you a quick example of a referral relationship here in my community.

I recently locked myself out of my house and since I hadn’t lived here long, I’d yet to make additional keys or hide a key. The only way I was going to get in was to call a locksmith. Being new to the area, I went to Google, and after several calls, I finally got through to someone. The locksmith I reached wasn’t going to be able to get out my way anytime soon, as it was a Friday at rush hour, so he gave me the name and number of a locksmith closer to me. I called the locksmith he referred, he got me in, and I paid him for his time.

Now, I’ve taken all the necessary precautions to avoid ever needing a locksmith in the future, but if I ever do need one, I’ll probably try the first guy again, because he proved to me that he cared more about me and my needs than about closing the sale. He was willing to give up business because it benefitted me. That’s the kind of company I want to work with, and he showed me that through a referral.

Get involved in your local BNI or Chamber of Commerce.

One of the best ways to build those referral relationships is to get involved with your local BNI chapter or Chamber of Commerce. These local groups allow you to learn more about what’s going on in your community and what other local businesses are in your area, and provide a place for you to mingle and mix with those you may not otherwise spend any time with. If you really want to see the referrals start coming in and learn from other businesses in your community, these are groups you have to get involved with.Businessmen-Sitting-At-A-Table-Together

Many local groups such as these also mention the businesses associated with them on their websites and provide links. Links and citations = higher rankings. Plus, being a part of local organizations shows your potential customers that you’re invested in your community, which makes them more likely to trust in and invest in you.

Ask for reviews.

And finally, ask for reviews! At the end of a service, let your customers know how much you value their feedback and how much you rely on referrals and online reviews for business. Whether you want to believe it or not, your satisfied customers aren’t likely to leave you a review if you don’t ask — so ask! To make the “Ask” easier on your techs and the review simple and streamlined for your customers, get The Spark Review Engine™. It’s designed to make getting more reviews as easy as pie. And the more positive reviews you have online, the more potential customers will trust you and the higher Google is likely to rank you.

So go get started!

The Costly Dangers Of Offering Incentives For Reviews & Why You Can’t Afford To

The Costly Dangers Of Offering Incentives For Reviews & Why You Can’t Afford To

If you read last week’s blog post titled: “Online Reviews: Everyone’s Favorite Reason To Drink”, you’ve probably been waiting for us to correct the typo about fraudulent or incentivized reviews costing your business as much as $300,000.

Don't Incentivize Reviews. It's Too Risky! - Spark MarketerWell, it’s not that we don’t make mistakes, but you read that right: businesses that produce fraudulent or incentivized reviews are being penalized with more than just a slap on the wrist. The powers that be are hitting companies with massive fines, stripping them of all their reviews, and even sabotaging their page rankings. Is it really worth it?

Earlier this year, the FTC stated the following:

Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews…If they fail to do that – as AmeriFreight did– then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.

See, we didn’t just pull that number out of thin air. AmeriFreight just forked over $300k for deceitful reviews…talk about a costly mistake!

If You’re Going To Lie, Be Honest About It

In this same statement, the FTC decided to lay down the law for those taking the “money talks” route, in order to keep consumers in the loop. If you have incentivized reviews, you are required to label them according to the following guidelines:

  • A. In textual communications (e.g., printed publications or words displayed on the screen of a computer), the required disclosures are of a type, size, and location sufficiently noticeable for an ordinary consumer to read and comprehend them, in print that contrasts with the background on which they appear;
  • B. In communications disseminated orally or through audible means (e.g., radio or streaming divaudio), the required disclosures are delivered in a volume and cadence sufficient for an ordinary consumer to hear and comprehend them;
  • C. In communications disseminated through video means (e.g., television or streaming video), the required disclosures are in writing in a form consistent with subparagraph (A) of this definition and shall appear on the screen for a duration sufficient for an ordinary consumer to read and comprehend them;
  • D. In communications made through interactive media, such as the Internet, online services, and software, the required disclosures are unavoidable and presented in a form consistent with subparagraph (A) of this definition, in addition to any audio or video presentation of them; and
  • E. In all instances, the required disclosures are presented in an understandable language and syntax, and in the same language as the predominant age 4 of 7 language that is used in the communication, and with nothing contrary to, inconsistent with, or in mitigation of the disclosures used in any communication of them.

You know how bad your Yelp page looks to potential customers with “0 Reviews”? Imagine how it will look with language like, “This reviewer was paid handsomely to provide this 5 star review.” To take a little liberty and paraphrase Corey Taylor in his recent message to Kanye West: If you have to be the one to say it or you have to pay someone to say it, it’s safe to say it’s not true.

Bribery and deceit are transparent as is, but when you’re required to admit it right there with your reviews, you’re not fooling anyone. Is that announcement going to make your company look good to potential customers?

What Now? Back To The Drawing Board?

Back to the Drawing Board - Spark MarketerOk, Google, Yelp, and everyone else in that camp is really good at telling us what we can’t do, but what can we do? If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve reached the end of your rope when it comes to reviews. What can you do that will actually work? Here are some tips to help you rake in the positive reviews without being penalized:

  1. Ask at the right time. Did your customer just finish telling you how over the moon they are with your service? Now’s the time to ask for a review! Don’t wait until the thrill is gone or too much time has passed.
  2. Make it easy. Don’t limit your customers’ options or make them feel cornered — If your customer gets frustrated during the review process, they’re likely to bail. Instead, let them know that you’d appreciate a review on whatever platform they’re most familiar and comfortable with. It’s better to have reviews on multiple platforms anyway, and if it’s easy for the customer, they’re much more likely to do it.
  3. Make your customer feel important. Everyone likes to feel important. Let your customer know just how much you value their feedback and how important it is to you as a company. The more you emphasize their role, the more inclined they’ll be to “make a difference” by leaving a review.
  4. Provide an amazing experience. In the struggle to get more reviews, many business owners forget what’s important: your service! If you’re providing a customer experience that goes above and beyond, your customers will want to share, be it in social settings, on Facebook, or on a review platform like Yelp or Google+. Anytime you can “wow” your customer, you should. Click here to see one of our favorite examples of the past couple of weeks.
  5. Get some help. Here at Spark Marketer, we’re big fans of The Spark Review Engine™ and we’ve seen companies rake in the reviews using this method. The app makes leaving reviews quick and easy for your customers and techs. A link to your Facebook, Google, or Yelp profile (depending on the customer’s preference) is simply texted to the customer so they can easily leave a review right then and there. It’s easy and seamless, and since the open rate for texts is 90+%, it has much better return rates than an email based review system or the standalone “Ask.” How is it changing business for our customers? Check out what Chuck & Linda Roydhouse of Clean Sweep of Anne Arundel County have to say:

As a service business, we know client reviews of our services play a vital role in our business’ online presence. We tried leave-behind cards, follow-up phone calls, emails, and other company review systems, but nothing had such an impact for us as The Spark Review Engine™. Spark Marketer introduced us to The Spark Review Engine™ and we could not be more delighted. Our clients love the simplicity of the process for leaving reviews and WE love it because more and more of our clients are leaving us 5 Star Reviews. Using The Spark Review Engine™ certainly exceeded our expectations and now our online presence is much stronger. If your business is struggling to get client reviews, I would highly recommend Spark Marketer and The Spark Review Engine™.

Want to know more? Click here or give us a call and we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get set up!


Of course, nothing can really make much of a difference if you aren’t using it properly or offering the best service to each and every customer. If you do have a review method in place, be sure that you’re playing by the rules and keep at it! It may take some time, but play fair, stay focused on providing the best customer experience, and remember: Ask, and you shall receive.

Online Reviews: Everyone’s Favorite Reason To Drink

Online Reviews: Everyone’s Favorite Reason To Drink

Reviews are the one thing everyone has had enough of, but can’t seem to get enough of. Most small businesses struggle to get enough positive reviews to make a difference in rankings and end up feeling helpless and frustrated. We’ve come alongside countless business owners as they work through what we refer to as “The Stages of Review Hell”. Which stage are you in?
Are You Angry About an Online Review? - Spark Marketer

The Stages Of Review Hell

Denial. Maybe if I ignore them, they’ll go away. Trust us, we get it, but you CANNOT afford to stay in this step of the program. We think Mary Bowling, one of the industry’s best local search experts, said it best in this past month’s Search Engine News:

Small business owners who aren’t actively marketing on the Internet are impacted by online reviews and ratings whether they want to be or not because even enterprises without websites are being talked about online.

If you’ve been hanging out in the denial stage, it’s time to move on to the next stage.

Begrudging Acceptance. This stage may not sound better, but it’s a natural part of the process. When you’re here, you’ve acknowledged that online reviews matter and are going to affect your business, whether you personally give them much validity or not. Once again, Mary Bowling forces us to face the facts:

All businesses and those who market them must get used to the fact that reviews are not going away – not ever.

Ok, so if they’re not going away, what do you do?

At the beginning of this stage, you start to occasionally ask satisfied customers to write reviews if they think of it and have the time. As time goes on, asking doesn’t seem so intimidating, and you start to do it with a little more ease and poise. You give it a good college try and make it part of your service process, but by the end of this stage, you start to wonder why you’re not seeing much of a difference and what you can do to get people to follow through.

You’re already stretched thin and now you’re feeling frustrated and victimized by Google, Yelp, and all the people “deciding” what rules your business has to play by. You decide to take matters into your own hands and step right into the next stage.

Desperation. You’ve tried to play by the rules, but you’re still way behind your competitors in reviews…what can you do? During the desperation stage, you try everything. You start out handing out review cards, sending post cards, and then one day it hits you: What about bribes? No one is taking the time to give you the reviews you so desperately need, but you could give them a little incentive! Or, even better, what if you just hired someone to leave fake reviews or took matters into your own hands and left some reviews yourself? Is there really any harm in that?

Deceit AKA Danger Zone. If you’re guilty of (or even considering) hiring cheap labor to fake reviews, writing reviews yourself, or incentivizing reviews and giving rewards and gifts to those that take the time to leave you a review online, you’ve passed from the desperation stage to the deceit stage, AKA “the danger zone”. Yes, you need reviews, but are you willing to pay $300,000 for them?

$300,000? Yes, you read that right! Stay tuned for Part 2, where you’ll learn about the very real and very costly dangers of falsifying reviews and offering incentives for reviews…


If you’re interested in getting more reviews for your business the simple, risk-free, and effective way, check out The Spark Review Engine™.

Is Your Company Forgetting The Important Stuff?

Is Your Company Forgetting The Important Stuff?

Customer Service Shouldn’t Be An Urban Legend

So you’re waiting for that big business boom to send profits through the roof so you can start living the good life. Well, no matter what you’re doing marketing wise and SEO wise, if you’ve forgotten about customer service, you can kiss the good life goodbye because that big boom is never going to come.

Think about it: you could have the best industry experts at your disposal, the best logo, the best website, and the best coupons and offers, but if you treat your customers poorly, what do they care about any of the rest of that stuff? The truth is: they don’t.

Wait, It’s 21st Century And We Have The Internet. Is Customer Service Still Important?

We’d argue that it’s more important than ever for that very reason.

89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service.

Sounds like customer service is still pretty important to at least 89% of customers. You don’t need Google or even a calculator to know that that’s a lot. And guess what those customers are going to do because it’s the 21st Century and we have the Internet? They’re going to Tweet about it, Yelp about it, and update their Facebook status about it. And you can bet that they’ll have a greater reach than you do.

If you really want to see your business thrive and boost profits, it’s time to take a good hard look at the customer experience you’re providing.

Are You Providing Quick & Effective Customer Service?

Even the most patient among us wants access to help when we need it. Now obviously you may not have the funds or the staff to provide 24 hour support, but the quicker you can respond to customer inquiries, the less likely that customer is to go to another company that offers the same product or services.

We’ve seen customers rant on Yelp and other review sites and give businesses a 1 star rating without ever actually doing business with them. Why? Because they contacted customer service, fell through the cracks, and felt like they were ignored. Whether it was intentional or not, that’s business lost, and others will read that review or at least see the effect of it on the overall business rating.

Now, speed shouldn’t be a trade-off for usefulness. If you can’t provide effective and helpful support right away, wait until you can! You can always send an email letting the customer know that you’re working to quickly get the information needed to support them and that you will be contacting them shortly with a solution.

Are You Helping Customers The Way They Want To Be Helped?

We all have different lives, different schedules, and different preferences for receiving help, why only offer your customers one way?

Do you know how your customers prefer to be helped? By offering several methods for a limited time, you should be able to gather some data showing what your typical customer prefers by documenting how many choose one method over another. You may not need to invest in a live video chat or start a company forum; studies show that the majority of customers still prefer a phone number to call, an email address to contact customer service, or a live chat.

How Else Can You Attract & Retain Customers & Gain More Loyal Customers?

We know it’s not an innovative or original idea, but have you tried listening to your customers? Not all ideas or suggestions that come from customers will be beneficial or even practical, but you can learn a lot about what your company or brand is missing or could improve upon by listening to your customers. Sometimes you can be too close to the brand, or too stuck in the business-running side of things to see what may be obvious to customers and potential customers. Listen and observe your customers and you could learn a lot about what people want and how to best deliver it to them.

Are You Asking Your Satisfied Customers For Referrals?

65% of new business comes from referrals.

People everywhere want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger and like they are part of a group. Asking for referrals helps meet that need and helps boost your business simultaneously. But don’t assume that satisfied customers will go out and refer on their own. Unsatisfied customers are much more likely to share their experience on their own initiative. So remember, it’s OK to ask!

Word of mouth is still the best way to build business, and if you ask a happy customer to refer your business, you make them feel important and valuable to the business. It’s a win-win. And not only will this help build loyalty with that specific customer, but you’ll also end up with more loyal customers as a result of the referral. It’s contagious.

Referral customers tend to purchase more over time and in turn become a source of additional referrals. 

Studies also show that referred customers are 18% more loyal than customers gained through another method.

Are You Asking Your Satisfied Customers For Reviews?

Reviews hold a lot of weight, both in terms of search rankings and customer decisions.

90% of customers say positive online reviews influenced their buying decisions.

So how do you get more positive reviews online? Ask and make it easy! Make sure links to your social media are easy to locate on your website, and make it a practice to ask satisfied customers to review you online at the close of service. Many businesses even send out review request emails with links to their Yelp or Google+ pages. The less time that passes between the service or purchase and the request for review, the more likely your customer is to follow through.

And while you’re at it, why not ask your satisfied customers for testimonials that you can put on your website and social media pages? It’s like momma always said, “Don’t toot your own horn” – let others do it for you!

Of course, you don’t want to ask every customer for a review or testimonial.

86% of customers say buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.

If you remain focused on providing your customers with the best possible customer service and experience, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about negative reviews, but they happen.

If your business gets a negative online review, do not respond in a reactionary or emotional manner, but do respond. Let the customer know that you regret that they had an unpleasant experience and that you’d like to make it up to them. Then, ask them to contact you directly to resolve the issue.

In other words, let them (and everyone reading the review going forward) know that their satisfaction matters and that your goal is to provide excellent customer service each and every time.

Do You Offer Any Benefits For Being A Loyal Customer?

And finally, make it fun and rewarding to be a loyal customer! One of our pet peeves is when businesses offer all of these great discounts and perks to first-time only customers. Why should I miss out on the good stuff just because I found you first?

A repeat customer spends 67% more than a new one. 

Let your repeat customers know that you value them and appreciate their loyalty by offering them special extras like sample products, birthday or holiday cards, free gift wrapping, discounted or free delivery service. After all, it’s the repeat customers that keep your company going.

What’s Your Customer Service Grade?

So, how does your business stack up in terms of customer service? Whether you’re feeling pretty proud or pretty defensive right now, it’s a good idea to periodically stop and give this area of your business a good look. Quality customer service is something that requires daily effort and practice, but just like you condition your body, you can condition your business to intrinsically provide top-notch customer care. So take the time to motivate and train your employees, and always be looking for ways to make the customer experience a good one.

If you want to read our latest favorite book on customer service, check out Scott Stratten & Alison Kramer’s Unselling: The New Customer Experience.

Infographic source: blog.salesforce.com

Click To Enlarge

Customer Service: The Forgotten Marketing Channel

Via Salesforce

Will Your Customers Follow You Into 2015?

Will Your Customers Follow You Into 2015?

The start of a new year can be a great time to celebrate the successes of the past year and reflect on how you’d like to change and shape your business for the better, and that means looking at what you do well and what you don’t do well.

2015 Customer Service Goals - Spark Marketer

Maybe there are some things that you really nailed in 2014: Maybe the quality of your work far surpassed that of your competitors, or you really involved and engaged your customers or potential customers on social media. But maybe there are some other things that could really use some attention and improvement in 2015. Is customer service one of those things? If so, make 2015 the year that you master the art of good customer service – you can’t afford not to!

I Want You To Want Me

With all of the studies conducted over the last few years, there’s one thing that simply cannot be denied or ignored: good customer service is key to customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Think about it: whatever your industry or location, you client has more choices when it comes to deciding who to do business with than ever. As many as 88% of people claim to use the Internet to research local businesses and determine who to hire or purchase from. And they aren’t just reading your website – they’re reading what others are saying about you. Depending on your level of customer service and the overall experience you offer, this can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Are Your Existing Customers Saying Good Things About You?

According to Bain & Company, the way that you treat your customers is even more important than the product or service you are providing them with:

A customer is 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related than price- or product-related. [Source: www.beyondphilosophy.com]

That’s right: customer service is even more important than the price and the product. Your customers are valuable, but when they receive bad customer service they certainly don’t feel that way. And if they feel underappreciated and like you don’t care about their satisfaction, they WILL take their business to someone who does care.

There’s also a good chance they’ll let others know about their experience by writing a negative review on one of the online review sites like Google+ or Yelp. And you can bet that potential customers will take what they say about you to heart. The truth is: you can’t afford to deliver bad customer service.

Whether Negative Or Positive, Reviews Matter

According to the BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey 2014,

..a greater proportion of consumers are reading more than 20 reviews before they feel they can trust a local business.

The same survey reveals that 88% of people trust online reviews as much as word of mouth or personal referrals. So if your customers are saying good things about you then you’re golden; if they’re leaving negative reviews, you need to make it right.

Maybe If We Don’t Look At It…It Will Go Away?

Online Customer Reviews - Spark Marketer

The worst thing you can do is ignore a negative review or simply move on. In the words of Scott Stratten, best-selling author and president of UnMarketing,

It’s not usually one thing that makes you leave a company; it’s a combination of issues and no resolution, or no satisfactory resolution to those issues. [Source: “Unselling” Brainfluence Podcast With Roger Dooley]

Remember, you want every customer to feel like they matter, because they do! The best thing to do when one of your customers feels they have received bad customer service is to address it quickly and calmly, and try to make it up to them.

According to “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner,

It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.

The good news is that 70% of customers will do business with you again if you make it up to them. [Source: Lee Resources]

What If The Customer Complaint Is Online?

Address It Online But Direct It Offline – If your customer complained online by leaving a negative review or comment on your Yelp, Google+ or your business’ Facebook page, it’s important that you address it online so that other customers or potential customers can see that you care enough to try and make it right. Do NOT ignore the negative review and simply hope it will go away.

Take The High Road – One thing you’ll certainly want to avoid, however, is a back-and-forth online. Never argue or get defensive. This will not only upset the customer further, but it will make you look childish and unprofessional to anyone considering doing business with you. Taylor Hill, one of the founders here at Spark Marketer regularly reminds business owners, “Do you want to be right or do you want to win?” If you’d rather be right, be prepared to lose customers.

Make It Known It’s Not The Norm – Be sure to express your apologies for the negative experience, emphasize that it is not a standard experience for your customer, and ask them to contact you directly so that you can make it right.

How Can We Get More Positive Reviews?

Rest assured that dissatisfied customers will spread the word, but getting satisfied customers to take the time to leave positive reviews can be a challenge. Don’t be afraid to ask your satisfied customers to write a review on Yelp or Google+ – you’ve done the hard work; now let your satisfied customers spread the word.

If you’re struggling with getting positive reviews, try to reduce time between the service and the call to action, and consider a way to make it easy and enticing for your customer. We’ve got a great new tool for helping with just that – just ask!

Follow The Golden Rule If You Want To Make 2015 The Golden Year

It costs 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. [Source: Bain & Company]

As you strengthen and grow your business in 2015, make sure you don’t lose sight of the golden rule – treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Make sure that each and every one of your customers knows just how much you value them, because without them, you have no business. In other words, Mom was right – it does pay to be nice.