Customer reviews and testimonials are one of the best ways to increase sales. This is especially true for small-and medium sized businesses that don’t have a huge marketing budget.

Consider this statistic: 90 percent of shoppers say they take online reviews and testimonials into consideration before they make a purchase. Therefore, if you aren’t actively encouraging customers to comment on your products and services, you are potentially losing out on a lot of business.

So why is it so hard to get customers to write reviews? Well, maybe customers aren’t really the issue. Instead maybe we should look at ourselves and ask why it is so hard to ASK customers for reviews? And asking for reviews is difficult. There is no way around it. It’s kind of like asking someone to pay you a compliment. It just feels wrong. That’s why so many business owners back away from the task.

While this aversion is natural, it also can be costly. Customer reviews and testimonials are some of the most effective marketing techniques out there. The best part are that they are absolutely free. In light of these facts, business owners simply can’t pass up the opportunity to ask customers to review their products and services.

While asking for testimonials is never easy, there are some ways make it as painless and effective as possible.

Build solid relationships. Asking for reviews face-to-face or over the phone is the most effective way to get someone to agree to write a testimonial. But here’s the caveat: you need to have a relationship with that person. So make sure you know your customers (which is the best way to keep them loyal in the first place). Customers that know you and appreciate your products or services will be more than happy to help you out with a testimonial. The fact that you took the time to actually stop in or call them is simply icing on the cake.

Email it the right way. In some cases asking for reviews by email is your only choice (and make sure it is before you ask this way). When requesting a review via email take the following steps:

  • Make sure the email comes from someone they know. Their sales rep, for example. And make sure the email is signed by the person who sent the email.
  • Include a prominent call-to-action button in the email that makes it very clear to your customer where to go to submit his or her review. It also encourages them to submit the review sooner rather than later.
  • Use plain text.

Evaluate. If you aren’t getting a lot of positive responses, go back to the drawing board and evaluate your approach.

Obtaining customer reviews can be a tricky prospect. However, the payoff is too significant to ignore!

If you aren’t actively building a brand for your business, make no mistake, your brand is still being built. In other words, every day customers, prospects and even your competitors are helping to shape your reputation.

Social media means that a disgruntled customer need only post about one terrible experience they had with your business and in the blink of an eye, thousands of potential customers may be swayed to believe that yours is not the type of business they want to patronize. This is unfortunate since one bad experience does not a business make. But that is the world we live in.

While branding is often thought of as creating a name for yourself, it would be wise to remember that it is so much more than that. It is an ongoing process that can literally make or break a business.

So what do your customers, prospects and the public at large think of your business? While it is true that one rogue customer can do an untold amount of damage to your brand, you still have a great deal of control over your reputation.

The key is to remember that every single day, everything you do speaks volumes about your brand in ways you may never have expected. Nothing you do as a business is insignificant. It is imperative to keep this in mind whether you are closing a sale with your biggest client or answering a phone call from a prospect who seems unlikely to ever purchase one of your products.

So how can you make sure you are sending the correct message about your brand every single day? Consider the following:

  • If a current customer calls your business and is put on hold for an extended amount of time, this customer will assume that you don’t value his or her time.
  • If a prospect visits your website and finds it outdated and difficult to navigate, this prospect will decide that your business is outdated.
  • If you make it difficult for a customer to return a product they are unhappy with, your brand will be seen as inflexible and concerned only with making a quick buck.

Whether you have spent huge amounts of money branding your business, or haven’t spent a dime, you must remember that your brand is always, to some degree, in the hands of those who interact with you. In light of this fact, you must never forget that the most effective branding messages take place one interaction at a time.

We’ve all been there. Everyone is talking about the latest movie, fitness craze or current event and instead of admitting we have no idea what they are talking about, we nod knowingly and pretend like we do. After all, who wants to come across as out of touch?

Many small business owners admit to feeling this way when the conversation turns to content marketing. While content marketing has been around for a while-and has proven itself to be a powerful tool-there is no shame in admitting that you aren’t exactly sure how it works.

Thankfully, you don’t have to admit this in front of a large group of people. In fact, read the primer below and you won’t have to admit it at all!

  • What is it? Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach in which businesses create and distribute content designed to appeal to a particular audience. Unlike advertising copy that tries to entice a huge swath of consumers to buy goods or services, content marketing helps a business connect, educate and inspire a particular group of people. In other words, it attracts people who are likely to be interested in what a business is selling, and when they are ready to make a purchase, they will think of that business first.
  • Who should use it? Everyone. The best thing about content marketing is that it works for every business, no matter what the industry. Whether you sell hair care products or farm implements, content marketing can work for you. The key is to provide your audience with a steady flow of unique information that helps solve a problem or improves their lives. In the process of helping others you come to be seen as a thought leader in the industry and someone people can trust.
  • How do you get started? The first step in content marketing is defining exactly who your target audience is and what they need. Only then can you begin producing content that will draw your target audience in. You also need to make sure your target audience finds this content. This is accomplished by determining where they hang out online. Do they watch videos on YouTube? Read articles on LinkedIn? Frequent online industry publications? Once you know where they are, you will know where to post your content.
  • Content marketing isn’t complicated but it does take time and effort. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you won’t see results overnight. After all, it takes time for people to get to know you and learn to trust you.

In today’s digital marketplace there have never been more ways to promote your business. Despite these new promotional avenues, tradeshows continue to be one of the most important marketing investments a company can make, particularly in the B2B industry.

The average B2B company will investment almost 40 percent of its annual marketing budget on tradeshows. This is not surprising considering tradeshows’ excellent return on investment.

So the question is not if a B2B company should attend tradeshows but rather which tradeshows should they attend. And this is an important question since tradeshows are a tremendous opportunity to show off new products, make new contacts and, most importantly, secure new sales leads.

In light of these facts, it is essential that you attend the tradeshows that are right for your particular company. Before you attend any tradeshow, however, you need to consider the following:

Cost: While it would be great to have a presence at all of the hottest tradeshows, a lot will depend on your budget. Once you decide how much you have to spend, you can determine which tradeshows to attend. It is important to do your research as different tradeshows charge different rates for many of the same offerings, including booth rental. Display design, shipping and traveling costs are all important considerations, as well.

Prepare: Once you have an idea of how much you have to spend on a particular trade show you need to make sure your booth is scaled for your rental space. You also need to make sure you have filled out all the necessary paperwork and are aware of any deadlines so that there are no surprises once you arrive at the tradeshow.

Promotion: Attending a tradeshow is a great way to promote your business but just showing up isn’t enough. Launching a new product? Make sure you have demos and product data sheets ready to go. Further, make sure your collateral is printed, checked and re-checked as far ahead of the tradeshow as possible.

Staffing: Who you will send to a tradeshow is almost as important as the tradeshow itself. The first thing you need to decide on is a point-person who will be responsible for making sure that everything runs smoothly. Next, make sure the individuals who will staff your booth are not only the most knowledge but also the most energetic. Tradeshows mean long and sometimes grueling days and nights of promoting your brand and the products and services you offer.

Finally, the most important aspect of any tradeshow is the follow-up. Make sure all of the leads you obtain at a tradeshow are immediately and correctly classified so they enter your sales funnel in the just the right place.

The most successful marketers have one thing in common—a laser-like focus on what they want to accomplish. This has never been truer than it is today.

While in the past marketers had only a few ways to market their products or services or promote their brand that is no longer the case.

Modern day marketers find themselves in a much different situation. The options available to market their products and services are virtually endless–social media, podcasts, blogs, content creation, radio and TV ads, print ads, white papers, cold calling, SEO. So what’s a marketer to do?

It all comes down to focus. Today’s marketers must focus on what they want to achieve with their marketing efforts. They either want to draw people to their business through inbound marketing or they want to get their message out to as many people as possible through outbound marketing.

Inbound marketing uses things like social media marketing, content creation and SEO. This type of marketing allows a business to be seen as a thought leader in their industry. And when a prospect is ready to make a purchase, he or she naturally is drawn to that business.

Outbound marketing is a more traditional form of marketing. Businesses who use outbound marketing want to get their name in front of the largest amount of people possible. They want to build brand awareness and so employ tactics such as cold calling, direct mail, and print and broadcast ads to do just that.

There are pros and cons to both of these methods. Inbound marketing requires patience as it takes time before results are achieved. Outbound marketers usually see faster results but those results are often short-lived.

As a marketer, it is important that you decide which technique fits best with your business model remember that if you choose to concentrate on inbound marketing that doesn’t mean you can’t throw in a print ad every once in a while. In general, however, it is important to concentrate on either inbound or outbound since the best results are achieved this way.

Finally, in order to decide between inbound or outbound marketing you need to look at your target audience. Decide which method aligns with that audience. Inbound marketing is usually best for businesses who really know their target audience. While more budget friendly, inbound marketing does require more time to see results. Consumers usually find this type of marketing less intrusive.

Outbound marketing is more costly but reaches a much larger audience. It is often preferred by businesses that are trying to get on the map. Outbound is often preferred by older consumers, B2B customers and when larger purchases such as cars are involved.