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Episode #136
Adam Posner

How Consultants Can Build A Customer Loyalty Program

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Attracting new clients and customers is one thing; retaining them is another. Many successful entrepreneurs know this as a big separator between them and those who are struggling to grow their business. The name of the game is not how you attract people but how you keep them loyal to you. Known as The Loyalty Guy, today’s guest, Adam Posner, has been an expert in this area for well over a decade. He joins host, Michael Zipursky, to discuss how consultants can build a customer loyalty program. Believing that existing customers will eventually bring the new customers in, he shares with us some ideas, principles, as well as strategies on how to care for and nurture them. He also shows diagnostics from his research reports that reveal what works best in lead generation for his business, in addition to letting us in on his research process, speaking and writing ventures, and more.

I’m with Adam Posner. Adam, welcome. It’s great to have you and be on with you. I saw you when I was in Australia for a little bit with my family and had the chance to sit down with you as well as other consultants and entrepreneurs and enjoy a drink together. I’m glad that we have you on the show. I’m excited to dive in.

It was great to meet you in the flesh and having the opportunity to check with you is terrific. Thanks.

Big brands go to you when they want to implement customer loyalty and rewards programs. Marketers all around the place praise you for your research. That’s a big part of what you do. You’re known as The Loyalty Guy. You’ve been a subject matter expert in this area for well over a decade. Take us back to your original education and how you got started, Adam? How did you end up and what were you doing before becoming known as an expert in customer loyalty?

I’ll quickly give you a snapshot. I immigrated to Australia in 1988 from South Africa. When I was in South Africa, I was in the Defense Forces in Southern African Air Force for a period of time. I then worked as a time and motion analyst or what they call a productivity analyst in those days for a large insurance company. I landed in Australia and for the first few years, around a few restaurants and I was in the food business for a while. I also launched a mass education software program generating leads for Salesforce. I was getting to what I call direct marketing in those early ’90s. I landed in a direct marketing agency here in Melbourne and worked in direct marketing for fourteen years in strategy and consulting. As you know with direct marketing or data-driven marketing as it was known in those days, it’s where I worked on brands of all shapes and sizes as an agency person.

I ventured into my own agency in 2007 to which I’ve had since then. I’m now in for several years and I’ve evolved over the years. It started more of an acquisition agency generating leads for clients and so on, but I landed into loyalty programs and I was fascinated because they were data-driven. It’s all about the data. I walked the streets and joined 113 different programs and wrote a little book in 2013 or 2011, I can’t exactly remember on loyalty programs. All of a sudden, I realized how much I loved the space and their niche right into that spot, customer loyalty, and loyalty programs.

There’s a big obsession. At least most people seem to be focused on this idea of client and customer acquisition. It’s the marketing, it’s the generator of leads. It’s the lifeblood of a business. Certainly, in the early stages of business, that’s critical because if you don’t have a client, then you can’t worry about retaining a client because the client needs to exist first. For any consultant who has a pipeline and who has clients they’re working with, many times the focus is still on new clients, new blood, and acquisition. Share a little bit about your perspective on why creating customer loyalty and retaining existing clients is important.

You keep your business by how people tell others about you and refer them on. Click To Tweet

It comes from a mantra that I believe which is, your existing customers are your new customers. Because your existing customers, if you care and nurture them, then they are the source of new customers. You’re right about this obsession with new and the world is about acquiring new. Everything’s new, whatever it is in the world that we are about but I believe if we care and nurture our existing customers so much, they will tell others and we won’t know that, but they do. Especially when you look at your business and how people tell others and how they refer them on and that’s your new business. I understand there’s a need for a pipeline and acquiring new. I never will deny that but my belief and mantra and why I wake every day are to increase the care and the currency of existing customers.

Let’s talk a little bit more about how people can do that because the marketplace and maybe consultants in general, most people think about customer loyalty as something that big businesses and big brands do, but it’s not for the little man or woman shop. It’s for larger, more established organizations. To either independent consultant or the consultant with 5, 10, maybe 20 employees who is reading this and is thinking, “We don’t have a customer loyalty program. We’re not doing anything to nurture our existing clients and keep them as longer-term clients.” There’s no active program around that. What would you suggest? What are some ideas and principles and best practices that even the independent or small consulting firm could implement?

In my view, it doesn’t matter the size of the business. It starts with the mindset. It starts with a belief number one, in what loyalty is in your context or the consultant’s context. With our clients, big and small and yes, I do work with larger corporates but also smallish businesses. It starts with that. I’m always trying to get a sense of, “Do they believe in the essence of their existing customers?” That’s the first point, is to believe, and then we talk about defining, what does loyalty means? We’ve studied that from a consumer point of view in our research study. I understand what consumers think loyalty is to a brand or business in a general sense.

With our clients, we try to understand them. If I asked you, Michael, or your partner or anyone, what does loyalty mean to you in your business and you’ve got the clarity of what loyalty means, then you know how to generate it. Is loyalty transactional? Do you think loyalty is people spending a lot of money and spending it more often? That’s a transactional loyalty piece. The other side is what I call the emotional, the belief loyalty. That’s where it’s that referral, that recommendation, and that trust. Loyalty is the intersection of behavior and belief.

To someone who’s reading and going, “I want both of those. I want transactional. I want more business and I want to increase the lifetime value of all of my clients. I wanted to stay around longer to continue building together because that’s a benefit to them as they get more value and a benefit to the business. I also want them to refer new business to us,” that emotional side. What are things that they could implement on to make that a reality once they’ve identified that they want both of those?

They do want both of those.

CSP 136 | Customer Loyalty Program

Can you have both?

At certain times, you can, and not every customer will have both. You’re aiming for what you call true loyalty. If you think of it as a grid and on the Y-axis, you’ve got the belief, on the X-axis, you’ve got behavior and the top right-hand corner is that intersection of true loyalty and what I will call the clan. The people who love you. Yes, they love your business and they also buy everything that you offer. The ideal client and not everyone’s going to be in that space. You’re trying to first understand where your customer base fits from your products and what they’re buying and how they’re transacting. Are they buying you for the compliment and are they staying? You’ve got to get some measures in place. Are they buying everything that you offer at its capacity and not every client is, but who is? Of those clients, who are referring you? Who is loving you? Who are posting? In your case, always look at what you do. Who is engaging in your content? Who is posting it on or saying, “Thank you,” and giving you all the testimonials? You’re getting to see who your believers are and all that is also buying everything. Both of those are elements of loyalty.

Let’s take that as an example. I have identified someone who consistently interacts and engages in our content. They’re sharing it. They’re saying how great it is. What do I do with that? For everyone reading, what action could I take to cultivate that connection, that relationship to create more loyalty around it?

We’ve got to look at it because from what I understand, if they’re not transacting and feeding the revenue generator, as one example. They are high on the belief loyalty. By the way, even though it doesn’t hit your back pocket, it’s still an important part of loyalty. If you want to convert them into transactional, that’s where you’ve got to start asking them, “Why aren’t they and what’s stopping them?” What are the barriers for them from buying what you offer? You may never get them to buy, but it doesn’t mean that then they’re a lost customer because they’re still loyal, sharing, and engaging. What would you do with them? If you can’t convert them to a transactional and buy what you offer, then keep nurturing, loving, thanking and recognizing that they are sharing. Further than that, as I say, you want to try and convert them ultimately to a transaction.

When I hear the word loyalty, loyalty programs, or customer loyalty programs, I often think about this idea of it’s about engaging as the brand or the company or the person. It’s about going to those people who you want them to become more loyal whether it’s transactional or emotional and thinking of things that you can do to bring them back more often or to engage with them more frequently. Is that accurate or am I missing something in that idea?

You’re always doing what you’re doing. You’re affecting how you operate, but you’re consistently obviously staying in their space or communicating with them through your channels. You’ve got this melty touch. I call it the Octopus Approach. You are smart or what I’m seeing is you’re using multiple channels, multiple messages, and reaching to different tentacles to keep them and what you’re offering top of mind so that when the time is right, they will transact. Continue doing what you’re doing and also, having pit stops every so often asking them straight questions like, “Why do you love my content?” Perhaps even asking, “Why aren’t you purchasing?” They might have a reason and in which case, you’ve got a definition from which you can influence or not. It’s all about getting back some control. Keep nurturing and stay in control. They will decide whether it’s enough or too much and you’ll get engagement there.

Your existing customers, if you care for and nurture them, are the source of new customers. Click To Tweet

How important is it for the consultant and the consulting firm owner to engage in asking those questions? Whether it’s a direct message on LinkedIn, an email, a phone call, an in-person, or even a survey, the dreaded survey that everyone dislikes but yet, I believe of them to be valuable from a data collection and insight perspective. How important are those questions and how often should people be asking them?

I don’t think there’s a one size fit all. I say to you, he has the standard way to do it. I think it’s more about the cadence or how often thinking about the frequency of those asked. You’re giving and you’re giving and then you stop and you ask for something back. It’s measuring and managing the cadence of that over let’s say twelve months. If it’s a formal survey, every 3, 6, 9, 12 months, and this is with the call about the cadence. It’s also about the extent of thinking about what are you asking. It’s interesting that you asked that question because I’m doing a diagnostic and it’s a typical tool for a consultant which I’m sending it out to my customer base saying, “He has a 37-point yes-no checklist for you to look at your customer loyalty and rewards program strategies. It’s free. Fill it in and if you wanted, you’ll get a little report.” Clearly from my point of view, if they do fill it in, I’ll get a response and see where they are and if they want to pursue it further, I don’t push too hard. I’ll get a sense as to whether they want me to start engaging in where their gaps are.

I want to come back to that because what you discussed or explained that you’re going through is something that a lot of people could get value from. Before doing that, as you’re talking, Adam, it brings back a memory that I have of one of our first mentors who taught us this idea of the hyper-responsive client or customer. I want to share with everyone reading, which is that, within even your client base, it’s not all one size fits all. You have different types of clients. You have those who as Adam shared, are going to buy everything that you put out or everything that you offer because they love you and what you do. They’re your fans and you’ll have others who might transact once. I’m not even a big fan of that word necessarily, because it’s more relationship-based, not transactional. They might purchase from you once, you work for them once or whatever, but they’re not necessarily going to be long-term fans.

Asking these questions as Adam is suggesting and opening up your mindset to engage with both your existing clients as well as prospective clients or the fans that you have that have even never purchased from you, can help you to understand who the hyper-responsive market and client is. When you understand that, then you have a new client profile that you can use in your messaging and your marketing. Now, you may be like, “I’m targeting telecommunications companies and helping them with this technology implementation.” You might find that it’s a specific type of person or type of company or a different dimension. Adam, is there anything to add from your own experience on that topic?

An interesting insight you mentioned there, which is the hyper-responsive clients. I’ve got a nice database of leads that I’ve generated from my research and I go to that base in the communication strategy sharing content but as I said, I’m about to send this diagnostic. They’re not all clients. I don’t need a lot of clients in my consulting practice. I just need some small, high-quality ones. Even if I get a small number completing my diagnostic who aren’t clients, I know who’s on that next stage of their journey and how I can stay more personally in touch with them. It’s not fully automated. It’s not a seamless process and I can improve in that space but I’ve got a bit of a strategy that I’m working on a plan.

You’re telling me that everything is not fully automated and you have to do a little bit of work to generate leads. Is this possible? I thought you just push a button on LinkedIn and you set up your feed.

CSP 136 | Customer Loyalty Program

It looks like you do because I’m following you, but no. There’s some heavy lifting every day, every week, every month.

That’s called consistency and that’s called having a real business. These days, too many people are of the belief, they’re led by the “guru” online or whoever it is that things are very simple. Nothing takes work and you sign up for the latest LinkedIn automation service and sit on your laurels. It’s rarely that easy. It does take real work. When you’ve done real work, you’ve laid the foundation and then good things can come from any years. Let’s talk about your marketing. You’re The Loyalty Guy, but you shared one thing that you’re doing to generate leads and opportunities, which is putting out this diagnostic. It does take time for you to develop and think through and be thoughtful about but then when you put it in front of people, it’s for free.

You know that there will be a percentage, even a small percentage who will fill it in. They’ll send it back to you because they want to access you essentially for free. They want to get your feedback on it but that shows that they have an intention to maybe take things to the next level. They’ve qualified themselves a little bit and that will create some opportunities. Beyond the diagnostic, you talked about these research reports that you put out. Tell us a little bit more about what Adam does to generate leads for your business. What’s working best for you?

I’m focused on what I called my Trusted Authority Position in loyalty. I call it a TAP to generate warm leads. I’ve got a process and a strategy and fundamentally it’s built off what I call bespoke research. All roads lead to my research. I’ve got ten studies that I’ve published and I built a brand around that and every year I do it. It is a big investment back to your earlier comments, lots of work, lots of money, time, and efforts, but it has a long tail of content. I can use it for another twelve months. It’s is a point of conversation with clients outside of selling my services. They were interested in the research and my perspective of the landscape. The study, which is called For Love or Money is my lead magnet, should I say, but also my learning opportunities. I’m forever learning. People say, “You’re an expert or whatever.” I dislike the word expert because everyone’s an expert but I’m a specialist. I keep learning. I never positioned myself as an expert. It’s all about being a specialist and these studies help me learn but also provide learnings and insights to the community.

Take us through what you do. You’ve developed this study, you conducted research, you analyzed it, you develop your findings as the typical study would be. What do you do? There are plenty of people who maybe have done similar white papers or studies or even written a book, but they don’t get traction with it. It doesn’t move the needle. What is your process? What do you do with these studies every year to make sure that there’s a solid return on that investment?

I publish the study as both a free executive summary and also a paid version.

Loyalty is the intersection of behavior and belief. Click To Tweet

What’s the difference between the two?

The difference is the paid version, they get the full 80-page full study with all the results and all the insights. The executive summary just gives them a little teaser, a snapshot.

How much is the paid one?

The paid one is $390 Australian, but also as part of my lead process on my website. I gave an opportunity for me to go to present the research and I charged for that as well. That’s another opportunity to get in front of brands and businesses through the research without selling my services. When I’m in the room, I would almost say 8 out of 10 of them turn into clients.

How do you get people to even know about the studies? How are they finding you or having even an opportunity to download a free one? Are you doing paid advertising? Are you doing it through speaking or are you doing it through something else?

I’m not as formulaic, but fundamentally, my LinkedIn channel is where I put 99% of my efforts. My existing base, which I’ve built over the years of a few 100 if not 1,000 or 2,000 leads that I keep telling every year. I don’t do any paid. I speak a lot. Every time I speak, I talk about the research and it gets out there. Perhaps I could do more and I’ve been told I should do more, but it’s more about resource and time and effort.

CSP 136 | Customer Loyalty Program

When you say LinkedIn, you have 1,000 leads or whatever that you cultivated and developed over the years? How are you letting them know about it? Are you sending them a message on LinkedIn? Are you sending them an email? Is it a group blast that goes to 50 people at a time? What’s the process to let people know about this?

All I do is I write a lot of articles. I try to write an article every fortnight and of which I mention the research. I post it up on LinkedIn. I email it to my base and I put it on my blog. I repost it. I used LinkedIn. I write an article within LinkedIn. I’ve linked in the article from my websites as well as create posts and watch what other people are saying and comment on. As often as possible when it’s relevant, I quote stats from the study, and again, it generates people back to download the free summary.

You’re not sending direct messages or emails to anyone about the new report?

When a launch is through my base, I do search my LinkedIn base. Now, you reminded me, but not as formally. I pretty much do one-on-one. I don’t go to hundreds of thousands. I go to the 10s and 20s and 30s, maybe 100.

What percent of your business would you say that you could trace back to the study versus speaking versus maybe something else?

I measured that over the few years and I would say 90% of my business is from my research. I just got a lead and I said, “How did you hear about me?” They said, “Through Google.” I do know through my SEO, not my paid, but of all the years of my posting, I come up quite high. They said, “I also found your research.” I often hear this, “I found your research.” Leads are coming from that point of view. Also, I get a lot of referrals from people as well.

Writing a book is a business card strategy. Click To Tweet

We find the same thing with this show is that we’re not tracing or spending time figuring out how many people are specifically coming from the show signing up for this or that. Maybe we should, but what we hear all the time from people coming into our coaching programs or applying is that, “I read the blog or I love this episode.” We know that the show is creating a positive return on investment, but we don’t necessarily attribute it directly to one specific episode. That’s long-term, long-tail marketing. It’s building authority. It’s putting stuff out there. Even if you can’t draw a direct line and connection between the 1 and 2, you know that it’s influencing and creating a positive result. You’re putting that out there. That’s a big part of it. You mentioned speaking and I want to talk about that. How many speaking events do you do annually would you say?

Some years, it’s full-on. If I look back, I might’ve done 1 every 2 months, but they all varied. Some are a client-specific or bespoke. A client gives me a brief, I need to come in and present to their audience or some are public, some are paid, some are free. I’m careful in which I give away for free because I know how valuable the content is when I talk. Mostly, I’m putting a fee to my speaking. Some are webinars through associations. For example, in 2020, I’m also pitching out to certain big retail conferences where I know my audiences are and I’m having to go in my best being on stage and getting there without them paying me because I know the audiences are relevant.

You’ve written a book called Give Back to Get Back: 9 Steps to a Profitable Loyalty Program. Talk to us a little bit about what impact the book has had on your business? Have you noticed an uptick in leads or opportunities or will you still say that your research studies have performed significantly better than the book?

It’s the latter. The book was a business card strategy. I wrote the book as a business card, not as a book to make money directly from the sales of hundreds of thousands of copies. I wrote the book of that little research that I did when I joined 113 programs and then I developed a little nine steps and I packaged it all up into a tiny little book. I even printed a thousand. I’ve still got some and it’s several years later. When I went to meetings and I said, “Here’s my little book,” and I left it, it had a huge impact. It made such a difference that I was a loyalty person with a book, but it wasn’t a book. It’s got some great insights and had some nice feedback, but it’s certainly not in itself a generation of funds.

The consultant reading this, if they were to take away one thing with regards to loyalty and how they could harness it in their business to see better results, what would be one? If you’d like even two things that you would want to offer to them, that you would encourage them to look at and take action on?

As we started this first conversation, just get clear on what loyalty means to your business. In simple terms, the insight I’m giving your audience is, it’s an intersection of behavior and belief. Define what it means and then look at your customer base and see who’s sitting where. Do some analysis and then the steps or from there, that’s about communicating more formally to build the behaviors and the belief outcomes as we discussed.

CSP 136 | Customer Loyalty Program

One more question because I don’t want to leave people hanging in and I’m also wondering this myself. When you’re asking these questions to identify what people care about, are there some questions that are their go-to, their standard, every business should ask, or at least high-level ideas of what those questions should be? What are the most powerful questions that I’ll say a consultant or a consulting firm or professional services firm should definitely be asking their clients or their audience?

The questions all start with what. I’m looking for pain. I’m looking for what areas in your business, in the context of the consultant’s expertise and specialization, do you feel you need an external point of view? One of the things that consultants and I’m still learning every day is that the difference we make to our businesses is we are independent of the business. With that one step removed, we are asking questions as if we’re curious and we don’t know about that business. I go and a client said to me, “Do you know this retail category or do you know the education?” I say, “No, you do. I know loyalty.” My questions are so basic because I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m going on a bit but my answer to your question is the curiosity. It’s ask “why” five times. I’m sure you’ve heard that.

Adam, I want to thank you for coming on and sharing some of your journeys, but some of these principles, strategies, and mindset expanders with us. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work. Check out your studies. Where is the best place for them to go?

The single point of contact or perhaps two points of contact is the website, which is I’m on LinkedIn at Adam Posner. There are lots of free resources on my website. Michael, I wanted to give a shout-out to you. You are an inspiration. I’m on the access of belief. I will be into your services soon. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Thanks so much, Adam. I appreciate it.

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