Getting your customers involved in gently promoting and referring your business by hosting a relevant discussion among peers is a great way to facilitate education, networking and, at some point, sales.
The idea behind this tactic is to host a meeting, panel, focus group or discussion of some sort, in a very non-sales environment, and allow your prospects and customers to come together and sell each other, without anyone actively selling anyone.
This tactic works particularly well if you can focus on one specific industry group. The idea is to find a group that shares the same frustrations and uses the same language to express them.
The key is to identify a hot topic of trend that you know some portion of your prospective panelists would like to talk or learn about. You can generally come up with this by either asking your current clients in that industry or scanning the industry association meeting topics and newsletter issues.
Then you can put together a teleconference or in person panel aimed at discussing this common industry issue or growing trend. Invite ten participant panelists, but make sure that at least two of the participants are happy clients that turned to you to solve solve some frustration. Once the group is assembled, you sit back and gently moderate only.
If any selling or product or service mentions goes on during the call or discussion they must come from your clients only. Let the group talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
A number of outcomes will generally occur from such a session:
1. Your current client usually ending up feeling even about the decision they made to hire you in the first place (that will lead to more referrals).
2. Other participants will come away with a very favorable impression of your place in the market—who else is making this kind of educational effort?
3. Several members of the group will call you the next day and invite you to show them how you can help.
4. You are going to learn a great deal about what frustrates your ideal target customer and how to solve it.
As you grow and experiment with this process you may find that you develop hot topic panels for several industry or market segments and produce them on a regular basis. Some firms find that these panels even grow to become user conference centerpieces.
There are many ways to add a creative twist or two to this approach, but nothing sells like a current user telling a skeptic, in their own words, how your product or service solved a real problem.