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Referrals and the Running Specialty Store

Referrals and the Running Specialty Store

Running IntelligenceOriginally Published in Running Intelligence

Referrals and word-of-mouth are the lifeblood of every business, and that is certainly true for a running specialty business. It is often the businesses and the individual salespeople with the strongest referral base who are weathering the current economic conditions the best. Here are some steps for creating satisfied customers who consider it a privilege to refer their friends and associates to you.

1. Ask questions

Are your salespeople slowing down to ask questions and understand what customers want? It is impossible to create a great customer experience without asking questions to find out what success looks like for this customer. Retail salespeople find out what goals customers are trying to achieve and what problems they are trying to solve when they ask questions. Too often, the more we know the more we tell. The best salespeople know most of the answers but spend their time asking good questions. The customer feels listened to and valued. This is the first step to creating an enthusiastic customer who will refer others.

2. Have fun and include customers in the experience

Great customer service is an act of inclusion. We create a great customer experience by including customers in our enthusiasm for people and our passion for fitness. First off, this means that your people have to exhibit some passion themselves. Is your staff enthusiastic about serving customers and helping people to get fit? Do they exhibit that passion on the sales floor? Moreover, do they include customers in their fun?

3. Mercedes Benz and solving problems

Some years ago, Mercedes-Benz engaged in work to improve their customer satisfaction scores. To accomplish this, they studied the customer service approaches of some of their best dealerships. One of the lessons they learned was that the best dealerships viewed customer problems as terrific opportunities to create enthusiastic customers.

Even the best stores are going to have problems that generate customer complaints. Look on every problem as an opportunity to create a satisfied customer.

4. Find a few devoted referral partners

In my work with sales organizations of all stripes, I find that there are often a handful of individuals or companies that refer a huge amount of business every year. While we want every customer to be a referral source for us, not all referral sources are created equally. Pay attention to your referrals. You may well find that there are a few people who are consistently referring a lot of business to you.

5. Create a system to capture leads

Does your store capture contact information for every doctor or physical trainer who walks in your door? Do your employees have an incentive to make sure that they capture complete contact information for people who can likely be a source of great referrals? I work with a company in another retail industry that pays their salespeople a small amount for every lead that they capture from people who walk into their store. If they fill out a complete lead card, have that card on their bosses’ desk, and send the person a thank you note within 24 hours, they get $5. If they generate a lead outside the store and follow the same process, they get $25. The dollars will likely be different for a running specialty store, but the concept is just as valid – you have to have a system for collecting contact information on high-value referral sources if you have any hope of staying in touch with them proactively.

6. Create a system to follow up

There is only one reason to capture contact information for potential referral sources – so you can follow up with them. The key here is to create a standard process that gets followed with every strong referral source (be it a doctor, trainer, etc.) who walks in your door. You might give them a follow up phone call and send them some coupons. You might schedule a face-to-face meeting. But whatever you do, create a system so you can do it consistently.

7. Get Face to Face

Don’t just wait for key referral sources to walk through your door. Get out and schedule visits to those people who can and should be great referral sources for you.

8. Generate leads for others

There is no better way to get leads then to give them. Intentionally develop relationships with high-quality businesses that are related to yours. Look for ways to send them business. Develop relationships with people who understand the value of a referral and will reciprocate with referrals of their own.

9. Developing and leading a following

Look for ways to help your customer feel connected to your business. Training programs sponsored by your store, for example, are a powerful tool for cultivating strong connections. In a sense, every participant joins your business and becomes part of your following. Include more people in your programs and events and you will cultivate a wider range of people who identify themselves with you and want their friends to do so as well.

10. Educating customers on every visit

The best salespeople are always educating their customers. This education process is an integral part of their job. Your store, for instance, is not just for elite runners – it is for anyone who wants to get fit. By having an intentional plan for educating customers, you help your customers become more effective ambassadors for your business with others in their circle of influence.

11. Branding and Public Relations

Everyone likes to be associated with a winner. When you invest in building your brand through event sponsorship and other initiatives, you give every customer an opportunity to point your business out to their friends and talk about how much they love you. If the point of marketing is to generate leads, then the right kind of marketing helps every one of your customers become a more effective salesperson for your business.

12. Deliver a consistently great customer experience

I recently visited one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia for lunch – and came away disappointed. Two of their best dishes were not available and the overall quality of the food was disappointing. This, after the restaurant invested in a significant expansion and “facelift” in their dining area and kitchen just last summer. While I have been a proponent of this establishment and taken a number of people there, I am on the lookout for a new lunch place after my last experience.

In a running specialty business, all referrals ultimately rise and fall on delivering a great customer experience. Focus on all the other initiatives that you want, but make sure that the fundamentals of how customers are treated on your retail floor are always superior. Without that, no manner of smart strategy on generating referrals will matter.


In the end, generating a strong referral base is about having a passion for your business and including your customers in your passion. Get organized; create systems for tracking and following up with potential referral sources. Deliver a consistently great customer experience. Look for creative ways to develop relationships with people so your passion for running and fitness becomes their passion, and they give you the credit by providing quality referrals.


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