“I know someone who can help you with this.”
Your best source of new business is referrals from happy customers or clients. You cannot receive a better lead than one that has been sent your way with a strong referral. You cannot have a more motivated prospect arrive in your store or restaurant than someone sent there by a raving fan.
The challenge is: How do you get your satisfied customers to actively promote you to their social and professional networks?
The answer: You have to train them to do it, remind them constantly, and make it head-slappingly easy.
Here are the five basic steps to more and better referrals that all businesspeople should embed in their marketing plan:
1. Constantly ask for referrals
Too many businesspeople forget to ask. The best time to do so? In the midst of delivering excellent service, and regularly thereafter. When working with real estate and mortgage agents, we discovered the best time to ask for a referral was before the loan or home purchase closed, while the agent was still actively involved with the client and had their full trust and attention.
Don’t be shy, either. I had a client that thought it would threaten his client relationships if he “cravenly asked for referrals.” He thought that doing so would make him appear desperate, and diminish him in his clients’ eyes. That is the wrong mindset: You deliver great value to your customers, and want more people to benefit from your talents. You should be proud to ask “whom else do you know that I could help?” It took me months to get that client to try asking proactively for referrals. When he actually tried it systematically, he quickly landed a new $15,000 consulting contract. He still hesitates, but is solving that by developing an “ask method” that fits with his professional demeanor, and has set specific 2012 referral goals to keep himself motivated.
Always assume your clients would be happy to refer you. Let them tell you if they are uncomfortable doing so. (Explore why, too: There may be some lingering dissatisfaction that they are keeping from you.)
2. Teach your customers how to refer you
This is the biggest improvement you can make in your referral campaigning. Many clients would be happy to refer you, but don’t know how to succinctly present you and your service to others. Solve that by giving them:
- Cheat sheets with your core value proposition and a handful of client results. These could be your brochure, or simply buckslips that answer two questions: ”What do I do?” and “Why me?”
- A permanent box in your printed and e-mailed newsletters that answers the same questions (and entices the reader to your site to get the full answer.)
- Instructions on how to go on Yelp and other review sites to give you a review
- A request for referrals on the back of your business card
3. Remind them to refer you
Talk to all current and past customers regularly, and always include a request for referrals. My long-time real estate agent hasn’t contracted business with me in ten years, but I get a letter from him monthly in the mail that reminds me that he appreciates my support and would love my referrals. (He freely admits in each letter that referrals are the lifeblood of his business. This is a real motivator for me because I want to help!)
4. Make it really easy
- Add links to your website pages (in multiple places that make sense) for all the review sites on which you appear (Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.).
- Put links to review sites in all your communications: In every e-mail, repeated posted on your Facebook company page, in direct mail (with instructions, in that case)
- Post the answers to “What do I do?” and “Why me?” in downloadable pdfs on your website. Share that link through all your communication channels
- Help them figure out how to describe their experience. Many people are afraid of looking silly in print or while taking to peers, so you can send them other reviews people have done as models. (Never write the reviews for them. People can spot fakes on review sites because they are written too well! It has to be real words describing real experiences. The rougher the text, the more reliable to the reader.)
5. Say “thank you,” and do it often
Reward the referrer with continual gestures of thanks and recognition. In many businesses, this is limited by law to a verbal “thank you” and a handshake. In others you can confer financial rewards, but try not to go too far down that road. Buying them a nice dinner is as far as I have ever gone. Keep it simple, inexpensive and relevant to the size and number of referrals.
Remember, most referrers are motivated to help you because you helped them, and don’t seek a lot of reward for themselves. Plus, keep their effort in perspective. All they do is make the connection, which takes a few minutes of their time, and you do the rest of the work, so it doesn’t need to be a big reward. The best reward would be a referral back to them, if appropriate for their line of work.
The reason business networking groups like www.justask.co.za work is that members educate each other on the details of their business, and remind each other weekly to generate referrals. This embeds the “referral mindset” effectively. You have to bring the same rigor and structure into your own network.
Generating referrals is not rocket science. It takes a bit of work, but it should be cemented as a personal mindset into every touch point that you have with your customer base. Asking for referrals must be second nature, like breathing.