First of all, put yourself in the mind of your customer. Make their worries, concerns, wants and needs your own. Once you’re in that frame of mind, read on…
Why do you give a referral?
Now that you’re there, think about what goes through your mind when you refer a business to a friend, client or business associate. What’s your selection process for the business whose name you pass on to someone else? What makes YOU decide to refer someone to a business you deal with? Now, think about your client. Are you addressing their wants and needs in those same areas?
Clearly, your clients have their own process. Have you asked them what it is, and if you qualify? Your clients are busy people who (hopefully) have high expectations of a business that is referred to them. Obviously, their friends will have a similar expectation.
Understand what’s important to your client about your business
Ask your clients the question: “Given all the choices you have, why do you do business with me instead of anyone else?”
When they answer, your next question is “With that in mind, is it possible that someone you know has the same challenge/problem/issue/need/want and could use the same kind of help we give you?”
Ask them “If you were to refer me to a friend or colleague, what would you say?” – and treat their response like gold.
Make it clear that you are looking for a specific person
Remember, one of the keys to marketing is making your business, uh, personal (good name for a blog, eh?) That is, positioning your products and services so the prospect sees your marketing and thinks “that’s for me”, rather than the norm: you chasing prospects all over creation and throwing money at them.
The same goes for getting referrals.
For example: “I’m looking for people who know that half of their marketing is working, but they aren’t sure which half.”, or “I’m looking for people who want to invest in single family home rental properties.” (note that I didn’t say “I’m looking for investors” – that could be ANYONE), or “I’m looking for owners of small retail or service businesses who are struggling to stay in the black, are about to give up and dread the thought of abandoning their dream to look for a job.”
If you think of “investors”, whose face do you see in your mind? Warren Buffett? Wall Street guys? Everyone in the U.S.?
If you think of “people who want to invest in single family home rental properties”, several people’s faces jump immediately to my mind. Local people that I know.
If you think of “local businessperson who owns a small retail or service business that is struggling”, and a friend’s face comes to mind – I’d be grateful if you suggested that they contact me. That’s the type of person I like to help turn things around so they don’t have to give up and get a job.
See how easy that was?
Ask for the referral and make it easy to give.
Not all referrals are alike. In some cases, you can give a free sample, but not always. One of my e-commerce businesses has a special offer where we offer a gift from our client for 3 of their friends. It’s an introduction to us, with a free sample product just like the one they bought, mailed in a bulky, lumpy envelope addressed and stamped in a manner that we know will get it opened. Because we send it by mail, so the client has to provide their address for their friends’. We also send them an extra one to give out in person. We’ve gotten a landslide of referrals this way. Our clients don’t have to mail anything, or make a trip to the post office. We handle it for them and they get the fun of a thank you from their friend for the gift in the mail. Everyone likes a surprise in the mail – especially if it isn’t a bill:)
Choose the right clients.
Look at your testimonials. It will be obvious from them which clients are prime candidates to ask for referrals.
Ask – and carefully select the right time.
A critical aspect of getting great testimonials is getting them at the right time. The same care is necessary when asking for a referral. You can’t contact a customer for a referral when you haven’t been in touch with them in 3 years. It doesn’t make sense to your customer. One more reason to keep in constant, regular contact with a newsletter.
Ask partners to mention you to the clients who trust them.
If a Realtor tells me that they use a certain title company “just because that’s who we use”, I may or may not care. And it’s my choice, ultimately.
On the other hand, if they tell me that they use a certain title company because they’ve done 7,127 transactions with them over the last 15 years and never had any problems with title insurance, closing, escrow, etc, AND they tell me that they dare not use anyone else with their own closings, isn’t that far more likely to get my attention?
In every business, there are partners like this. Perhaps direct revenue sharing isn’t involved, but so what? It’s one more way to tell the client that you are looking out for their best interest – by guiding them to the vendor YOU would use if you were closing a property.
If an electrician refers me to a plumber for the right reasons, and I trust the electrician implicitly, wouldn’t I be nuts to choose a plumber out of the Yellow Pages? Of course.
Remind your client that you will treat their friend as great as you treat them. Remind them that you will not abuse the privacy of their friend. Your client is taking a big step by referring you to their friend, family member or business associate. Their reputation is on the line. Don’t even think about screwing that up – and let them know that you are fully aware of the risk they are taking. Explain what will happen after they refer – and what won’t happen.
Show them it’s ok.
Make it known that you want referrals by showing your clients them that others are referring business to you. In your newsletter, and on your website, list the clients who have referred the most new clients in the last month and publicly thank them for investing in your future.
Rewards are ok.
Back in the Granite Bear days, we gave clients an extra 60 days of support (by bumping their expiration date) if they referred a new client to us who bought the software. We made it clear to everyone when someone did this, and when they did it enough times to gain them a free year of support. We mentioned it in our email news, and in the print newsletter. Every once in a while, we’d send the frequent referrers something special from Montana, like huckleberry jam or what not.
You should be thanking your referrals. Every time. A card. A hand-written note. A box of Omaha Steaks. Some huck jam. Something special. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but you shouldn’t be a tightwad about it, especially with the best referrers. Remind them regularly that you appreciate what they do for you. Find a way to let the rest of your clients know that you’re extra nice to those folks.
Famous New York retailer Murray Raphael says “treat all of your customers the same, but reward them differently”. In other words, make everyone’s experience great, and be sure that those who take extra good care of you are rewarded appropriately for it.
Make it easy to refer people.
If I have to call your office, sit on hold for 5 minutes, read the address 3 times because you can’t spell (or I mumble) and stand on my head while doing so, you aren’t making it easy and it probably isn’t going to happen. Produce a card specifically designed for referrals. Make sure the card has a way of identifying who referred the new client. Make sure the card makes an offer, and isn’t just a lame newspaper ad with your company name at the top and your phone number. Add a perforated segment to your card that can be torn off and given to a prospect by your client. Include inserts in your newsletter that clients can hand out to a friend. Have “Bring a friend” days/services/offers that reward your clients (and their friends) for visiting your business together. Have a special “Thank You” “insider” seminar for your best referrals and best clients sometime during the year and remind them that they can bring a guest. If your best clients are scattered all over the planet, add a session like this at your trade show appearances, hold teleseminars for them, etc.
Be good. Be so damned good they just cant stop telling people.
Make the experience of working with you so amazing that people can’t wait to tell their friends about what you did for them.
Think Disney. Think back to my story about the Carnival waiter. Think about the last repair guy that visited your home. Think about the last person you bought a car, a house or a mortgage from.
Which are you most like? Why would you go back to these people, or not go back?
Can you say the same about your business? Are you delivering the Disney / Carnival / Nordstrom’s kind of “Wow” ?