Buy Local Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships Leadership Setting Expectations Small Business

Your referrals leave an impression

Recently, I received an email from someone who described a rather unpleasant home improvement job, which involved the purchase of materials and a subsequent installation of them. We like these things to be boring – meaning everything went smoothly with no drama.

This one doesn’t appear to be turning out that way.

When I say rather unpleasant, the job describing to me included the theft of building materials by a contractor who was referred by the company where the materials were purchased. They also described bill padding on two occasions by the contractor, once for materials, and once for the labor. I’m told the referring supplier reimbursed the customer for the stolen materials, and that the contractor first offered to reimburse for the padded bills and then disappeared.

A few things about this merit discussion: First, there’s probably more to the story. Second, these situations almost always leave clues before bad things happen. Finally, this is really about how much care are you (the business owner) take when you refer someone to help your clients.

Do no legal ties mean no responsibility?

Referrals made in these situations are typically made to businesses with no legal ties to the referring business. You can understand why a referring business would make a point of distancing themselves legally from the folks they refer, but *does the lack of a legal connection matter to the consumer*?

Only legally, if that. And only until you establish a pattern of referring people to your clients regardless of how the referred vendor performs. The corporate line will almost certainly be one of maintaining that legal separation and that the consumer must be responsible for selecting a contractor.

The thing is, if you are going to go to the trouble of referring someone, why do it poorly and without conviction?

Taking the wimpy, “no legal connection” angle is not how you make business personal. I understand that there’s a desire to avoid burdening the corporate parent with the possibly sketchy behavior of a local contractor. What I don’t get is why you would recruit and refer contractors with so little care that it’s simply a matter of time before you run into trouble.

Even if there’s no business relationship and no legal responsibility accepted by the referring company, only a fool would believe that a referral doesn’t reflect on the one who makes it. So why do it poorly?

Why not refer well?

The smart business who makes these referrals will recruit, select and refer contractors that are so good that they leave the kind of impression that you can’t wait to refer them to your clients. Help your customers choose by giving them the tools they need to choose the best contractor from your vetted list of referrals.

The smart business who makes these referrals won’t stop there. They’ll follow up with every referral after the job, perhaps during each job until they’ve developed a level of confidence in the contractors they refer. It isn’t enough to recruit and select well – you have to keep it up. These people represent you whether you like it or not. Make sure they do it well and make sure they understand the importance of the work you’re sending to them.

The consumer bears the burden too

Part of the story that I left out up to now is that the referred contractor asked the customer if they could pay in cash because of some irrelevant reason.

If you (the consumer) don’t immediately disqualify a contractor who asks this question, you shouldn’t be surprised if (when) you have problems with them. In this case, that’s what happened. I told the consumer that this should have been a red flag to expect trouble.

When I get this question, I ask myself what else they want to skip.

Will they skip work that would result in dangerous construction? Will they skip town with my money? Will they skip town with materials? What else might they do while having access to my home or business? Did they skip buying insurance? What else did they shortcut?

The smart business will remind their clients that while working this might save you a few bucks, it might also cost them a lot.

The quality of your referrals matters. Make sure they’re worth giving.

Competition Customer relationships Direct Marketing Internet marketing Marketing Positioning Public Relations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Throw The Fastball

I get a fairly steady flow of referrals and hope you’ve done at least some of what I’ve suggested so you can get them too.

Sometimes folks looking for pretty specific gigs are referred to me as well.

I appreciate these referrals as much as the “Hey, this business needs your help” kind.

Who are you?

When I send someone to help a business owner, it has to be a good fit. On rare occasions, people are sent to me that I don’t know. In those cases, it’s tough to refer them unless I can find them online and learn about them and their work. Remember, my reputation is on the line with the referral as much as anyone’s.

Imagine these possible scenarios…

  • I get an email asking for a referral as a writer, yet the email is terribly written.
  • I get a voice mail touting their skills in sales, yet the voice mail struggles to sell me on calling them back.
  • I get an email asking for website building work, yet they include a link to a website that looks like it was built in 1998.
  • I can’t find them on Google.
  • I’ve never heard of them or their work.

Those situations are extremely rare, but as you probably figured…there’s a point to all this.

Picking at it

Point being – It’s not much different than what you face when talking with a prospect.

Without a referral, they don’t know you from Adam (or Eve).

Until you pick up the phone, email them, send a mail piece or (horrors!) stand face to face with them, all you can depend on is your word-of-mouth reputation and what search engines tell them is all they have.

Let’s go back over that list again from that viewpoint:

  • They get an email from you, yet your email is terribly written.
  • They get a voice mail from you that struggles to address their question/need.
  • They can’t find what they need on your website, which looks like it was built in 1998.
  • They can’t find you on Google.
  • They’re not familiar with your work and their friends/co-workers don’t know you.

Is that the first impression you make? And have you Google’d yourself lately?

Chin music

Think about the baseball players in the picture. How does the pitcher make a first impression?

Quite often with a hard inside fastball, close to the batter’s chin.

What makes your first impression? What are you repeatedly doing to build a reputation BEFORE they need you?

By the way, if I sent you the guy in the photo’s front row, third from the left, and you owned a baseball team…you’d be a happy owner. His name is Walter Johnson.