Every business relies on a strong referral system to grow. The best referral source is often right in front of us, with the people we serve every day: our loyal customer base.
There are several steps we can take to fuel this engine without compromising the quality of service we deliver to our current clients.
First and foremost, we have to deliver for our clients, consistently and for a long enough period of time that they know our excellent service is the standard for how we engage. Without a solid track record of strong trust and dependability, customers won’t risk referring us to their valuable network.
Beyond this obvious requirement, there are several other ways to engage our customers as loyal advocates. I consulted with Bill Cates, President and CEO of Referral Coach International, for the best practices of generating solid referrals. Cates is the author of three best sellers on referrals: “Get More Referrals Now,” “Beyond Referrals,” and “Don’t Keep Me a Secret.”
Bill has built a career and thriving business advising thousands of businesses on how to generate the best referrals, and then convert them into sales. He shared these tips:
- Establish a Personal Connection.
People do business with those that they like and trust. They refer others that they know, like and trust. Our clients will refer us because they know we are invested in their personal and professional success, and that we fully have their backs.
- Enroll Your Customers in Your Vision.
Clients want to see themselves in us. They want to know that we are passionate about building our own businesses, and will enjoy the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at our operations. They will also embrace the opportunity to help us.
- Educate Your Customers.
Teach your clients who you serve. “One reason clients don’t make introductions is that they don’t know who to send your way; who you serve the best and how to recognize someone who should at least know about you,” said Cates. “Teach your clients. Never take this for granted.”
- Equip Them with the Right Messaging.
Often, clients or business associates want to refer us but don’t know quite what to say. By providing them talking points to share with others, they will confidently position you as someone their network should know.
- Reassure Them of a Warm Handoff.
The worst thing that you can do when someone refers you – especially a client – is to drop the ball and do nothing. People who are going out on a limb to recommend you must feel safe in doing so. It’s a poor reflection on the person making a referral if no one follows up.
Bill also encourages us to ask for introductions. I do this when my client (or anyone in my network) is connected to someone specific that I want to know.
Prior to making this “ask,” I do my homework to ensure I can clearly communicate why I want to be connected. I make it as easy as possible for my colleague to be comfortable with connecting me, and I ensure they fully understand the value I will bring to this connection.
Referrals are one of the most effective strategies for growing our businesses – if we set up our referral source for success, and we treat the referral with the respect they deserve. When people fail to follow up on a referral, or extend appropriate appreciation to those referring us, this highly lucrative source of business development may very well dry up.
Like any relationship, referrals require care and feeding to grow. When we nurture them, their potential and benefit will exceed our efforts, and deliver a great ROI. Good luck!