Generating more referred business is on everyone's wish list. Why, then, are people haphazard about adding action steps to their business that encourages more active client referrals? And what are the best ways to create more consistent referral flow?
Based on my nearly 20 years of experience, I'd like to offer five powerful referral strategies—and precise action steps—that, when used either individually or collectively, can cause a flood of new introductions.
1. Focus on ensuring your colleagues, clients, and customers fully understand all of your products and service offerings
It amazes me how many people the average professional has in his/her active business network, yet how many of those contacts don't truly don't understand all of the professional's product or service offerings.
Don't believe me? All you need to do is show a client or colleague a new product or service offering, and watch for their typical response, "Jeez, I never knew you did that, also!"
For example, if you're a public relations expert, your client may understand that you write and distribute press releases. But they might not know the work involved in distributing that release: assembling the media list, planning the email and phone pitch protocol, sending the release, following up with each pitch, sending supporting materials to editors or producers.
And if your client had a need, for example, to hire you only to build a media list, well... this experience with all of the work you do may now open new opportunities to sell additional services!
Action step: Give colleagues, clients, and customers a glimpse into all of the work required for you to execute a certain service you are now providing to them.
2. Block 15 minutes at the end of each prospect or client meeting to "brainstorm" on the subject of referrals, and communicate this ahead of time with a meeting agenda
Here is another task that everyone engages in that can produce excellent referral-generating traction: Meetings.
While most professionals are experts at holding "meetings" with clients or prospects, many are utter disappointments at holding a meeting with an agenda—let alone one that allots time for the discussion of referrals. Why?
Probably because most professionals are uncomfortable bringing up the subject of referrals with their clients or prospects for fear of damaging the relationship. What a ridiculous fear! Overcome it by learning how to segue into this topic by discussing your visions of growth.
Action step: For every meeting you hold, mail a written agenda ahead of time to your clients or prospects. On the agenda, place an item to discuss the subject of referrals and begin the discussion by sharing your desire to grow your business and serve others.
3. Earn referrals by way of personal (in-person or telephone) introductions—never ask for (nor accept) a person's name or telephone number
It's happened to us all: A close colleague hands you a business card from someone he/she met during lunch. This is a cold introduction. Your colleagues say you should contact this person, who may be interested in working with you.
You are much better to reply, after thanking your colleague for mentioning you, "That's great, Sue. But would you mind contacting her again and seeing if the three of us could have lunch together?"
Personal introductions will always trump cold introductions, and you should strive for this level of commitment from others who express an interest in you. That's not being conceited. It's being respectful.
Action step: Train your colleagues, clients, and prospects that you want personal introductions to others. Always attempt to enlist their help in introducing you, rather than just having them pass along to you a name and telephone number.
4. Seek value "reinforcement statements" from current clients and associates—think of the "Two-Ps": Phrases and Praises
Why is this so important? Because the Two-Ps indicate whether a person is—or is not—happy with your work and whether they have found value in you. How can you ever expect someone to brag about you and consistently recommend you if you are not certain they truly value your skill set?
I'm always surprised by a poor assumption that the average professional makes today: "Since a person is working with me, they must value my work." Wrong. This is not always true. because people are often trying to be polite and are not always candid. So you need to ask and listen for the Two-Ps.
Action step: Ask every client with whom you are working now some simple questions to confirm value reinforcement, and listen for phrases and praises: "John, on a scale of 1 to 10, how have I been doing for you? What do I need to do to earn a 15 from you!?"
5. Focus on becoming better friends and continue to build a relationship with clients, customers, and colleagues by anticipating needs
I have a saying: "Referrals love speed." Essentially what I mean is that referrals and introductions happen more consistently with the more action you take—and the faster you take that action.
Actively share information that the other person finds useful to his/her own life. Provide value to others in their over-hectic, frantic, and stressed world. Doing so creates TOMA: top-of-mind-awareness.
For example, you may be able to offer a suggestion that enables someone to generate more revenue, or share a current competitor's marketing approach that you have noticed. The idea is to become a valued, welcomed partner and share information that helps clients, customers, and colleagues to improve their personal or business lives.
Action step: Categorize all clients, prospects, and colleagues by interest level. Subscribe to trade journals and local newspapers, and make a conscious effort to look for news that would interest them. Reach out with this information frequently.