Think about your newer clients. How did you land the clients? Did someone refer them to you? Did they do a search on the Internet and find you? Did they see an ad and respond? Chances are, you've probably met most of your clients through referrals—one of the most effective ways to gain business.
In addition to in-person conversations, another form of referral to rely on is content: email newsletters, blogs, articles. When people like your content, they forward it to others, and your organization's name gets passed along.
To find other ways to build up your client list and increase the amount of referrals you receive, we recommend two books: Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port and C.J. Hayden's Get Clients Now!. Both books mention the techniques covered in this article and much more. While you may be too busy to pick up a book and read it, think of how much it will pay off if you get referrals as a result.
How do I get more referrals?
Our management consulting firm has a great track record. Our clients appreciate our efforts as well as the results and improvements we help them achieve. We get repeat engagements. What we don't get are many referrals. We ask and we get "head nods" but little else. Sometimes, I think that our clients don't want to admit they need help from consultants. Would you ask your readers what strategies they use to get referrals? Do they ask clients for testimonials, letters or phone calls of introduction, or Web site case studies featuring the client? What do they ask for and how?
You have many options for receiving more referrals, but these three are the most reader-recommended approaches:
1. Build a referral program
2. Collect customer testimonials
3. Stay in touch
Build a referral program
Bob Harper of More Software recommends developing a referral program in which only invited clients are privileged enough to pass along referrals:
Do not allow new clients to refer clients for an initial period and only after a case study has been completed. Include a plan of action and systems for passing referrals. Maybe have "referral cards" that are sent out once a quarter. Motivate with value (free reports) and thank your clients for making referrals.
Also, make sure you are not guilty of negative marketing. Do you and your team tell your clients you are "busy"? Subconsciously you could be communicating a different message. If you are busy, then have a slogan when people ask how's business: "Great. We're looking for more."
Another approach is to call clients and ask "Have we upset you?" When they say "No, why?"—explain that they haven't sent a referral this year. This is used by an accountant who has a 1/5 referral rate. The average for the industry is 1/35. That means a client will make a referral once every 35 years!
Many businesses use affiliate programs so others earn a few bucks for selling their products. Though the businesses behind the affiliate programs earn less from affiliate sales, they would be earning zero if they didn't have affiliates doing the referring.
Get more online sales.
Collect customer testimonials
Collecting testimonials from your customers provides a great way to talk about your business—you let your customers do the talking for you. We have testimonials posted on both InternetVIZ and meryl.net Web sites. Knowing that testimonials on some sites don't work, we include a photo, the person's name (full last name, not initial) and the person's company name with the testimonials. If possible, include a link to the business's Web site so prospects can see they're for real.
Marilyn Peskin-Kaufman, marketing partner with Adobe Car & Van Rental and Adobe Shuttle, owns a large locally owned and operated car and van rental business in Tucson. Kaufmann says, "We all know about the 'Big Guys' so I believe it is important to get testimonials from customers. I use the letters in my marketing by keeping them in a nice three-ring notebook and showing them to prospective clients." Having a hard copy of testimonials is a great idea, as your business may find many customers face-to-face rather than online.
Be aware that some testimonials are useless. They say something to the tune of "You're great! Thank you!" This leaves the door wide open to interpretation and doesn't speak to what the person did well. Instead, ask "why do you believe I did a good job?" The answer should create a valuable testimonial.
Stay in touch
When someone asks you, "Who do you recommend to do such-n-such job?" Do you find yourself struggling to remember a name? You probably know someone, but he or she has been out of sight for so long that the person isn't coming to mind. To avoid this happening to your business, stay in touch with current and potential clients.
It could be as simple as sending an email or a postcard, or being more organized and sending an email newsletter on a regular schedule. When MarketingProfs has new articles, it doesn't simply stand by and hope you remember to check the site on a weekly basis. MarketingProfs offers a weekly email newsletter that summarizes all the new articles so you can quickly scan what interests you and then go read them on the Web site. In essence, MarketingProfs saves you time because you don't have to search for what's new and then decide which interests you. It's all in one nice, neat email.
A few hours a week of staying in touch pays many times over. Hey, you can put testimonials in the newsletter and even use it to promote a referral program, if you're willing to open it to everyone. Whatever you do, don't slip the customer's mind—stay in touch.
Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?
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