If you aren’t using a referral strategy in your organisation, you may be missing out on a powerful channel that can drive new business and strengthen the relationships you have with your customers.
Referrals and recommendations are proof points that build up your business and brand credibility. When people are considering a new service provider, seeking a new restaurant to eat at or which hotel to stay at, it is not uncommon to ask others for recommendations.
Today, both social media and a quick google search is incredibly powerful to the consumer who wants to trust in a product or service and be influenced by the thoughts of others. The likes of Google My Business, forums and other comparison sites are creating perceptions of how your product or service stacks up. But what can a company do to grasp the powerful nature of recommendations to drive growth?
This article looks at how service based businesses can proactively look for and ask for referrals in a personal approach.
Developing a referral mindset
For more than eight years, I was a business development and marketing manager in our printing company. I was great at my job, built fantastic relationships with an extensive network of happy customers. I worked hard, and went above and beyond to deliver goods on time, and a service beyond their expectations.
Our business had huge growth potential that we weren’t tapping into. You see 80% of our revenue came from 20% of our client base. And from an account management perspective this seems great, right? So easy to manage. But to sustain and grow the business we needed to do more. We had two options; to generate more business (sales) from the remaining 80% of our client base and to actively seek new business.
We were marketing on a shoestring so to get new business, we needed a way to reach a wider audience without the huge spend. We needed to build a referral base and a strategy to go with it.
But there was one thing standing in my way. I was apprehensive to ask for a referral. I was fearful that my client might say that our service or product wasn’t up to scratch, or they’d feel uncomfortable to refer and recommend. It was during a training session about driving more sales that I had one of those ‘aha’ moments. I realised that the only thing standing between me and more business, was me.
I needed to develop a referral mindset for growth.
So here is what I learnt. I had to start believing in myself and stop worrying about what people might say or think. And most of all, I had to stop waiting for referrals to come to me. You see, if you believe you offer a great, responsive service, provide a great customer experience or have a product that really knocks people’s socks off, there shouldn’t be anything standing in your way.
Ninety percent of the customers I approached had a positive reaction when I suggested or even asked for a referral. Those that did say ‘no’ had an excuse, more related to the fact they couldn’t be seen as giving preferential treatment to one supplier over another. Was that the end of the world? No. What did I have to lose, nothing. I still had their business.
Manage the confidence hurdle by pulling up your socks and approaching the task of requesting referrals as a challenge. What will your capacity for growth be?
Speak to any BDM or outbound sales rep and they will tell you it’s a numbers game when it comes to picking up the phone and making those calls or knocking on those doors. So when it comes to referrals, you need to do the same, step up when you see the opportunity and ask.
Do they realise your worth?
The key to asking for referrals is to exceed client expectations, but you must let them know you have done so!
How often do you supply a product or service with that little extra. Do your customers appreciate it? Were they expecting it? It’s time to call out the little touches of magic you made or the lengths you’ve gone to deliver an outstanding product or service.
I was exhibiting at an event in Sydney. In the lead up to the event, our regular large format supplier (based in Brisbane) was building our exhibit. As usual, everything was on track and the display was freighted ahead of time earlier in the week. Bump-in was scheduled for that Saturday afternoon. Before I flew to Sydney on Saturday morning, I called my account manager to check they were on track for install. I soon learnt they’d been operating in a world of chaos, and I didn’t even know.
You see, early Friday morning they tracked the consignment and discovered it was lost. Many a company would blame the couriers and say it was out of their control. But not this company. They pulled all stops to rebuild and reprint our display in one day and night. And most unexpectedly, when I called on the Saturday they had already loaded their utility and were enroute to the venue in Sydney – some 10 hours away.
I was so grateful. They went above and beyond to help me avoid an embarrassing situation for our company. And if I hadn’t made that call, I may never have known the lengths they went to. As a result, I thanked them publically and sent them a gift to show our appreciation.
Now I tell this story, because there are those of us that have the mindset to call out, recommend or refer someone when overjoyed with a person or company’s delivery of service. But I ask you this, how many great opportunities go missed by your clients who aren’t aware of the lengths you’ve gone to provide the service you do?
Getting your customers in a referral mindset
Exceeding their expectations or having a client recognise the real value and benefit of working with you doesn’t always translate into active referrals. It’s not to say they don’t care, they just have their own priorities and thinking about you is not high on their list. So you need to remind your clients that you are referable.
Here are a couple of ways you do that:
If a client expresses appreciation for your service, ask them not to keep you a secret. Let them know you would be happy to assist any of their colleagues or friends in just the same way.
If you have a prospect that is looking for someone to vouch for your service, take this opportunity to call your client and ask them if they would be kind to do this. This will create two opportunities for you at the very least. Your client will start to think about your work, product or service and what it’s meant for them and it keeps you top of mind when it comes to referrals and recommendations.
Become highly referable
There are many ways to become highly referable, and for each industry the reasons around your product or service will be different. But commonly what will make you referable is the fact you can be reliable, you keep your promises and you are trustworthy. Note, this is applicable to you as a person, your company and your brand.
Asking for referrals
The process of asking for referrals should start early on in the piece. Set expectations of service and communicate how important referrals are to your business. This creates a platform to ask for referrals in the future.
By understanding what a customer expects, you can also identify ways to do an even better job and provide an even better service. When you believe you’ve done so, ask if they would be willing to recommend you to others.
The key here is to only ask for a referral or even a recommendation when you have truly added value or delivered beyond their expectation. And to do so when the relationship between you and your customer is outstanding. When they trust and respect you they should have no hesitation to refer you to someone else.
Show your appreciation
It’s time to hug your customers. Show them how grateful you are for their referral or recommendation. I like to reward referrer with a gift as a token of appreciation. What to give your referrer very much depends on that person. If you have taken the time to build a relationship with this person and understand what they treasure, then you’ll have figured out what that perfect gift is. Be sure to personalise any gift with a note to reinforce how grateful you are for the referral.
Stay in touch with the referrer and let them know how things turned out. Now this isn’t a blow by blow account of the work you are doing for the new client, but the referrer is likely to be interested in the relationship that is building. Keeping a dialogue open gives you further opportunity to stay top of mind with your referrer and to encourage more referrals.
The path to referrals can be a two-way street. You’ve taken the time to build a relationship, the best most considerate way of showing your appreciation is to refer someone back. Take note, find out who is worth referring to your client. Simply ask them “how would I identify that someone was the right person or company to refer to you?”
So if referrals aren’t the lifeblood of your organisation, what are you going to do today to start the conversation?
Image credit: Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash