Referrals: The Secret to Building a Sustainable Business (Part 1 of 3)
During times of economic uncertainty, sustaining your business may be challenging. Weather you are an agent in a large call center operation or a small business owner, you are likely seeking ways to create new business or retain the customers you currently serve. Referrals for new business are very valuable.
The first step is to understand why people might refer others to you. It’s probably not because you have a slick brochure or a funny advertisement. It’s not because you send them Christmas cards every year. People refer others because they find what you do to be valuable and believe your services can enhance the lives of others they know. In other words, people refer those that they know, like, and trust will complete the task at hand.
With that in mind, here are some strategies to develop referral relationships.
- Target specific people. Look at where your current business and referrals are coming from. Now, what characteristics do those people have in common? Maybe they’re all from the same industry or do a certain type of work. Those are the people you want to focus on.
- Uncover why they refer you. Once you have uncovered a group of people with specific characteristics, ask them why they choose you as their preferred provider. What benefits do you offer them that are above and beyond what others are offering? This is important because you need to be able to differentiate yourself from other businesses or sales people. Simply focusing on how long you have been doing it, where you went to school or which company you work for is not enough. You have to uncover a particular problem they have and why they choose to refer others to you rather than your competitors.
- Meet people. Yes, it’s obvious, but people refer those whom they have met and like. How many times have you given a referral to someone you have only heard about or received a letter from? Now, think about who you do give referrals to – you have probably met them, like them, and know they can get the job done. You are reasonably comfortable that if you refer your family, friends, or clients to them, you won’t be embarrassed by shoddy service.
How To Meet People
- Make a list of people you’d like to meet. Chances are that you already know of a few companies that you’d like to work with. Make a folder for each and start collecting any information you find about the person or company.
- Ask colleagues to introduce you. Take note of any of your colleagues who may know people within the company and ask if they might introduce you. Keep your eyes open for anyone you might meet – do they have contacts you could use?
- Use Social Media. Update your profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site you frequent. Use your connections to help you connect with the people you want to meet. Choose web conferences, trade events, and other outings where you are likely to meet people that have clients who could refer your services.
- Hold seminars or speaking engagements. One of the best ways to demonstrate your credibility by speaking about a topic your target audience is concerned about. Invite the people you’d like to get to know to attend.
Advice for Getting Referrals
- Don’t talk about yourself. When you finally are introduced to someone, talk about their business, not what you can do for them. Always keep the conversation focused on them and learn as much as you can about their interests, motivations, and concerns.
- Make it worth their while. Just like you, other people are looking for referrals for their own business. Whenever you meet someone, ask them who would make a good referral for them. Then refer someone. The best way to demonstrate that you care about this person’s well being is to help them first. Give first and without expectation and don’t keep score.
- Offer something in return. Is Refer-a-Friend an opportunity for you to gain referrals? How much money might someone earn by making referrals to you? What would the person do with the money they earned by making referrals? Other things might be as simple as a thank you note. Or a special offer to their clients only. Or even a gift certificate to their favorite coffee shop or restaurant.
- Keep in touch regularly. Whenever you see an article about that person or their company in the local business paper, call or write them about the article. If you see an article they’d be interested in, send them a copy. It’s important to nurture the relationship even if they haven’t referred anyone to you just yet.
Like any successful marketing system, setting up a referral system will initially take time and effort on your part. Once you incorporate these basic practices on a regular basis, you should start reaping the benefits.
Check back on Friday, Dec 9 for more information about Building a Sustainable Business through Referrals.