Get Referrals

by Marcia Hoeck
I love referrals. Having my phone ring—with a pre-qualified new client on the other end of the line, asking if they can work with me—is the sweetest sound on earth. I don’t have to convince the person that I’m a valuable resource. I don’t have to “sell” them anything. I don’t have to explain what I do, spend money on marketing, or defend my pricing. They came to me, ready to sign on the dotted line. Referrals are magical that way.

Of course, you know that referrals don’t just happen out of the blue. They aren’t that magical. There are four critical pieces you need to have in place first, in order to get them.

Piece #1: You Need to Have a Consistently Great Product and/or Service
I can hear you now, saying, “That’s a no-brainer, Marcia, geeze.” Of course you know this. Just keep it in mind—it has to be great, and it has to be consistently great. No one refers anyone who doesn’t have a consistently great product and/or service.

Piece #2: You Need to Have a Rock-Solid Reputation for Really Taking Care of People, and Doing What You Say You’ll Do
Did you ever sign up for something because the promotion was so good, only to be let down by the actual service? Me too. As soon as my check had cleared the bank, the person I so excitedly signed up with was gone, leaving me with their assistant, while they went off to make another sale. Do you think I whole-heartedly refer them? No. I don’t.

The tricky thing about referrals is that they reflect on the person giving them. That means that if Important Client A refers you to his colleague and you’re having an off day, and Client A’s colleague gets some of your not-so-great service, he’ll tell Client A, and Client A will feel like a schmuck for referring you. Do you think he’ll refer you again? Nah. He won’t. Now you’ve got two clients ticked off at you – and while they might not tell you, they’ll tell others.

Piece #3: Your Clients Need to Really Trust You
Referrals imply a huge feeling of trust—huge. The referrer wants to look good by referring you. He wants to know you’ll take care of the person he’s referring, and he also wants to know you’ll still have time for him. Many people want to keep their best partners a secret, and won’t refer for fear of the partner growing too busy and abandoning them.

Piece #4: You Need to Be Asking Regularly
Your clients aren’t mind readers. If you don’t ask, chances are they aren’t referring you. Many of them assume you’re so busy you don’t want referrals (yes, they really do assume this). Others don’t know how to describe what you do. And the rest are so busy with their own concerns, they’re just not thinking of you at all.

Keeping your focus on cultivating client referrals is the best way to get them, and just a few small tweeks ought to get you there.

mouth whispering to an ear

The referrer wants to look good by referring you. They want to know you’ll take care of the person they’re referring, and also want to know you’ll still have time for them.

Quick Tips
1. Never take your clients for granted. Always treat them as if they’re referral generators—because they are.

2. Tell your clients that your business grows through word of mouth, and you’d love their referrals.

3. Always assure your clients that you’ll be there for them no matter how many clients you add or how big you grow. (Of course, you have a plan for this, right?)

4. The best time to ask for referrals is after a slam-dunk, when you’ve just made a client happy and they’re telling you so. But you can also use “client appreciation” lunches or coffee dates to ask for referrals.

5. Create a cheat sheet to arm clients with written information about your business in easy-to-share language they can use when talking about you. Include information about the type of clients you’re looking for, and give them a short stack of your business cards.

Dig Deeper!
If you’re into research and quantification, Fred Reichheld wrote an excellent book on this subject called The Ultimate Question. Extensive research was undertaken by Reichheld’s firm, Bain & Company, involving this one question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?” Surveys allowed companies to measure the organization’s performance through its customers’ eyes, and in industry after industry, this one question is the single most reliable indicator of a company’s ability to grow.

Bonus: You can also use Reichheld’s methods to help your clients gauge customer satisfaction in their organizations. They’ll think you’re a genius, trust me.

4 thoughts on “Get Referrals

  1. Ilise Benun

    Thanks, Marcia, for an excellent post. I don’t recommend relying on referrals to build a business because you have so little control over who gets referred and when. And because word-of-mouth is one of those mysteriously vague concepts. But I like how you’ve articulated its underpinnings. That’s helpful.

  2. Marcia Hoeck

    Oh, thanks Ilise! I think this stuff is important. I used to wonder if I was getting referrals from my clients — and found out I wasn’t, when I asked. That’s why I dug into this for my own company and started helping my clients to refer me.

    I had several tell me they assumed I didn’t want referrals, and was too busy for new clients. A few of them also squirmed at the idea, not wanting to get left behind in the inevitable stampede when I got inundated with new clients.

    Clients are sometimes funny creatures and require special care and feeding!


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