We all want to grow our businesses. We all want to bring on and work with new clients. And, we don’t want just any clients, we want the right kind of clients. Ones who fit our businesses, who share our values, ones who value our service, ones who pay our bills!
Many of us spend large amounts of our time networking. We meet new people, we look for the potential to build a business relationship. And all being well, we hope that this brings us referrals.
That is a big hope, isn’t it? Its a big hope because referrals are built on trust. Trust that takes time to develop. And, if you are basing your referral marketing strategy on other people doing the work for you, you are basing it on sand.
We all like passive referrals. The kind where the phone rings, and we are told that “So-and-So suggested I call”. They are great. But, they are infrequent and they are passive. What we want to build is a proactive referral network, based on an effective system and process. One which we control.
Getting this right is not complicated, but it does require an understanding of what make people likely to give and accept a referral, and how to set and time the process so what we are asking for a referral at a time where we are most likely to be successful.
Here is my list of the top things to avoid when building a referral network.
1. Failing to ask
The number one reason people in professional services businesses fail to get referrals is that they don’t ask. We don’t want to be seen as pushy or salesy, we don’t have faith in the process, or we simply don’t know how.
These are normal human excuses for not asking, but they are excuses after all. We all know that if you don’t ask you don’t get.
2. Asking at the wrong time
Asking for referrals is all about timing. And, to get this timing right you need to set the scene with your client and sow seeds along the way.
Initially it is imperative that you position yourself as a referral based business in their minds. This means preparing the ground with a client and providing reminders throughout your service delivery that giving referrals is an integral part of your marketing strategy.
Then, and only then, when the ground is set and when you have built a high degree of confidence in your capabilities is it okay to get ready to ask. I say get ready because this is when you prepare your client and avoid putting them on the spot.
The time to ask usually comes after the completion of the work you are doing, or perhaps 2/3 of the way through a big project. This is the time to remind your client that you are going to ask for a referral. Clarify the kind of businesses you are looking to meet, and let them know that next time you speak you would like to ask.
This gives them the opportunity to think about potential referees, and then when you speak again, ask. Building this process into your client delivery should also help overcome the issues associated with (1) above – failing to ask at all.
3. Not defining a good referral
In the point above I mentioned the importance of clarifying the kind of businesses you are interested in meeting. This is vital, and so often overlooked, skirted over or just done plain badly.
Unless our client knows who we are looking to meet, it is really difficult for them to identify they right people to refer, regardless of how much they might want to help. If they have a clear picture of our target client, they will know it when they see it, and be more inclined to let that company know about us.
Don’t forget that no one wants to waste anyone’s time, and if they are not completely sure that the person they are talking to is a good fit for us, they may just not mention us at all.
4. Sending out the wrong message
Being referable is as much about people knowing our ideal target, as it is them understanding what we do. So often I hear people describe themselves in terms of their job title, and rarely in how they help their client base.
If you are guilty of this, and most of us are, take some time to think about what message you give the people that you meet. Do they really understand what it is you do. Do they understand what you do well enough to tell others.
John Jantsch of “Duct Tape Marketing” fame calls this your verbal logo… selling what you do through telling what you do. Its a really nice way to make the point.
If your message doesnt’t work, then your message needs to change. We can’t refer business to someone if we don’t know when to.
5. Failing to differentiate
In a sea of similar looking service providers, being able to explain and demonstrate what makes you different is vital.
If you don’t know what makes you different, then you have some work to do. Being able to demonstrate the specific benefits of your service offering is not enough. Doing a good job is not enough. Being the best price to value proposition is not enough either.
To get to the heart of what really makes you different, start by thinking about what it is that makes you worth talking about. What is it about you that makes you important to your clients and your friends. What is interesting about you, what is worth noticing. As Seth Godin would put it, what is your “Purple Cow”?
Then, ask your best clients and colleagues what they think makes you different and see how the two stack up.
Remember people really don’t talk about boring businesses or people, they don’t talk about everyday businesses or people either. They talk about exceptional people. Those who stand really stand out.
For more on developing yourself, your staff and improving the profitability of your business, please do get in touch. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, use the contact page on my website www.jamesnathan.com or call me on + 44 (0) 7746 831151. Follow me on Twitter at @jamesnathanxp, connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Facebook.
I look forward to being in touch.