Paul Sylvestre's Business Strategy and Marketing Blog

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Get those Referrals

I once had a sales coach who reminded me to always ask for referrals after a meeting with a prospect. It's a great suggestion, and it doesn't really hurt to ask, but I knew that most times this would be a Hail Mary pass. That is, chances were slim that after just one or two meetings, the prospect would be comfortable enough to recommend you to someone else, let alone give you the names of some of their most trusted contacts.

So what does motivate someone to give you a referral? In a word, it is trust. But more specifically, according to John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, "People refer businesses, services, products, people, movies, barbers - you name it - if it makes them look and feel good."

So to get quality referrals on a regular basis, it's going to take some planning. And you are going to need a few things first. Namely:
  • A product or service that delivers measurable value. This almost goes without saying. People are more likely to refer you if you delivered something of significant value to them. If you didn't, what's the point of them giving you a referral? In their eyes you can't do anything for their contacts.
  • A reputation of meeting or exceeding expectations. People want to feel that the people they refer you to will, if they buy, have a great experience like they did. No one wants to be the source of a bad experience. It makes them look bad too.
  • Time spent building close relationships and trust with those whom you would eventually want a referral from.
With that said, here are some pointers that will increase your chances of getting those referrals.

1. Identify those people (most often your customers or strategic partners) who have a good network within your industry and with whom you have the potential to develop a close professional relationship. Building relationships takes time and energy. You can only focus effectively on a limited number of these, and it should be those that will give you the biggest return.

2. Don't force it. Remember, relationships are a two-way street. They have to be open to it as much as you.

3. Make it a point of having regular contact with your referral network. Make sure that the product or service you sold them is delivering the value promised. If it isn't, fix it. If it is, make an effort to quantify the value, and put it in writing. Not only will this show them your commitment to their success and help solidify your relationship, but the exercise makes for a great personal case study and sows the seeds for future sell-up opportunities.

4. Get to know the people in your referral network at a deeper level; both professionally and personally. What are their goals? How can you help them outside of the product or service you sold? I've had Customers act as professional references and actually go out of their way to help me find a new job. Why? Because over time I earned their respect on a personal level. I helped them achieve their personal career goals and they wanted to repay me in kind.

5. When you think the time is right, ASK for referrals. Don't feel you need to wait for them to offer.

6. Keep the process going. People notice right away if you only contact them when you want something, and are much less inclined to help when you are not investing in the relationship.

These are obvious suggestions to most, but many people don't follow these basic principles. It's understandable. Anything that takes time and energy, and which doesn't have a short term return, can be difficult to maintain. A suggestion: make this a process and commit to it for at least 6 months. Write down your key referral contacts and put it up on your wall where you can't miss it. Then, start off by giving. Once every month or so, review your list to see how each of your relationships are developing, and take action where necessary.

Putting in a little extra effort now will pay off big in the future.