Referrals - The 3 Step Plan Every Business Owner Needs to Know

Referral Engine Marketing Next to selling more to your current clients, referral marketing is the easiest sale of all. But most small business owners approach it as though it’s rain falling from the sky—they have no control over referrals, they just hope it comes when they need it.

Hope is not a strategy…

If you want more referrals, the good news is that they are just 3 simple steps away…

Step 1. Ask for referrals!

Ok, I know that seems a little simplistic (and it is…we’ll talk about how to ask in a moment) but seriously, if you want more referrals, ASK!

The trick is in knowing how to ask. For most of the business owners I work with there are four barriers to getting more referrals.

The Barriers to Getting Referrals

1. You’re uncomfortable asking for referrals (for some people it not discomfort…it’s downright fear). It’s OK. In fact it’s totally normal to be uncomfortable…even afraid to ask for referrals.

You don’t want to offend your client by begging for more business after you’ve already taken their money, right? I mean, really…it’s like saying you’re just not enough for me, I need more.

If you feel that way about asking for referrals you are far from alone. But your fears are unfounded. In his latest book Referral Engine, John Jantsch shares research that proves we humans are “wired to refer.”

If you think about it, sending someone you care about to a great resource makes YOU feel good and makes you valuable to the other person. It’s a win-win. So your clients need to refer you.

By referring you to others your clients confirm their decision to use you in their own minds. You can actually increase client satisfaction by asking for referrals.

2. You don’t know how to ask. The words you use when you ask for a referral matter greatly. Use the wrong words and you sound selfish, sleezy or worse…desperate.

As I coach business owners to get more referrals, the easiest way I’ve found is to simply ask your clients for introductions.

And be specific about who you want to be introduced to…name names if you can. (I’ll talk about the importance of being specific in a moment.)

3. You don’t know when to ask. Timing is everything. Should you ask at the moment the ink dries on the contract, at the end of the project or somewhere in between?

One of my clients makes a habit of asking anytime a client thanks him for his work. It goes something like this:

Client: “Thank you so much for taking care of this for me…”

You: “You’re welcome. I’m glad you feel good about our work together. Tell me, do you know just one friend or colleague who might need my help too?”

Client: “Yes…my friend Mary.”

You: “I’d love to help Mary if I can. Would you please introduce us?”

Client: “Absolutely!”

Simple…and not at all sleezy.

In my experience there is no one best time to ask for referrals. Ask when the ink dries, because a referral here can boost client retention and stave off buyer’s remorse.

Ask again whenever the client praises you (if they’re praising you daily don’t ask daily…but you could certainly ask monthly without being a pest, if you do it the right way).

4. You don’t have a system for asking for referrals. This is where most businesses fail in referral marketing. They just sit back and expect referrals to show up. Some will, but you’re leaving big heaping piles of cash on the table if you’re not stimulating referrals.

You’ve got to create a system to get referrals, to track referrals, to reward clients who refer and to follow-up with the referrals you receive.

Step 2. Be Specific When You Ask For Introductions

I don’t know Someone or Anyone and neither do your clients. Most of the time when I ask business owners to tell me who would be a good lead for them (and I ask it of just about everyone I meet) I get an answer like this…

“Anyone who has a home really…” or

“Everyone with a car is a prospect for me…” or

“Someone looking to be healthy…”

Sounds absurd when you read it. And it makes it almost impossible for me to refer to you. You have now put the work of identifying your prospects onto me. I hate to tell you, but I’ve got enough to do and I’m not doing your work.

You must make it easy for clients to refer you. Do all of the leg work for them. Then use them to do the one thing you really need…introduce you.

Here’s what I use…

The Top 10 List

My friend and mentor Greta Schulz taught me this trick. I keep a list of the Top 10 people, companies or professions I want to meet. I list them on a one-pager and include my contact information and a short sentence or two about how to introduce me.

You can download a copy of my Top 10 List Networking Template and use it for yourself.

When I meet with strategic alliances or when I ask clients for introductions I simply ask if I can share a list of people I’m looking to get introduced to.

They always say yes…then I give them a copy of my Top 10 List and ask if they know anyone on the list.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll get introduced to the 10 people on your list. Then you add another 10 and off you go.

I used this technique when I moved to Tallahassee, Florida in 2007. I knew 2 people in the business community. In just 12 months I was “plugged in” and all of the key people I needed to meet were in my network.

And the best part is that you’ll look like a networking rock star when you use this one little tool. People will ask if they can copy it (and you’ll always say “Of course!”)

One little ninja trick: Ask the other person for their Top 10 List so you can help them get introduced to people you may know.

They’ll fall all over themselves thanking you. Unfortunately, only 1 in 100 will ever send you anything.

So make your list today!

Do Some “Reverse Prospecting”

This is a master technique, that’s so simple, but no one does it. Call one of your closest allies (someone who you have a solid relationship with) and invite them to lunch. Let them know that you want to refer more business back and forth.

Then ask them to bring their client and prospect lists. You take yours.

When you get to lunch swap lists. You check their list for prospects and they check yours. Then agree to make the introductions within a week of your lunch.

Sometimes that’s all you need to create a flood of referrals.

Step 3. Follow-up Quickly

Referrals get stale faster than a carton of milk from the gas-station convenience store.

Commit to following up immediately with every referral. It shows respect for the person who gave you the referral and it serves the person you’re being referred to.

I like phone calls better than emails. They’re more personal and your goal is to build a relationship.

Send a thank you note to the person who referred you.

If you end up doing business, send the referrer a gift. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but sending something will go a long way towards getting more referrals from that person.

Here’s your assignment:

1. Decide how and when you are going to ask for referrals. Write down your plan in 2-3 sentences. Having it on paper will help you stick to it. Write out the words you’re going to use to ask for introductions. Then practice with a friend, you spouse or your dog. The point is to get comfortable with the words you’ll use before you’re in front of a client. Once you’ve decided when to ask. Add it to your checklist at that part of your sales process.

2. Make Your Top 10 List. Download my Networking Top 10 List template and edit it to be your own. This one step will take you less than an hour and will set you apart from every other business in your area. Just do it.

3. Write your follow-up system. Write down the steps you’ll take to follow-up with each and every referral. Make a checklist and don’t forget to take care of the people who refer you.

Do you need more referrals and don’t know where to start? That’s why I created the Get More Clients System. To help business owners and entrepreneurs get all the clients they need to sleep like a baby every night…without worrying about how to make payroll next week. To learn more, request a Get Acquainted Session.

To your success!

Small Business Marketing Consultant Steve Gordon