Attracting clients through referrals is the most powerful way to build your business. When you are first starting in business, you have to prospect in other ways to get the ball rolling. And some businesses lend themselves more naturally to referral marketing than others. But most salespeople can apply the following seven step method to generating additional contacts for their business.
As you begin to work with a new client, even prior to the client committing to your proposal, communicate that eventually you will be asking for referrals. When you are ready to ask, it will be easier to do so, and it is easier for them to hear your request. Let them know that referrals are a natural outcome of your sales process.
Make sure you have enough time to effectively ask for referrals. While it typically happens at the end of a sales meeting, you don’t want to be rushed. If there isn’t enough time, save it for your next meeting. Always use an agenda to cover your key ideas. The last item on your agenda should be “value discussion”, indicating to you it is time to ask for referrals.
The best way to ask for referrals is to begin by exploring the kind of value you have produced for your client. Even if the client hasn’t yet signed up for your proposal, by defining their needs and making careful recommendations you have already created a tremendous amount of value for the client. “In what ways have I contributed to your business?” Make it a discussion by asking them value questions and contributing to the conversation. In fact, you should make this a habit at the end of every one of your client meetings.
When you shift gears to referrals, establish the importance of this conversation by using a transition question; “I have something important I want to ask you”. Ask if you can discuss ways to bring that value to others. “Would it be okay if we take a moment and brainstorm different people that you know who I can provide similar value for?” We don’t want to ask for referrals and shut up. As in the value discussion, participate in the referral generation to help the client come up with ideas.
If you have an actual name, then suggest it. Otherwise, prepare in advance a number of categories that apply to your client and their industry. What about people from your past job? Is there somebody else in a different division that I should speak with? What about your customers? Distributors? Vendors? Competitors? Who have you discussed this project with?
The number one reason that clients are reluctant to share referrals is they are afraid that you are going to pounce on their friends and family and never let go until they return your call. Tell them your style is always low pressure and that you will back off right away if there is no interest. This shows your client that your approach will be soft and professional.
If your client introduces you to your new prospect, it is much easier to get your calls returned. Many prospects will take the call just out of respect for your client. There are a number of ways to have the client introduce you. Have them write a personal note, call the prospect, or send an email and copy you in. The best way is to have the client set up a meeting for all three of you. You can meet over breakfast or lunch or attend an association dinner meeting together.
Once the client introduces you to your referrals, it is important that you follow up right away. Send out your own email or a package of information as soon as possible to indicate your professionalism and level of service. Follow up with a phone call and suggest a meeting. Keep your initial client in the loop on how progress is going. And thank them for the referral; they are then likely to send you more referrals.