(Even if You Stink at Asking for Them)
by Ray Silverstein
When it comes to sales tools, few things are more powerful than customer referrals. They’re simple, effective, and absolutely free. We love when referrals come our way. Yet many entrepreneurs are reluctant to actively request them. If you’re one of them, consider this.
Every business relationship can lead to additional relationships. When customers are happy with the products or services you’re providing, that’s a golden referral opportunity. Chances are, those customers would be delighted to refer you, but won’t think of it on their own. They need to be prompted. That’s up to you.
Buyers prefer to deal with companies they know. When that’s not possible, a personal referral increases a buyer’s comfort level with a new vendor. It’s the next best thing.
And it’s not really difficult to request a referral. Often, it’s a matter of seizing an opportunity, or getting into the habit of asking. Here’s 10 ways my PRO peer group members do it.
1. Whenever a customer says something positive about your company, respond with a thank you, followed by a prompt referral request. (One of my PRO members trains all her employees to follow this simple rule.)
2. The quickest way to get referrals is to do a great job. Ask your customers what “great service” means to them. Ask for feedback on your performance. Some PRO members ask informally (say, during a phone call) and some have a formal process in place (like satisfaction surveys). Either way, when they get positive feedback, they use it as a springboard for referrals.
3. It sounds counter-intuitive, but many of my PRO members actively encourage their customers to complain. Complaints give you an opportunity to solve a problem, and picky customers often give the most compelling referrals.
4. Some entrepreneurs make referrals part of their front-end agreement with new customers. As in, “We’re going to work hard to prove ourselves. Once we do, will you give us three referrals in return?” People like go-getters. Be one.
5. Build relationships with people who can provide you with referrals, and return the favor whenever possible. Thanks to social media like LinkedIn and Facebook, it’s easier than ever to build a network of mutually-supportive contacts.
6. Once you’ve got a network, work it. Beyond referrals, offer your contacts support. Share resources and solutions to common business problems. The more you nurture these relationships, the more people will think of you when it’s time to give a referral.
7. Don’t assume your contacts know what you’re looking for in a prospect. Describe your target customer as specifically as possible, and encourage them to do the same.
8. Always carry a few business cards. You never know who you may run into, who they’ll be with, or where conversations may lead. When you meet someone you’d like to connect with, ask if you may call them to set up an appointment.
9. The most effective networkers I know make a point of planning for events. They know they’ll be asked “what’s new?” and “how’s business?” They always have an interesting, upbeat answer ready.
10. What if you’re not comfortable at networking events? One of my PRO members solved this problem by setting specific goals for himself before every event: introducing himself to the speaker…talking to three new people…introducing two contacts to each other.
The bottom line is, you only get referrals when people are happy with the quality of your products or services. All referrals are earned.
But sometimes you do need to ask for them.
Biography: Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.