Having a satisfied client base is a great thing. For starters, your customers should know you have their backs. They trust you. It takes a while to earn their trust. Your actions always speak louder than your words.
And your word must always be your bond.
Serving your clients well earns you the right to ask for referrals, whether you choose to do so or not. Some of your clients are super at providing referrals, especially if they have a diverse professional network. That way, they aren’t referring you to a competitor. Others aren’t comfortable giving you referrals for one simple reason: they don’t want competitors becoming as successful as you have made them.
So when one of my clients – a company with five divisions whose revenue I had helped quadruple over four years – provided a referral to a competitor, I was surprised. The Owner felt that the competitor wasn’t a true competitor – there were only a few areas of overlap. It was a pretty risky step for my client. I let him know how much I appreciated his business as well as his referral. He trusted me to have his back.
Probably because he knew what, and who, he was sending me into.
The first call at the referral company went very well. We talked industry. We talked trends. We talked about his business. Yes, we even discussed his website, built by an employee who was present at the meeting and who took the discussion fairly well due to all of our mutual respect.
At the second meeting, which was supposed to focus on a drill down of specific business-building issues, the referral company did a “now that I’ve shown you mine, I want you to show me yours.” They started asking specific and personal questions about the business of the company that referred me to them.
Hmmm…. That one really didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t even feel put in the middle of these two allegedly friendly competitors either. I knew there wasn’t going to be a sale –ever. This referral company was digging for information that I wasn’t planning on providing.
I kept the meeting on track. I kept the information pertinent to the referral company. I knew I wouldn’t hear back from this company because I wasn’t giving them the inside scoop on their competitor. And I knew this referral company was planning on stringing out meetings with me only as long as I would cooperate and provide privileged information.
Which I wouldn’t do – because my word is my bond. It’s a core personal value.
Here are five points to keep in mind if you find yourself in this type of situation with referrals:
1) No matter how friendly competitors say they are with each other (even when they are family!), you either have your client’s back or you don’t.
2) Sharing competitive information in the hopes of getting business with a referral company is betrayal of your primary client. Period. No way to pretty up this statement.
3) You need to ask yourself whether you would want to do business with this referral account. Because earning their business may involve throwing many other of your customers under their bus.
4) If it doesn’t sound kosher, it isn’t. Go with your gut. Not every referral company is worth doing business with.
5) You need to decide whether your personal reputation is built on your word being your bond. And what’s involved in upholding your word in the competitive marketplace.
Have you run into a similar situation? Share your stories with me.