Developing a strong referral network should be one of everyone’s business goals, even if you are a startup in search of funders. This strategy, in theory, lets you to acquire leads that are far more than luke-warm for starters. There’s an art and science to asking for referrals.
Both the quality of referrals, as well as their quantity, is up to you. Not all referrals are equal.
While many of you have implemented the strategy of asking for referral business upon closing a sale or completing a project, you truly do get what you ask for. If you don’t control the process, most of the time the referrals are useless, if not total disasters. You know what this scenario looks like.
You ask your customer for a referral. Or there are certain folks in your network, who have very good intentions and want to help you out, and refer you to other folks within their network. They usually send both of you an introductory email, such as “Babette is someone I feel you really need to meet because of her skill sets and the type of work she does” and leave it at that.
Then you call the referred person. If they don’t blow you off, perhaps they agree to meet you for coffee, or have a phone chat. It’s right up there with blind dating.
Did you ever think that the individual to whom you were referred is put in the same awkward position as you are? They want to honor the individual who decided you two should have that business hook-up. You both don’t want to piss off your referring customer when he/she eventually asks whether or not you two met.
So you both limp along for one or more chats or coffees and fade into each other’s professional sunsets.
What a waste of time.
In the mind of the individual making the original referral, it is up to you both to figure out how you can do business with each other. Because that is what referrals are – to them. They don’t realize that what they think of as referrals is nothing more than glorified luke-warm networking.
So help them out! I educate my customers about what I am looking for, when I ask for a referral or, alternatively, when they offer me an unsolicited referral.
It’s hard to educate your customers when you feel uncomfortable asking for a referral in the first place. If your customer rattles off the contact info while you are with them, or sends you contact info via email, you snatch it up and breathe a sigh of relief. Then you make a huge mis-assumption: that this referral is qualified and ready to do business. With you.
I don’t think so.
It’s awfully difficult to get a qualified referral system working if you don’t take the time to let your customers know how they can help you build your business. Which means you need to tell them your criteria for referral.
How many of you feel confident enough to have that discussion with your customers?
The waters are further muddied if you have been trained to ask prospects for referrals (you know, some question like: “Gee Mr. Prospect, sorry we aren’t able to do business at this time. Do you know of any other companies for whom my products might be appropriate?”). That’s right up there with asking a person who really has no idea who you are, and what you do, to essentially endorse you to one of their colleagues or competitors.
How realistic is that?
My tip to you: Chat with up to 5 of your best customers. Ask them why they value your services. Compare their perspective with yours. Take that key information. Develop a list of criteria which you then provide to customers to guide them when making referrals on your behalf.
Not only will this strategy help your business development goals. It also will strengthen your relationship with your best customers.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. Download her newest White Paper at her Free Resources Page. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools. You can download the first chapter here.