Referral business is the best type of business to earn. Your customer base makes a significant shift to longer term, loyal customers pre-sold on your expertise and credibility in their industry vertical. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Your current and former customers and colleagues become your greatest advocates. You’ve earned their trust and confidence. They, in turn, are comfortable telling their peers about the value you bring to their business tables. Working with you makes a significant, positive difference in their tactical and strategic business outcomes.
Let’s not confuse referral business with repeat business. Repeat business is when your customers re-order or re-up their current contracts. Repeat business may not be due to marketplace differentiation. It may represent “no decision” on the part of current customers. They only are avoiding the hassle of switching to another vendor.
Referral business, on the other hand, comes from specific customers and colleagues who are willing to: a) admit to their peers that they recognized the need for your help; b) work diligently to identify the hard calls they must make; and c) pivot for their ongoing business health.
You all do hard work together. You all get to the finish line together. Your expertise creates tremendous, and enduring, business value for their companies.
Referral business is not an academic exercise. Referral business is not the natural result of how many courses, post graduate acronyms or professional certifications you have. Those credentials may help get you started. However, the quality of the business outcomes you produce for your customers is practical and applied, not theoretical and untried.
Referral business is the most difficult business to earn. Growing your applied expertise takes time beyond graduation or certification. It takes time to practice your expertise, as you grow wise and astute in the observations and insights you offer.
Referral business results from boots-on-the-ground experience in the trenches, alongside your customers. You have sat across the business table from exasperated CEOs and their teams when business pipelines are drying up at warp speed. You have walked plant floors and spoken with the folks on poorly-scheduled production lines and crowded loading docks.
Referral business results from your remaining a lifelong learner. You choose to read constantly, interact with other experts in fields outside of your own comfort level, and continue your own education before you educate others. When you know what you don’t know, you take action and educate yourself first.
Referral business comes from the experience you have accrued from being a risk-taker. You have gotten up far more times than you’ve fallen flat on your face. You quickly, honestly and responsibly address issues which arise with customers and colleagues in order to mitigate their risk. Their businesses become better, from corporate culture to processes and business outcomes, as a result of collaborating with you.
Referral business is fueled by asking customers for references for new business. Request that they write testimonials you can post on your website or use as an introduction. Request that they create a recommendation for you on LinkedIn.
Your referral business process continues by keeping a finger on the pulse of customers between projects. Continue to show them you have a genuinely active and ongoing interest in their industry and associated marketplace trends. Their business relationship with you isn’t one-and-done in your mind and it shouldn’t be in their minds, either.
Referral business is the sum total resulting from all the things you do to have your customers’ and colleagues’ backs. That is why your customers and colleagues, in turn, continue to have yours.
Earning referral business is well-worth the hard work involved in earning it in the first place. Are you up for it?
Babette N. Ten Haken, President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, is a professional development coach and management consultant. She develops Playbooks for startups and small to mid-size companies experiencing unpredictable revenue streams. Then she brings these Playbooks to life. Her Playbook on leadership, business development and sales collaboration strategies, including tools, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.