They always say ‘you should practice what you preach’. Who ‘they’ are, I’m not sure but they certainly have a point.
I believe that referrals provide by far the most effective means of generating new business. Prospects are prequalified, they’re interested in hearing from you and an element of trust is already in place. As a result, they tend to be much easier to convert than a lead generated by any other means.
I’ve been looking at the most effective methods for businesses to produce referrals for over a decade now. In that time I’ve probably made most, if not all, of the mistakes listed in Recommended and also followed the advice I’ll now offer to you. Until recently, however, I didn’t follow that advice to the letter.
Certainly I used the techniques I teach. Those techniques were, after all, largely developed by analysing what I was doing naturally and what worked well. I have also enjoyed a lot of success through using those techniques. The vast majority of my business comes through recommendation or referral. I receive good quality referrals several times a week and have worked in more blue chip companies than most businesses of our size and early stage of development could reasonably expect.
The difference was that while I had been showing my clients how to develop a strong referral-generation strategy for their business, I continued to rely on my instinct alone.
The change came when I found myself under pressure from one of my fellow directors. He was responsible for generating new business and it was my job to feed him with referrals from my own networking efforts. I realised that, while we were getting a lot of referrals, many of them were for just one type of service. I wasn’t strategising effectively for referrals for the business as a whole.
I decided to put my personal strategies into place and start to practise what I preached. So, I began by picking ten people whom I felt would be comfortable referring us on a regular basis and who were well-placed to do so. These people became my ‘Champions’, the people I could confidently look to for support and referrals.
When I looked at my list it was blatantly obvious that I had been blind to what had been staring me in the face. I hadn’t been asking the right people to refer us.
I ate a large slice of humble pie and continued to work through the various stages of the strategy, working out who people were connected to, what needed to happen for them to refer me and asking them for the connections. Lo and behold, the referrals I was asking for began to materialise!
Irrespective of size, industry or sector, most organisations can do much more to improve the flow of referrals. Many organisations leave referrals to chance, others consider themselves to be very strong in this field.
You may feel that you already address this issue through running a ‘referral programme’ or targeting social media to generate word of mouth enquiries. These approaches often stimulate recommendation rather than referral, leaving you watching the phone and waiting for it to ring.
Businesses using standard approaches to word of mouth marketing often struggle to achieve anywhere near the level of new business that could be generated through a more focused approach.
There is a huge difference between recommendations and referrals. As long as it is appropriate for you to be approaching your potential clients rather than waiting for them to come to you, you should be targeting the latter wherever possible.
It’s something that people across a business can get involved in, from the CEO and their Board, through sales and marketing teams to staff who aren’t even in customer facing roles. The fact is that there are changes that all of us could make that would lead to substantial shifts in our generation of new business.
Many people feel nervous or uncomfortable about asking for referrals. There really is no need to be. If requests for referrals come about after careful consideration and planning you know you are asking the right people for the right support, and that they will be willing and able to provide it. Discomfort at present comes either from desperation or uncertainty. Both are easily overcome.
It doesn’t make any difference what type of business you are in or the service you offer. Referrals are the lifeblood of businesses of all shapes and sizes. Start ups need to bring in business quickly; multinationals need to keep ahead of their competition and bring in leads as efficiently as possible. Small business owners rely on recommendation and referral to allow them to spend more time delivering rather than recruiting; sales teams want leads that will convert more quickly, with fewer objections and prospects who will buy more.
If you sell big ticket items, the referrals to clients can bring huge rewards. If your product or service sells for a small amount, being introduced to someone who can refer people to you on a regular basis can make life much easier for your sales team.
Recommended is a living testimony to the power of referral. Many authors dream of their book being printed by a major publisher. One of FT Prentice Hall’s authors, someone I know well, referred me to them and had told them why they should work with me and publish this book before we had even met or they had seen a copy of the manuscript.
He connected us together and within a few days we had met and had an agreement in principle. The book still needed to be good enough, but the interest was high as a result of the quality of the introduction.
The referral to FT Prentice Hall was typical of the type of introduction on which we have built our business. Rather than send a cold proposal to a host of publishers, along with thousands of others, a warm introduction ensured interest and a meeting. From there it was so much easier to reach agreement.
There’s nothing special or unusual about our business that makes us more likely to win such business. All businesses have a tremendous opportunity to grow through introductions from people who are happy to support them. Yet so few get close to what is possible because they lack a strategy that works and the discipline to keep it in place.
The aim of Recommended is to give you that focus and strategy.
The discipline is down to you.