Referrals are a great way to grow your business. After all, personal recommendations trump cold contacts every time.
With referrals, converting potential clients into actual ones is overall an easier, quicker, nicer and cheaper process.
In fact, referrals only have one problem: there’s never enough of them, is there?
Hoping you’ll get referrals doesn’t guarantee you’ll get them. Doing a fantastic job doesn’t guarantee you’ll get them. There’s only one way to guarantee you’ll get them, and that is to ask. Not everyone will say ‘yes’. But you’ll get more if you ask than if you don’t.
Now, there are various ways to ask for referrals. But I don’t much like the ones you hear most. For instance, if someone says to me: "Andy, could you refer me ?” or "Andy, could you get me a referral?" I think: "That sounds selfish”. What I hear is the 'me' part of the question, and the sub-text is that the person is asking because they want to line their pockets.
There are some much better frameworks to use. Firstly, it’s important to ask in such a way that the person you’re speaking to feels comfortable to be asked.
Now obviously, a lot of this will depend on the person you’re talking to, and your relationship with them. But let's say you're talking to a really good friend. It might be as simple as asking them for a favour, and saying: "I was having a look at LinkedIn and I saw that you know so-and-so. I'd love an introduction to them. Would you mind putting me in contact? I'd love to help them [achieve X]."
Or imagine you've just finished a piece of work with a client and it’s gone brilliantly. Call them and ask how everything's gone. When they tell you, you can chat to them about what they feel the main benefit of the advice has been. You could then follow up with something like: "That’s great. Could you help me with something? I’d love to speak to [that person's contact] because I know she also wants to [repeat the benefit]. Would you mind introducing us?"
It's quite hard to say 'no' to this. The client has said they're happy with the work and that they benefitted. They've also confirmed they know the other person and that they'd benefit too. They'd almost have to be churlish to say: "No, I'm not going to refer you."
Business referrals, and the two-parter
Let's say you’ve worked with another company. This could be an employer, or perhaps an accountancy practice or a firm of solicitors. You could use something like this:
You: Are you happy with how the work's gone?
You: Very good. Has it given you the results that you wanted?
Them: Yes, it absolutely has.
You: Great. Would you mind if I asked your advice, please?
Them: Of course – what do you want to know?
You: You know how well we've worked together? Well, I was looking at Company Y, and can see I could similarly help them. But I don't know anybody there. How would you advise I approach them?
In an ideal world, they'll say: "Well, I can introduce you to the boss there, if you want?" If so, you've got a referral – happy days. Or they might give you different advice. And this advice might be better than getting a referral anyway. But if it isn't, you could respond with something like: "Great, I'll do that. One other thing I’d thought of: you mentioned the boss there – would you mind writing a two-line email introducing us to each other. It might save us all a bit of time. Is that ok?"
Some people feel uncomfortable asking for referrals, whether that's from clients or other firms. They worry those being asked might say no, or that by asking it will do all sorts of damage to the relationship. If that sounds like you, do the two-parter:
At the start of the advice process
"One of the reasons I'm able to focus all my attention on you and my other clients is because I don't do any/much marketing. I just ask my happy clients if they're willing to refer me. Now, don’t worry – I don't want you to refer me yet of course. But would you mind, at a later date, if I asked you if you're happy to introduce me to some of your contacts then? Is that ok?"
Do a great job, and then follow up once the initial advice stage is completed, or at the client's next review meeting:
"Like you, I'm delighted with how things have gone. Do you remember when we spoke a while ago, you said if you were happy with the work I’d done you’d consider introducing me to your contacts. Is that something you’re still happy to do?”
Don't forget the ex-referrers
It’s easier for someone to refer you if they’ve successfully done so before. After all, many people feel it’s risky to do it the first time. But the second is much easier.
So for those who’ve referred you before, you could start the conversation by mentioning you've heard that the most likely source of referrals comes from those who have made recommendations previously. If they agree, that leads naturally to asking if they mind having a chat about who else they could refer you to.
If they don't agree, you could follow up with: "That's fine. Just out of interest, what would I have to do so you'd feel comfortable referring me again?"
They’ll tell you. You'll do it. And then you should get your referral.
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