Most businesses spend time and energy chasing new customers. I think the real payoff comes from expanding and focusing your thinking on how to turn a lead into a real advocate for your business. For most, referrals happen accidentally as a result of doing good work or being in the right place at the right time. What if those valuable referrals could happen intentionally, as a result of doing work and putting yourself in the right place, with the right source, always at the right time?
DESIGN THE REFERRAL PROCESS
- Become more referable – First you must analyze every way that your business interacts with customers and prospects – marketing-related or not – and inject positive, brand-supporting elements into each interaction – many referrals are lost because team interaction messed up the relationship.
- Target your sources –
- Look at your customers under a microscope – what is the profile of a customer who’s already referring business? Find that out and focus most of your attention on that kind of customer by making it easier for them to refer.
- Who else has your ideal customer as a target? Strategic partners should be a major focus of attention. This is the place where you need to look long and hard at your ability to make referrals to others – give and you shall receive!
- Educate your sources – If you get a bad referral, that’s probably your fault. We can’t or shouldn’t ask for referrals until we tell our referral sources in great detail the type of customers we are looking for.
- Motivate your sources – Money for referrals is usually not a good motivation, but a creative kind of offer that turns referring business to you into a game is a great way to motivate your referral sources. Of course, saying, “Thank you” never hurts either.
- Follow-up with all – You’ve got to be prepared to follow-up in a different manner with your referral sources. You also need to provide them with feedback on how much good they are doing by referring your business.
- Create key indicators – Make referral success part of your marketing measurement dashboard. It needs to be thought out, documented and incorporated into your day-to-day marketing efforts. Now that you have a process, you’re almost half way there. You will now need to put your process into action. You will have to systematically integrate your process into the everyday customer and network interaction. I can’t tell you how many business owners admit that they don’t get mor e referrals because they simply don’t think to ask for them or feel too pr oud to ask. By designing “the ask” into your day to day r outine, it’s more likely that it will get done.
Now that you have a process, you’re almost half way there. You will now need to put your process into action. You will have to systematically integrate your process into the everyday customer and network interaction. I can’t tell you how many business owners admit that they don’t get more referrals because they simply don’t think to ask for them or feel too proud to ask. By designing “the ask” into your day to day routine, it’s more likely that it will get done.
PUT YOUR REFERRAL PROCESS INTO ACTION
Get an expectation mindset – first step is to believe that you deserve referrals and more than that, you are doing your customers and network a disservice by not allowing them an easy path to bring the tremendous value your products and services can deliver to those in need. If you can’t get past this point, any system you devise will break down under the weight of your fear that you are simply begging for business. The mindset must spread across your entire organization – it’s everyone’s job to create, nurture and convert leads by way of thrilled customers. In addition, your lead conversion process must contain the condition of referral generation as part of the deal. “We know you are going to be so thrilled with our service, Ms. Customer, and we are going to request you to introduce us to 3 others that you know need these same results.” Now, some might find the above statement hard to say, but I’m telling you it’s the most positive marketing message you can say – we know you are going to be so thrilled that you will refer us. You still have to deliver, but when you do, you’ve established referrals as an expectation and condition in the relationship. It really is that simple.
Segment customers from partners – You need completely different referral approaches and offers for customers and strategic partners. By targeting your approach to these segments you can more easily develop processes that make sense and motivate for the right reasons.
- For customers, the likely motivation is that they like what you do so much they want to refer you and you simply need to stay top of mind and make it easy for them to do. Hint: Ask and remind!
- For partners the motivation is quite different. Your job here is to effectively position referring yourself in a way that helps them add value to the relationships they already have with their customer. In light of this, the simplest way to do that is to create valuable education-based content, in the form of a workshop or event, and take it to them and propose they share it, co-branded, with their customers. They know they should be doing this so you’ve just made it easy for them to do something they want to do and you win.
Create turn-key tools – The education process of your referral sources can be aided greatly if you put tangible referral tools in their hands. Create documents that teach them your referral process.
- Create coupons and gift certificates and give them to your referral sources.
- Create jointly branded marketing materials for all of your strategic partners.
- Create a network blog that your strategic partners can all contribute to. Again, make it easy and it will happen.
Plan for logical collection – The place that referral systems fall down most often is in the actual collection. Expectations are set, customers are thrilled, the referral motivation is in place, but nobody thinks to actually ask for the referral. Create processes that involve customer results reviews, project reviews and satisfaction surveys and use these as triggers for referral collection – you might just find that it’s a great way to really find out what a great/lousy job you are doing and course correct accordingly.
More than one creative entry point – Just as not all referrals are created equal, not all motivations are created equal. You must have multiple referral opportunities going at all times so that you can take advantage of the highly engaged customer who wants to set up a lunch to introduce your firm, the customer that needs the quarterly reminder gift certificate mailing, and the non-profit agency partner that would love to run a promotion with you to benefit their cause and promote you to their members. Start with one or two referral program offers and gradually add more as a way to keep the marketing focus on the subject of referrals.
Show your appreciation – The final step in effectively receiving leads is to develop a way to shower appreciation on your lead sources. If you make some sort of offer to incentivize referral sources you certainly need to honour that, but I find that a little token of appreciation such as a handwritten thank you, flowers or fruit goes a long way towards letting them know you appreciate the effort and support. I sometimes get a box of yummy chocolate when I make a referral. In addition to simply thanking your sources, you should also develop a path of communication that helps them know the impact their referrals have on your business and on those that they refer. If your referral sources learn that many of the leads they send your way enjoy the process so much that they become customers, this fact alone will often motivate them to continue sending referrals. If you’re already receiving a steady stream of referrals, focusing on improving your referral conversion rate by 5 or 10% could dramatically impact your bottom line.