As a marketing speaker and marketing coach, I preach and teach and continually refine my own ability to stimulate more and better referrals in addition to helping my small business and professional services clients do the same.
Although I am not a referral expert - check out my pal referral marketing expert Michael Goldberg for that - I am indeed a referral enthusiast.
A client of mine - a consultant with a midsized firm - asked me a great referral question.
After reading this post, YOU will see where your own referral generation process may be stuck - and how to fix it.
My client said to me, "David, I don't seem to have any problem generating referrals. In fact, my clients and colleagues are always very generous and forthcoming with referrals. The problem is not with QUANTITY - it is with QUALITY."
She went on, "No matter how successful my referral source may be, they seem to always refer me only to losers. I hate to say that - but you know what I mean. People who can't afford what we do, folks who are not decision-makers, or folks who for a variety of reasons are simply not the right fit."
Her question: "How can I get out of referral jail?"
Here are five ideas to help YOU get out of referral jail and put YOUR allies, advocates, friends and fans in the best and most likely position to refer you to the right people for the right reasons with the right fit.
1. Ask for what you want.
Be specific. "Business owners" is not specific. "IT managers" is not specific. "Front line salespeople" is not specific.
- "CEOs of 20-100 person companies in the food distribution industry in the Northeast US" is specific.
- "Female sales executives in the technology industry" is specific.
- "IT managers in Canadian call centers" is specific.
Some of my clients also like to include a "phrase book" in their referral description. This means the phrases to listen for that indicate someone may be a good fit as a referral to you.
For a specific example of what these "phrase book items" look like, see my real live example at the top of my marketing coaching web page.
The WORST kind of referral request is, "I'll talk to anybody who needs [your product/service.]"
Stop making dumb referral requests and you'll stop getting dumb referrals.
2. Show them names, companies, and proof that you can make those people happy.
Let's face it - the reason people don't want to give you referrals is because they're putting their own relational capital (aka reputation) on the line. And that's risky.
If you can remove the risk of the referral, you will open the floodgates to getting more and better referrals for life.
Hint: They won't believe YOU. They WILL believe your clients, past referrals, and people who have given you money and been thrilled to do so.
Print up a sheet called "Referral Success Stories." Put in 5-7 specific referrals you've gotten over the last 12 months. Put in TWO kinds of quotes from both:
a. Clients who were referred and eventually hired you (Client success)
b. Your referral sources who are quoting how good they looked for making the referral (Referral success)
3. Tell them exactly what to say or send.
4. When a bad referral comes in, give some referral coaching.
When you get referred to a dud, diplomatically tell your referral source why it wasn't a great fit AND how they can tune their radar better next time.
Here's the template you can adapt to your own situation, style and tone. This is a delicate communication so you will want to re-word this carefully. Definitely not a cut-and-paste cookie cutter response but here's your starting point:
I've kindly and gently turned down the opportunity to pursue a business relationship with [referral name.]
Too many red flags and especially after listening to his concerns, he's just not a good fit for us.
Thank you very much indeed for the referral - and in my book, it still counts. (EVERY referral counts no matter how it turns out!!)
If this causes you any strain in your relationship with [referral name] (and I doubt it will), please accept my apologies in advance.
For the record, his PROFILE was perfect - [DESCRIBE 2-3 ideal qualities about the referral.] The disconnect was in OUR FIT with his expectations and [lack of budget, lack of need, lack of authority, whatever was missing] -- two factors over which YOU had no control.
Always appreciate your advocacy, guidance and friendship.
5. Ask smart Referral-GIVING questions to generate smart Referral-GETTING answers.
If you want to increase both the quality and quantity of your INCOMING referrals - the fastest way to do that is to increase your OWN track record of GIVING high-quality referrals.
And to do so, you need to stop guessing and start targeting.
Become a referral detective.
Learn to ask consultative questions of your current clients, vendors, partners, suppliers, friends, colleagues, and networking associates -- anyone to whom you wish to GIVE more targeted referrals.
Your questions might include:
- Who is your best client and why?
- How did they come to you?
- What situation were they in?
- What did they say or do to show interest?
- How could you tell they were a great fit?
- How have you tried to get more just like them?
- What should I be listening for? (Ask for details and specifics)
- What's the DNA of a great prospect for you? (Ask for details and specifics)
- What phrases, key words or problems should I be listening for on your behalf?
- What wants, needs, desires, and aspirations do your best clients have in common? (Ask for details and specifics)
- What heartaches, headaches, obstacles and challenges do your best clients have in common? (Ask for details and specifics)
- If I programmed my GPS to home in on perfect prospects for you, what would those settings look like? (Ask for details and specifics)
- Tell me more about that...
- Say more about...
- Why was that important to them?
- What makes you say that?
- How could you tell?
- And that led to...
- Why was that a problem?
- What else did they say?
- What else do you think they're after?
- Please share 2-3 of your favorite pre-qualification questions so I can start to refer you more accurately