How can I generate more referral business?
I was asked this question during an event last week. It’s an important question, since we know that referrals are becoming a primary mechanism for how we make decisions.
A 2012 Nielsen study found that 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising. A Texas Tech study found that 83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience—yet only 29% actually do.
How can you take advantage of the opportunity to close that gap? If you’re a sales person or entrepreneur, referrals can be the catalyst to drive exponential growth in your business or territory. The question is, how do you get them? How do you get a referral engine going? Here are my four tips.
Find a way to get and stay connected with people you meet. People who are interested in your work, people who you’re interested in, people you can help — they’re all valuable relationships and it’s never been easier to stay connected.
I generate a lot of connections and referrals through LinkedIn. I’m always looking for ways to grow my “engaged audience.” I’m not interested in paying for 500,000 Twitter followers who have no real interest in my work. I’d rather connect with 10 people who I’ve met, that care and might benefit in some way from what I’m working on.
Make Your Own Referrals
Referrals are a two-way street. Look for every opportunity to help, connect and support people in your network. How can you give value first? Get proactive about making your own referrals, without expecting anything in return.
It’s very rewarding to connect other people and watch the results. I look for every opportunity to reward my long-term vendor partners with referral business. Making referrals helps everyone succeed.
This is the new sales challenge: How can you stay relevant to someone else so they think of you first when the time is right? If you meet someone at an event, connect on social media, then never communicate again, how valuable is that connection three years later? Timing is everything and the strength of a new connection diminishes over time if you don’t nurture it.
To stay top-of-mind, you have to be strategic about providing value. For me, blogging is the best way to consistently add value. Every week, my connections have the opportunity to see articles from me on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Blogging helps me stay relevant and produce new connections, conversations, introductions and closed sales.
But you don’t need a blog to contribute. Share information that you think your connections will find relevant and helpful. Create mutually beneficial connections. The key is to consistently contribute and look for ways to add value.
Asking for referrals can be powerful, but to get results, you have to earn the referral.
The key is to give value first, without expecting anything in return. If you’re working with a customer, deliver more than expected. Create reasons for them to want to reciprocate and help you. When your work is great, people are inclined to share!
People are also more inclined to help when they trust the relationship. Instead of leading with the ask, earn the right to ask for a referral over time. You’re much more likely to get a result. I’ve found that so many people want to help — and are more than willing when asked. You just have to create the right conditions.
Here’s an example. During a recent event I shared a story about one of my customers. After the keynote, a woman who was in the audience introduced herself to me, handed me her card, and immediately asked for an introduction to that company’s CEO. That puts me in a tough spot. I don’t know anything about her or her business, but she’s asked me to leverage my relationship with a client and friend. It wasn’t a great ask — she didn’t earn it.
A better way to ask for the referral: Give first. Think about what a different situation that would have been if she had introduced herself, made the connection with me, and then followed up by delivering value. What if she’d sent me a package a week later with sample products and a handwritten note, referencing my keynote? She would have advanced the relationship, and I would have been more inclined to help.
Networking proactively takes time but it makes sales easier. Reputation and relationships precede referrals, and that’s exactly why investing time in helping others and expanding your network is always time well spent.