Who’s going to refer me?

How to create a referral ‘buzz’ around your company

By Joanne Russell, The Spectrum Services Group

As a starting point, let’s agree that referral marketing, turning your successes with existing contacts into tangible opportunity for new business, is an effective way of attracting new customers.  With that foundation, I’d like to explore the relationships that spawn these referrals, and more importantly, to lay a framework for identifying the business and social contacts that will increase opportunities and result in new customers.

Leveraging Customers

While incentives might motivate people to step out and talk about your company, they shouldn’t be the foundation for your referral marketing program.  At the end of the day, you want companies to refer you because they’ve had a good experience with your company and they are confident that you’ll do a good job for someone else.  You want their referral to be driven by an honest assessment of the value you brought to their organization. Good referral candidates are built, not bought. 

It follows that you should approach each customer interaction with care and respect and with the expectation that at the end of the project, they are going to tell others about their success. For example, everyone loves to hear a story about how a puppy was rescued from a storm drain. The firefighters are heroes and the puppy is safe and warm. Look for the opportunity to be your customer’s hero before the project even begins. Then use that basis to form and integrate specific goals into your project planning. Manage the customer’s expectations up front, and deliver in a way that’s going to leave them saying “wow, that went really well.”

Who’s Going to Refer Me?

While you might think that marketing is something you do to attract new business, it’s also an effective way of empowering your existing customers.  Communicate ways in which they can share with others the great things about doing business with your company. For example, newsletters are an effective way to communicate your successes, as well as to provide helpful tips to make their company more successful. Call your clients and see how things are going and look for opportunities to invest in their company. If you show them that you care about their achievements they will in turn care about yours as well.

Leveraging Partners

Consider for a moment, laboratory services.  Think about a time when your doctor wanted to have some tests run. Think about the laboratory you selected to run your diagnostic testing.  What?  You didn’t select the lab?  Your doctor connected you with them?  Imagine that.  Perhaps there was a radiologist involved in the process. Did you seek them out or did the doctor refer you to him as well? I would be willing to bet that most people never even meet the radiologist that reviews their x-rays.  The report is just sent to the  doctor.   

While you may have done research on the doctor you selected; not too many people take the time to research which lab will evaluate their blood work.  The doctor came into your life with a network of professionals surrounding them. You trusted that the people and companies recommended by them were going to get the job done in an accurate and expedient way.  The question here is “who are the ‘doctors’ in your business network?”  Who are the companies with the great salespeople that can bring you into a transaction?

Think about why you trusted that doctor when it came to those partners they brought to the transaction. It is likely that they chose people with whom they work well and whom they’ve been successful with in the past.  Doctors rely heavily on the specialists they choose, and therefore they must partner with those that are considered experts in their field in order to ensure that they are providing best and most accurate service possible.

Your prospective partners may be upstream or downstream in your business channels. When compiling a list of potential partners, be sure to list those from both ends of the spectrum; some who may refer you as a part of their service, and others who you may refer. 

Anyone Else Out There?

To cast a broader net, look at the people who serve the same customers that you do.  Are their products complimentary enough that customers would see a natural connection?  While you might never trust your gardener to recommend a lawyer, it’s not a stretch to see them recommending a landscape architect.

Think about your suppliers, the people that you buy from.  Do they also serve your potential customers?  Getting a supplier to start recommending you, may result in additional sales for them as well. 

Additionally, consider those with whom you consistently do business. Do you come across the same kinds of vendors when you’re on a project?  Are you always integrating with time clock or shipping vendors?  If so, focus on one or two, and capitalize on these proven integrations. Perhaps, it would be wise to invest additional resources to ensure your product works better with theirs than any of your competitors. If you make them look better than the competition, they’ll recommend you for that reason alone.

Finally, take a look at those clients that came to you by way of referral.  Not only should you nurture the referrer to see who else they can send your way, but work closely with those that have been referred. Those who are introduced by referral see the value in that kind of relationship.  Approach them by saying, “I know someone cared enough to help you out, are there others out there you could be helping?” Help them to understand that they play a valuable role in helping other customers, like themselves, succeed.

Everything Else

Referral Marketing isn’t about finding people to do your selling for you.  It’s about investing in peripheral relationships, developing solid business networks, and about finding ways to use what you’ve done in the past to help you continue to succeed in the future. In upcoming articles we’ll explore what makes you referable, identifying your target customers, and building and executing a successful referral marketing campaign. In the mean time, consider contacting a marketing firm who offers specialized referral marketing services and let them help you get a head start on using referrals to win new business. If you need a referral…we know a great one! (Wink).

And…don’t be so quick to discount one referral source over another. Even if they don’t fit into a traditional referral role, people still like to tell others what to do. Yes, your Aunt Phyllis may have no idea why you’re the best software integration partner, but one day over her Bridge Game she might hear of an opportunity and say “You really should talk to my nephew about that… he’s such a nice boy.”

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