Monday, July 20, 2009

Asking clients for referrals

I've launched a new page on Facebook for people to share links, videos, blogs and ideas on networking and referral strategy. You can find the page at

One of the features of the new page is a Discussion section, where I have invited members to post questions and tips on networking and referrals.

At the weekend, Nikki Pilkington asked the following question:

Andy, in all the time I've known you, you've taught me that referral networking works - and it's true. But how would I go about asking current clients to pass me referrals without making them feel obliged or hassled? Thanks in advance for any insight.

Hi Nikki

Two bits of simple advice to get you started:

- Don't treat everyone as equal
- Keep it simple, make it easy.

1 - Don't treat everyone as equal

Many businesses institute 'get a referral' schemes targetting their clients as a general body, perhaps by offering an incentive if they refer, or asking for help 'if you are happy with what we do'.

Such impersonal schemes are easy to duck. If you're not asked directly and personally, it's not difficult to press 'delete', and very tempting when you are busy!

In other cases, businesses will ask clients individually, but use a general approach. The most frequent example of this is the set of questions at the end of every meeting. You know the form:

"Are you happy with what we did?"
"Do you know any one else who would benefit from this?"
"Can you give us their names?"

At best this approach provides a list to cold call, but can often make the client uncomfortable. After all, you have been there to help them, not the other way around.

Instead of these general approaches, think of each client individually. Ask yourself how much they would WANT to refer you (in other words, how well do they like and trust you?) and how well they understand HOW to refer you.

Focus first on improving these two areas where necessary. There's no point just asking for referrals from people who don't feel comfortable or able to do so.

When you have done that, you have two more questions to ask yourself. The first one is to ask who they know, which I'll come onto in a moment. The second is what can you do to inspire them?

There are a whole range of answers to the second question, running from simply asking to referring them and, in certain cases, financial incentives. The key is that the response is personal to each potential Champion, not a 'catch all' approach that catches none.

2 - Keep it simple, make it easy

The easier you make it for someone to refer you, the more likely it is that they will. A general request often produces nothing. If I asked you for an introduction to everyone you know who has a telephone, how much work would be involved for you helping me? Too much to justify you doing it!

A specific request that is tailored to that person's network is the best approach, hence 'who do they know?'. Be very clear about who you want to speak to and why and it will be much easier for them to make the connection.

The more personal your approach, and the more focused your requests, the more success you'll see.

I hope this helps.

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