Thursday, January 07, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Anatomy of a Referral (Part Three)

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

You are surrounded by people who have frequent opportunities to refer you and who would be delighted to help you, yet you rarely, if ever, receive referrals from them. In the cases where they do make introductions they tend to be far from the connections you’ve been looking for.

Why should this be? Surely if you have a network of people who will help, your word of mouth marketing should be simple?

The problem is that attracting good quality referrals takes a strong degree of focus and planning. You do have the tools and resources at your disposal, but you have to understand how to use them. After reading the last two articles in this series you should by now have a clear idea of what you are looking for in a referral and who to turn to for help. Once you have inspired those people to want to help you, the next step is to educate them so that they understand how.

Out of the picture

We talked in Part One of this series about the quality of a true referral. The person referring you (your ‘champion’) has spoken about you to someone who may be in need of your services. That person is interested in hearing from you and is waiting for your call.

If your champion is going to be able to get the prospective client interested in hearing from you, they need to know enough about your business to make a strong case. They need to recognise that your prospect has a problem that you are able to solve and have a reasonable understanding of how you solve that issue and the benefits that result.

Remember, most of the time you will not be there when they have the conversation. You have to consider yourself to be out of the picture. If you are going to educate your champions effectively, you have to be able to pre-empt the conversations they will have with your prospects without you there.

Very often you may ask for referrals to people and explain why you want to meet them. This is despite the fact that those people have no interest in why you want to meet them at all. They don’t know you and have no buy-in to meeting your needs. Instead, they are focused on what they need and what they want.

If your champions are going to be able to get them to want to meet you, therefore, they need a message that will be relevant to that person. Identify what their problems are and provide evidence that you may be the person with the solution and they’ll be interested.

Simple, sticky and transferable

Armed with the knowledge that you need your champions to have conversations about you when you’re not around, the temptation may be strong to give them as much information as possible, so that they couldn’t possibly forget anything.

Whatever you do, avoid this temptation! The more you give people to remember, the more they’ll have to forget. Keep your message simple.

In a workshop I ran a few years ago I was developing a sixty-second referral presentation with an image consultant. As local elections were approaching, I suggested focusing her request on referrals to people in politics. After all, we are often told how important image is in making first impressions and if you want your political message heard it is important to ensure your appearance appeals to your target demographic.

We crafted a straightforward request based on an easy to understand premise. People listening to the message would think of people they knew in politics and feel comfortable approaching them on the image consultant’s behalf, with a strong message that would be easy to understand.

Unfortunately, when it came to testing the presentation on the group in the workshop, the image consultant succumbed to temptation. She didn’t want to leave any opportunity untapped, and, while asking for introductions to people involved in local politics, also asked for Entrepreneurs, Chief Executives, Sales Directors and any other possible client she could think of.

When tested, no-one in the group remembered anything specific about her presentation, particularly that she wanted to meet people involved in local politics.

Focus in on who you want to meet when you ask people for referrals. If you’re being specific in your request, you can paint a clear picture of the conversation that will follow. What is that person/organisation’s specific problem? How would you approach it? What will happen as a result? Stick to answering those questions, keeping everything very simple.

Have you worked with people with similar issues in the past? If so, share a story that answers the three questions listed above. People love to hear case studies; they bring your business to life and make it so much more understandable to those outside your industry.

As well as being simple, your message needs to stick in people’s minds and be easy for them to repeat to possible clients for you. The more convoluted your message, the harder it is for people to remember and to pass on accurately.

Tracking the results

Once you have the basics of a good referral strategy in place, take it to another level by including it in your business planning.

Set up a spreadsheet of your top introducers and make a note of who they know, how you are inspiring them and referrals they have promised or you have requested. As referrals come in, attribute them to the appropriate champion and track your follow up, make sure you stay on top of the game.

By keeping a note of all activity, you can keep your champions involved, letting them know how you are proceeding with the introductions they have passed and thanking them when they are successful. You should be just as focused on giving them feedback when they don’t work out, both to keep them informed and to help them understand how to pass successful referrals to you.

One advantage of tracking referral activity is the ability to see who your best referral sources are and what inspires them to refer you. You can then both make sure you keep them engaged and also replicate that behaviour with others.

Additionally, when someone stops referring you, it will be clear by looking at your spreadsheet. Where a referrals strategy doesn’t exist it might be months before you realise that you haven’t had a referral from or spoken to someone who had previously introduced you to a lot of new business. It can then often be embarrassing to go back to that person after a long period.

One of the exercises I ran when working with one of the major banks was to ask each delegate to make a list of people who had previously referred them but hadn’t done so for a while. I then asked them to call one person on that list and reignite the relationship.

Several of the delegates found that their previous champion had assumed that the delegate had left the bank or moved onto another job as they hadn’t heard from them for so long, and on more than one occasion they offered a new referral during that telephone call. How much business had been referred elsewhere in the meantime?

Another advantage of tracking your referrals behaviour is that it allows you to forecast the level of business coming in from future referrals. Once you have a system in place that consistently produces good quality referrals, it is easier to predict and guide future behaviour.

It’s all a long way from the manufacturing company I mentioned at the beginning of this series who track every source of new business other than referrals, and who had not seen a genuine referral in at least eighteen months. Having implemented an effective referral system, they can now look forward to a regular, predictable flow of referrals, spend time in meetings with champions rather than cold-calling unproductively, and see the business turn into a profitable concern once more.

When are you going to start?

If you’d like to get started with a free ten question survey to find out how effective your current referral strategy is and a ‘Referral Book’ spreadsheet to track referral activity, please email me at

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