Monday, February 08, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: Ten Tips to Get Your Referral Message Across (Part One)

This article was originally published in The National Networker

Building a strong network to help you generate more business is just the first step in an effective referral strategy. Once you have established and developed relationships with those people in your network, you then need to build their understanding of how they can help you so that they can become effective champions for your business.

This is where so many people fall down. They network relentlessly trying to find the referrals they need when they already have all the necessary connections. They’re just not getting their message across well enough to help their network help them.

If you struggle to get the connections you need from your network, read on. Hopefully the following tips will give you some ideas about how you can change your approach and get your message across in a way that will make it easy for others to refer you.

Tip Number One: Know what your message is

It sounds a bit obvious, doesn’t it? Yet I consistently ask audiences at my talks and delegates on my workshops who their ideal referral is and so few actually have a clear idea. But if you don't know, how can anyone else be expected to understand?

Spend some time working out who your ideal referral is and who you’d like to be introduced to. Your thoughts would naturally turn to prospective clients, yet it may be far more valuable to be introduced to someone who can provide links to numbers of prospects, or add other value to your business. Where do you most need support at the moment for example?

Most businesses have a range of products and services they offer. If this describes you, who are the key connections you need for each revenue stream? Develop a ‘referral mix’, and have a clear picture in your mind of each one, in case the opportunity arises to ask for the connection.

Tip Number Two - Ask the right question of the right person

Once you understand your referral mix, you need to ask people for the referrals they are best placed to offer. After all, different people have different networks.

A few years ago I started writing for The Sun newspaper as a result of a referral from a former top newspaper editor. When he asked how he could help me, I targeted my response to an area I knew he was familiar with and where he was well-placed to help. A little bit of thought can make a huge amount of difference if you then know you are asking the right questions.

You can also do your research in advance in some cases, where appropriate. If you are meeting with a prospective champion and you know referrals may be on the agenda, why not look at their LinkedIn network in advance to see who they know and how they might be able to connect you?

Tip Number Three - Be Specific

If you are struggling to get referrals from people who want to help you, it may be that they simply don’t understand who you want to talk to. That may seem strange to you, but you know your business better than anyone else.

Paint a picture in people's minds of the people you want to meet, companies you want to talk to. The clearer the picture in their mind, the fewer the number of people they know (but above zero!), the more chance there is that they will be able to connect you.

We tend to assume that the more examples of potential referrals we give our champions, the more chance that they will know someone and refer us. However, the reverse is true. The greater the number of potential referrals they can pass, the more filtering they have to do. You have to do the filtering for them

For example, if you sell least cost telephone routing you could ask people for connections to anyone who has a telephone. I’ve heard that request made several times! Yet how much time do you think people would take to make those referrals? Will they speak to everyone they know who has a phone?

It’s unlikely that they would, so they’d have to decide who to talk to. It’s more likely that they’d simply pass on the opportunity to help.

Make it easy for people to follow through and make your request specific and focused. If they know one person and can easily have the conversation, it’s much harder to say no.

Tip Number Four - Ask Directly

I would venture that the most common reason people don’t get referrals from their network is quite simple….they don’t ask for them! It’s often said that if you don't ask you don't get, yet we just sit back and expect our network to refer us.

Many businesses will admit that their best source of new business is word of mouth and recommendations, yet their strategy is a passive one, waiting for customers to refer them rather than asking. However, we are far more likely to talk about negative experiences than positive ones. You need to substantially exceed people’s expectations if you want people to refer you on their own initiative.

Don't assume people know how to help you, or even think about doing so. Look at your closest network and best clients and ask yourself who would be happy to help you but who you've never asked. Sit down with them and explain the connections you are looking for and ask for their help. If you’ve selected wisely you should be delighted with the results.

Tip Number Five - Put yourself in others' shoes

The very nature of referrals dictates that, more often than not, you won’t be present when the referral takes place. It’s important for you to anticipate the conversation between your champion and prospect and prepare your champion with the information they’ll need.

After all, you can’t simply expect your champion to ask the other person if they’d like to meet you without the prospect asking why!

A common mistake is for people seeking referrals to explain why they want to meet or work with a prospect. They are only seeing things from their own perspective. The hard truth is that your prospect doesn’t care about what you want. They are interested in their own needs and self-interest.

More specifically, if they are going to want to speak to you, they need to perceive that they have a problem you can solve. After all, we are in business to solve people’s problems.

Help your champion understand how to communicate the problem your prospect is facing, the solution you offer and how they will then benefit from the eradication of that problem. If you can get that right, you won’t need to be there to make the sale.

Next month, in the next five tips, we’ll look at the importance of keeping things simple, telling stories patience and managing your reputation.

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