Asking for referrals is probably one of the most effective business development activities. It costs you nothing and yet can have a hugely positive effect on your income stream. It seem obvious to me that it’s so much more powerful when somebody else says ‘You’re great’ than when you say it – particularly when the ‘somebody else’ is already trusted.
Most clients who are delighted with your service will be pleased to be asked to provide referrals. It can help develop a stronger sense of a partnering relationship. Also we typically feel good when we can give something to somebody. So why doesn’t happen much?
When we discuss this technique with partners we discover that they find the idea of asking for referrals uncomfortable. They fear it might be seen as too pushy or they fear being rejected by the client. Also they rather naively think that referrals might be being made without asking for them. The harsh reality is that hardly any are. Your clients probably think you’re too busy!
Here is a straightforward four step process for asking for referrals which isn’t pushy and which is designed to be effective.
1. Seek feedback on your work to date
The pre-requisite for a successful request for referrals is that you have a delighted client. By asking for feedback and hearing their level of delight, you can be sure to proceed. If you receive some degree of criticism, you may be better to forego making the request until a later stage. You could say something like this:
“We value our relationship with you and would appreciate knowing the extent to which you are entirely happy with the service we’re offering and whether there are any areas we can improve”
2. Make your request for referrals and explain why
Start by reminding the client of the trust they are placing in you and leverage off this to make your request.
“We appreciate the continued confidence you place in us delivering a good service. We are keen to maintain our excellent reputation and seek to expand so we can continue to invest in quality people and more innovative processes etc. We would appreciate you mentioning us to others. We will look out for any such referrals and put extra effort into ensuring we impress any new client, thereby making a good impression on you, as well as us.”
3. Provide any guidance on how a referral could be made
It will help if you make it easy for your client to make referrals, so make the process clear and comfortable:
“We would suggest you mention to [specify types of organisation and roles] that we’ll offer a free consultation and not charge anything until we have provided a fee quote and your referral has agreed to proceed with us”
4. Appreciate the client for prospective referrals and follow up
You will increase the chances of the client taking action if you reinforce your appreciation and offer some kind of incentive. Also it will be important to keep in touch with the client and reinforce your appreciation.
“Any referral you make will be greatly appreciated and we will acknowledge those referrals with [a small payment, a gift, a reciprocal arrangement of referrals, a thank you etc]”
It can be important to consider what potential objections the referrer might have to your request. One possible objection is that they won’t want to share you with their competitors. They might perceive that they are getting important competitive advantage from your services.
As with all objections in the selling process it is good practice to probe and ascertain what their underlying concern is and offer a response which addresses the concern. For example:
- You could offer the services of your other partners, rather than yourself
- You could ask for referrals to their suppliers or customers rather than their direct competitors
Importance of Monitoring and Follow Up
Firms should record which clients are making referrals and ensure that the firm is responding appropriately. It is pretty obvious that your clients will not want to feel unappreciated or taken for granted!