The Word of Mouth Marketing Association estimates that there are 2.4 billion brand-related conversations every day in the United States. If you want your business to be part of the discussion, it might be time to tap into your best referral sources.
Referral sources are invaluable to your business—they’re just like having an unpaid salesperson. They can help connect you with potential customers you might not have reached on your own. However, you need to focus on the right referral sources. Through his company, Model FA, Dan Allison is helping businesses generate greater referral activity by identifying and prioritizing the following characteristics in referral sources.
1. They value your company and are willing to take a risk with a referral.
Your biggest fans will be some of your best referral sources. “The first characteristic is that you’ve got to have a client that sees so much value in their own experience with you that they would confidently take the risk and recommend you to somebody who’s incredibly important,” Allison says. While these clients may share the same enthusiasm for your business, it is important to remember that value and risk will mean something different to each one. “”If you’re the kind of client I want to work with, I should invest time into getting your honest feedback about what is exceeding your expectations, how you define value, and what we can do to improve,” Allison suggests.
2. They understand your business and can convey its value proposition.
It may take more than being a raving fan to be a strong referral source. They need the ability to articulate your company’s value proposition and explain what sets your company apart from similar businesses. You will need to continually reeducate clients to remind them of the services you offer. “When I interview clients and I ask them to give me a comprehensive list of all the services that are available through the company, the average client can only list about 20 percent of the services that the business owner would list,” Allison says. He suggests there are two concerns with that. First, if a client needs any of the other services you offer that they don’t know about, they may work with your competition. Secondly, it could limit the number of referrals you could have.
3. They understand who your ideal client is.
If you expect a client to be an effective advocate and referral source for your business, you need to educate them about what an ideal client looks like. During company interviews, Allison asks clients if they went into a room full of people, got to know them, and then had to select an ideal referral for the professional, what characteristics they would look for. “I rarely have a client who is able to articulate those characteristics,” Allison says. “So we’re hoping these people are hunting for us, but we haven’t given them the right equipment, and they don’t even know what they’re hunting for.” You shouldn’t expect clients to know what you need and, instead, you should educate them on the key demographics that you can help. Remember that if you don’t equip referral sources with the best information, they’ll be unable to make the right referral.
4. They understand a personal introduction is needed to make a referral occur.
A passive interaction where a client shares your contact information may not go anywhere unless there is a level of urgency. People unfamiliar with your business don’t have that level of trust yet. “The majority of times it’s a client trying to make a referral, but they’re doing it in a way that does not lead to the outcome of the person they care about getting the help they need,” Allison says. This is another instance where education is vital, and you must equip referral sources with the right information to make a referral effectively if the opportunity arises. Discuss with your referral sources a method of introduction they are comfortable with and the information they will need to make a connection. “Referrals are not an uncomfortable conversation,” Allison continues. “They’re truly a conversation about being helpful to people you may care about, and, if you frame every conversation that way, there is no salesmanship involved in it.”
5. They are comfortable in providing referrals.
It’s essential to identify who among your most important clients is willing to take a leap and make a referral. Allison refers to some clients as “gold mines” who will be happy to make a referral. However, others are “land mines” and will never make a referral. A simple way to learn which category clients fall into is to ask during an interaction. “I simply ask every client we work with how do we approach that topic in a way that will be comfortable for you but may lead to other people getting help,” Allison recalls from his own experiences. If they are comfortable with it, you may have found a referral source. However, if they are uncomfortable, make a note of it and don’t bring it up again to avoid harming that relationship.
Connecting with referral sources
While a referral source will provide you with potential customers, the process of recognizing each of these individuals starts with you. Schedule an in-depth conversation with your most important clients to see if they can help generate referrals. If you have an extensive database of clients, select only the ideal clients for your business. If your database is small, choose the clients who generate most of your revenue. This interaction will not only tell you what they like about your company, but also may help build stronger brand loyalty in that referral source. “In my opinion, the value of making an existing customer feel important just can’t be measured,” Allison says.
Set up meetings with the clients who are the type you’d love to have more of and get their honest feedback.