Sure, I plead guilty. When people ask me the main way we get new clients, I have to say it’s referrals – word of mouth.
You know, I used to think that was something that was just the luck of the draw. Maybe you would meet someone, and maybe they would hear of an opportunity, and maybe they would think of you, and maybe even refer you and your business.
Well, I’m here to tell you that with a little bit of attention and organization, you can make the referral sales lead process much more consistent and predictable.
Sure, you can’t predict when someone will hear of an opportunity – but you can up the odds be increasing your referral partner list.
Think of every referral partner as a mini sales person. There they all are, out there in the world, meeting people you wouldn’t get a chance to meet. After all, you can’t be everywhere all the time – and candidly, you probably have other things on your plate aside from just sales.
Now don’t get me wrong – sales is one of, if not the most important thing, because without that – well, you just don’t have a business. But there are other things that need your attention – and besides, you still have to eat and sleep. So again, 24 7, all sales all the time – probably not.
But the beauty of referral partners is that you can have a whole team of them, working on your behalf, all the time.
But how do you get a referral program up and running. Well, there are 6 critical steps – and surprise, the first one isn’t meet people.
The first step is to get yourself organized. You’ll need a place to track who you meet, who they refer to you and what the outcome is. Now, it could be something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, but I use Asana. I just find that a project management system gives me more room for detailed notes, and I can assign tasks related to the contact and set reminders.
But again, you should use whatever you’re most comfortable with. But be sure to put some sort of organization system in place. If you don’t, after a while you’ll have no idea who you met, what they do, who referred who etc. And all that is valuable information you’ll really need later.
Next up, finding referral partners. Sure, you can look to the people you naturally interact with as you go about your day. But, if you want to have a robust referral program, you’ll need to be a bit more proactive than that.
In much the same way you would develop a target client, develop a target referral partner. Who operates in and around the same type of clients that would need your services. For me, and HR consultant, great referral partners for us are labor attorneys, benefits brokers, accounting professionals – you see, all these people provide some sort of business services to their clients. And many of those clients are a great fit for us as well.
So, figure out who would make a good referral partner. Then – MARKET to them.
Yep, that’s right – the same way you would market to a target client, you’re going to need to market to your target referral partners. Figure out where they gather (wow, that sounds like you’re going hunting). But yes, it’s not that different.
Let’s say your target referral partner is an accounting professional. Are there any associations you could look into? What about seminars they would be likely to attend – you should go too. Really think about what would draw them, and then go as a guest. If they have some sort of magazine or publication, read it. It will not only tell you where you are likely to find them, but it can also give you great information that could help you in those initial get-to-know you discussions.
You might be able to tell by now that I’m not a fan of throw spaghetti at the wall networking. You know those – you go to endless meet and greets and mixers; with no specific idea of who you want to meet. And finally after driving for an hour to get there in traffic, one too many pigs in a blanket, and a glass of warm rose later – you drag yourself home with one business card – from exactly the person you didn’t want to meet, and that’s all.
Nope, aimless networking is just a waste of time.
Now I’m not saying you have to attack networking like a shark and only be in it for what you think you can get out of it – after all, you need a little finesse – but at least try to put yourself in a target rich environment. THEN be personable and engaging, so the right people get to know you.
“… I’m not saying you have to attack networking like a shark and only be in it for what you think you can get out of it – after all, you need a little finesse – but at least try to put yourself in a target rich environment.“
And then – and I can’t stress this enough – once someone has given you’re their information – FOLLOW UP.
We all lose really great opportunities because we are slow to follow up or, worst yet, don’t follow up at all.
Really, it’s such a simple thing, and it can pay massive dividends.
Another great way to meet referral partners is to be helpful. You are a repository of knowledge – meaning you know a lot about what you know a lot about. So share. Offer to do training sessions for the local chamber; seek out guest spots on podcasts – sharing your knowledge is a great way to cultivate referral partners.
It shows them you know what you’re talking about, and the get the benefit of seeing you in action, in person.
And you don’t have to stick to one to many, you can help one to one as well. So many times I have come across someone who was grappling with a problem their client was facing in the HR arena. And I make it my mission to offer any support I can.
Of course, I’m not going to give away unlimited consulting, but it’s no difficult for me to point the potential referral partner in the right direction; or give them insight on a part of the issue they haven’t considered.
I really can’t tell you how many times that has directly resulted in the person saying “can I have my client give you a call – I think they really need your help” – and suddenly, a golden connection is made.
You might also think about a referral fee. That can be a valuable incentive for referral partners. Just keep in mind, the ultimate goal is for you to get introductions to likely prospects. The referral fee isn’t there to support someone’s income.
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Now, whether or not you offer a referral fee is completely up to you. In some industries it’s standard operating procedure. Others are hit or miss.
As for us, well at Idomeneo we decided not to. When we refer someone to our client, if all goes well, then that enhances our brand even more in the client’s mind. And that’s good enough for us.
And before all the comments come flooding in – there is absolutely nothing wrong with referral fees. Do what’s right for you and your situation – get them, give them – enjoy. We just determined that they weren’t right for us – but that absolutely doesn’t mean they aren’t right for others. And you might find them a compelling part of your referral program.
Now, if you do decide to give referral fees, be sure you (and your referral partners) are very clear on the rules of play. And be sure to include all the info in your organization system, so you can keep close track.
Stay top of mind. Simply letting your referral partner know you exist is only part of the equation. Listen, they aren’t thinking of you every waking hour. You have to remind them you’re there. And you do that by staying in connection. And dare I say it – that happens through eMail and your content.
No matter if it’s a podcast, blog post or video – you really should be producing some sort of weekly content to help your marketing efforts. And you need to be sure to get that content in front of your referral partners. It reminds them you’re there, and you know your stuff, and you’re ready to help.
Now, don’t just go adding people to your eMail list just because they gave you a business card. Be polite, ask first. In fact, I have set up my eMail automation so that I add the person, and they automatically go into a sequence – the first eMail is asking if it’s OK to eMail them. And if they don’t hit the confirm button, then the sequence stops.
I know it seems like a lost opportunity, but it isn’t – that just keeps me from being able to give them weekly content. I still do a reminder in Asana, and reach out via personal eMail every couple of months. And in that eMail I might tell them of a recent piece of content I did around an emerging issue they might find interesting for their clients.
You see, it’s all about staying top of mind.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any other ideas about how you can create a thriving referral program – every bit helps.