Are you you asking your clients to pass along your name to anyone they know who needs work done? Once in awhile you might get a lead, but it doesn’t yield a lot of business. Sound familiar?
Well the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Steve Gordon, author of Unstoppable Referrals, shares how to build a systematic referral system.
Steve has published hundreds of articles on marketing and selling high trust services, learned in his previous career as the CEO of an engineering consulting firm. Steve shares how you can consistently earn referrals in a way that works and generates value for everyone involved.
Steve shares with us:
Why is it so uncomfortable to ask a client for a referral?
To understand why referrals are so difficult to do, we have to look at the relationships of the people involved. There are three parties:
- You as the service provider
- Your client who you are asking to be your referral partner
- The prospective client
The relationship between you and your client has been about you providing a service in exchange for money. You and the client both get value out of the exchange. Now, you ask them for a referral, but what do they get in exchange? The balance of reciprocity is gone.
In addition, when you ask your client for a referral, you are asking them to search their network for someone who could use your services, but might not be someone you would pick as an ideal client. This prospect is probably someone they know well and who share a mutual respect and friendship so that any referrals they make would be taken seriously.
Then, your client must go out, tell their friend about you and essentially have a sales meeting to pitch your services. Now your client’s relationship with their friend has become awkward because a coffee meeting turned into a sales meeting.
Your client’s friend might feel obligated to meet with you in order to maintain the relationship with your client, even though they might not be a good fit for you or they aren’t in the right position to need your services right now. But if they don’t meet with you, they could be seen as snubbing your client, their friend. This doesn’t exactly make for the best first impressions by the time you meet with the prospect.
How can the referral system help everyone?
Your interest, as the service provider, is to get new clients.
Your client’s interest is a desire to help out people they care about in their network.
The prospect, who is in the client’s network, has a problem and is looking for clues on how to move forward.
Once you align all these interests, the referral system is beneficial for everyone. You just need to make it easy for you client to identify a prospect and make an introduction without all the awkwardness.
How do you make it easy?
Don’t start with a meeting, start with a referral kit. A referral kit contains valuable information that helps a client solve their problems. You can hand this to you client, who can quickly look at it, recognize the problem and instantly connect that problem with people they know in their network. Now all your client has to do is pass on the referral kit to a prospect, rather than having a meeting.
For example, a good referral kit for a web designer might be a website self-assessment that a business owner can walk through and score their website against best-practice criteria. If their score is 9/10, they are probably doing great, and don’t really need your services, but have a few things that they can improve. You can even have a list of suggestions on how to get the 10/10. If they score below 5, then they can have a 20 minute call with you to tackle the low-hanging fruit. No strings attached.
Without meeting you yet, the prospect has already learned something valuable about their business. They are now more likely to work with you because you have proven yourself and helped them.
Breaking down the referral kit:
First, you need to know your ideal client, who you best serve. This is the audience you will be writing about and writing to. You are not writing about yourself.
Once you have your ideal client, the first part of you referral kit is presenting the problem that your ideal client needs to solve or an opportunity for your ideal client.
Next, you present the consequences of not solving the problem or missing out on the opportunity. People pay to remove the consequences of not solving the problem.
Then, you give them a peek at the solution. You are letting off a bit of the tension by giving them the first step to finding a solution.
Next, you show proof that you solved the problem for other people. You want the case study or testimonial to be a mirror for your prospect, so they can see and believe what life can be once the problem is solved.
Finally, give them the next-step offer. At this point, the prospect has been educated about the problem, the consequences, and a bit of the solution. Now, you encourage the right prospects to initiate the sales meeting themselves. If they initiate the process, they want to be there, rather than being cajoled into a sales meeting. These are the best clients!
The example above put the referral kit in the form of an assessment. This is one way to do it. You can do it in a report, a book, a presentation, a webinar, or a seminar.
Having the value conversation:
Any time a client thanks you for the value that you have proved them, not necessarily at the end of a project, you can sit down and have a value conversation with them. You started your business to help specific people with specific problems and are passionate about your craft. Remind them how you specifically helped their business and how you want to help more businesses.
Go through their network together, from email or linkedin contacts, and identify people they think might have a similar problem in their businesses that you can help solve. Send the contacts your referral kit as a gift from you and your client to help them work through their problem. Approach it with purity of intent, just to help people.
If you did a good job with your client, then most clients will be happy to help you by sending out the kit. Since the kit in itself is providing value, your client can feel helpful when they send out the kit to their contacts, instead of feeling awkward about selling you to their contacts.
Make sure you know where the referral kits are going so you can follow up later. Often, due to circumstances beyond your control, the client isn’t ready to contact you, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the problem and want a solution. So follow up with a reiteration of the referral kit to stay fresh in the prospect’s mind. The exact frequency of follow-up varies based on your business. You can also build a platform to follow up to nurture these prospects, such as a podcast or newsletter.
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