How to Generate Referrals

Written by: Alan Rodway

One of the most productive ways to generate business revenue is through referrals. This article gives a variety of ways to get them, on three fronts:

  1. Referrals to source new clients
  2. Referrals are much easier to derive from relationships than from transactions . To try and gain a referral from a one off or just a few interactions with someone is much more difficult than once a ‘relationship’ is established. A relationship exists when both parties feel ‘connected’ and the time, activities, etc. that this takes will vary between situations and between people. Asking for referrals before trust is established, or on email tag lines is hardly likely to be effective. Relationships can lead to referrals of new clients.
  3. Someone wanting referrals must first deliver an outstanding experience to the client (‘client’ meaning client or customer) before asking anyone to refer to them. Imagine delivering a mediocre experience and then asking for referrals.
  4. Following that, ‘asking for referrals’ is obviously part of getting them . Sure, some people will simply offer them up, but not always; so never recoil from asking. It’s not rude, nor imposing … it’s the way they’re asked for that matters. Respectful requests, meant sincerely, without pressure on the person can be effective; off the cuff requests, amateurishly delivered, can do more damage to professionalism than just getting a ‘No’ to the question.
  5. There are good times to ask for referrals and not so good times. The timing has to be relaxed, not rushed, off the back of positive experience and at a point in the relationship where the trust is sufficient but familiarity has not set in (and I find that’s somewhere in the first year in the relationship). Asking someone for a referral for the first time after ten years of working with them is too much of a bolt from the blue and may even cause questions in their minds of ‘Why now?’.
  6. Be very clear on what you’re wanting to be referred to you . ‘Anyone’ doesn’t work. The clearer you are on what you’re looking for (re criteria of your target client) the greater the chance of other people understanding and responding to that. This goes to a business or unit being clear on their target client per se.
  7. The most powerful ways to generate referrals is to give them first .. without doubt. It’s almost biblical … ‘Give, and you will receive’. It works most often and gives a good feeling of helping someone first before asking for anything.
  8. The social media should play a significant role in generating referrals . It is extremely broad in coverage, inexpensive to use, easy to work and downright So it has to be right up there as one of our tools.
  9. ‘Net work’ not ‘Net watch’ . Too many people think that networking is having a network. No, it’s not. It’s working that network that delivers referrals … growing it, and acting on it in planned, skilful and regular ways. Networks are pretty much useless if contact is not generated within them. Again, this should be formulated into a process for each individual and team.
  10. Having a recognized and respected brand is clearly a powerful way of drawing people to a business … and this forms part of making it easier to generate referrals from one person to another. So, for those with less than national or international brand recognition, they should be engaging some consistent steps to grow that recognition … again, the social media makes that more achievable, easier and less costly .. as do websites, mobile websites and Apps. But, whatever the actions are, every business, no matter how small, should be striving for increased brand recognition .. to make referral generation easier.
  11. Referrals into other parts of the business (i.e. cross selling)
  12. There is a world of difference between trying to refer someone to another part of the business and genuinely offering help . The former can too easily be construed by the recipient as selling whereas the latter is more likely to be appreciated (obviously requiring the offer to be sincerely delivered). A ‘Help Not Sell” approach works much better. So offer help to people … don’t try to refer clients to another area.
  13. Think like the client when designing referral approaches … what would you respond well to .. rather than things like ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Treat the client how you would want to be treated. Don’t come at things from the perspective of the business; come at them from the perspective of the client.
  14. To refer to another area within a business requires the referrer to properly understand the benefits to a client of engaging that other area. Otherwise, it’s just chasing a referral. The best way to achieve that depth of understanding is for referrers to have experienced what the client will experience; otherwise we are asking people to try Nike runners when we have never worn them. And note the word ‘benefits’ … not technical detail nor features … benefits.
  15. The best way to refer to another part of the business is via personal introduction .. not via an email or a suggestion to contact someone, but to physically go with the person and introduce them personally, then stay awhile until the person being referred is engaged and comfortable. (This is not always possible but it is the ideal way to make the introduction).
  16. Being ‘pushy’ in trying to refer someone is a huge no go zone . Enough said.
  17. The approach to referring people should be sit well for each referrer, i.e. suitable to their own communication style and persona. So, scripts are no go zones … false, false, false. Be yourself.
  18. The person who wants referrals has to be the one who is responsible for getting them , not the referrer. Some businesses try to put the onus of referral generation on the referrer .. that doesn’t usually work. It’s got to come down to the initiative of the person receiving them, not the other way round. Otherwise, it can become a case of ‘you don’t refer to us’ … that’s not a productive approach. If someone’s not getting referrals from another area of the business he/she has to be the one changing things, not waiting for someone else.
  19. Referrals between separate businesses
  20. The choice of businesses to align with for cross referrals is critical to success . Not just being someway related re industry but also re ‘culture’, motive, approach, etc. The businesses don’t have to be the same but they have to be in some ways aligned … and significant time should go into determining whether a cross referral arrangement should be set up at all, to analyse the likely success. So, careful selection of referral partners is necessary .. it’s not the number of them that matters; it’s the results from each.
  21. Alliances with other businesses should be set up for the long term . They take a lot of work to make them effective and significant trust has to be grown between the entities involved, so it’s only worth it if long term gains are likely to occur.
  22. Knowing and experiencing the benefits of being a client of each other’s business is a critical component of successful cross referrals . Otherwise, as said earlier, people are trying to refer into an unknown and that will never have the belief that first hand experience does.
  23. A sometimes contentious issue is that of referral fees . Some people find them distasteful and not always a good motivator for people to refer. Irrespective of personal opinion on that, it surely is more about the quality of what is being provided that will generate referrals than incentives to do so.

Some of the points in the three sections above obviously cross over into one or both of the other areas .

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