June 22, 2012 \ Geoff Birmingham
5 Nuggets on Using Referrals for More Business

Sales and Marketing Executives InternationalLast month at SMEI Boston’s roundtable breakfast, conversation focused on sales tips. Yesterday, we talked about how to ask for referrals. Here are just five pieces of wisdom shared among many:

Have the right mindset. Some of us are not as diligent about asking for referrals because we are uncomfortable with the process. But if you offer a good service or product, it’s important to believe that you have earned the right to ask.

Set the stage. A good way to ask for referrals and get people comfortable with the idea of helping you is to first plant a seed before you make your request. For example, you have just signed a contract with a new client and you say: “Ms. Client, down the road, after we’ve finished our work for you and you’re thrilled with what we’ve done, would it be okay for us to have a conversation about other people you know who could use our services?”

Most likely, she’ll say: “Yes, it would be okay to have a talk,” and now you have her in the right mindset in advance. Plus, she’s given you an unwritten agreement to help out (assuming she’s thrilled with your work, of course!).

Make your contact an ally. This nugget comes from Kevin Riley at The Allied Group. Kevin pointed out that most people who agree to give us referrals have good intentions, but despite those good intentions they may not follow through on their promises to connect us with others. We need to help them understand why referrals are so important.  So for example, you might say:

“Hey Bob, you know what cold calling is, right?” Bob says he does (while thinking to himself, “Yeah, I know what it is. It’s icky and I’d never want to do it!”). In case he doesn’t know it’s icky you tell him: “It’s not much fun. It’s tedious. And it’s like hunting for a needle in a haystack. We really try to avoid it at all costs, which is why referrals are so much better for us.” Hopefully, Bob’s now in your corner and wants to help out. Then you follow up with your request.

Ask in the right way. You want to help your referrer help you, so be specific about who you want to meet. “I always like to be introduced to people who are …” Or, if you’ve just helped a client solve a problem: “Can you share with me people like yourself who have similar problems to the ones I just helped you with?”

Give back. Getting referrals is a two-way street. Offer your own referrals to your contact, or give them some other value. A client of ours recently asked us to do a little extra work for them. We obliged but didn’t charge them the nominal fee we could have. We did, however, ask to have a referral conversation. We suspect that our that favor will soon be reciprocated!