If you want to get a steady stream of referrals, you need a plan. It’s not enough to simply design a referral plan, you also have to design the processes and routines necessary to operate the plan. The following entry points are important to keep in mind as you think in terms of operating your referral system in the real world.
Get an expectation mind-set.
The first step is to believe that you deserve referrals. In fact, you are doing your customers and network a disservice by not giving them an easy path to bring the tremendous value of your products and services to those who need it. If you can’t get past this psychological obstacle, any system you devise will break down under the weight of your self-consciousness.
The expectation mind-set must pervade your entire organization -- it’s everyone’s job to find leads and convert them into customers. In addition, your lead-conversion process must contain referral generation as part of the deal: “We know you are going to be so satisfied with what we’ve agreed upon today that after the project is completed, we are going to schedule a meeting to make certain you received the results promised, and at that time we’ll ask you if you would introduce us to three others that you know need these same results.”
Some might find the above statement hard to say, but I’m telling you it’s the most positive marketing message you can utter. We know you are going to be so happy that you will happily refer us. You’ve still got to deliver, but when you do you’ve established referrals as an expectation and condition in the relationship. It really is that simple.
Segment customers from partners.
You need completely different referral approaches and offers for customers and strategic partners. By targeting your approach to these segments you can more easily develop programs that make sense and motivate for the right reasons.
For customers, the likely motivation is that they like what you do so much they want to refer you. You simply need to stay top of mind and make it easy for them to do. Hint: Ask and remind!
For partners, the motivation is quite different. Your job here is to effectively position referring you in a way that helps them add value to the relationships they already have with their customer. The simplest way to do that is to create valuable content, perhaps in the form of a white paper or seminar, and offer it to them to share it, cobranded, with their customers. You’ve just made it easy for them to do something they know they should be doing.
Want more advice on getting referrals? Check out these stories:
- How to Build a Referral Engine
- Top 10 Social Media Tools to Find Your Referral Champions
- 5 Truths That Lead to More Referrals
Create turnkey tools.
Put tangible referral tools in the hands of your referral sources. Create documents that teach them the characteristics of your ideal customer, the trigger phrases your customers use when they need you, and your referral process.
Any business can create coupons and gift certificates and give them to their referral sources. A wine shop and caterer can create jointly branded marketing materials to help promote package deals. A bridal photographer can bring together a flower shop, a cake shop, a dress shop, and a DJ to write blog posts about cool weddings. Again, make it easy and it will happen.
Plan for logical collection.
The place that referral systems fail most often is in the collection phase. Expectations are set, customers are thrilled, the referral motivation is in place, but nobody thinks to actually ask for the referral -- d’oh!
The best time to collect referrals from customers is at the point when they realize and acknowledge that a good job was done. Create processes, such as annual results reviews, project reviews, and satisfaction surveys, and introduce or remind your customers about your referral programs during these reviews.
This is also a great way to really find out what kind of job you’re doing and correct course accordingly.
More than one creative entry point.
Not all motivations are created equal. You must have multiple referral opportunities to take advantage of the hyperloyal customer who wants to set up a lunch to introduce your firm, the casual customer who needs the gift certificate mailing as a reminder, and the nonprofit agency partner that would love to run a promotion with you to benefit their cause and promote you to their members.
Start with one or two referral program offers and gradually build new ones to let everyone find a way to play.
Measure and adjust.
Create a dashboard of key referral indicators as a way to set goals and measure the success of your referral initiatives. So what are the key metrics? Page views, referred leads, appointments, closed deals? Watch those indicators that will help you see where your programs might be breaking down. You may be receiving referrals but not closing them, or you might be closing every referred lead, but there aren’t enough of them.
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine.