How to Turn More Referrals Into Paying Clients

Adam Urbanski

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60% of all small business owners, sales and solo-professionals claim that more than half of their new business comes from referrals. Yet when asked about the process they so successfully use to get those referrals and turn them into paying clients, most will have a puzzled, deer-in-the-headlights, stupefied look on their face, and keep quiet. Only a handful of professionals can clearly articulate where their referrals consistently come from and how they turn them into a new business.

Those that do – understand the power of a system and frequency of exposure. To best illustrate this, let’s look at how two consultants handle referrals.

At first glance John and Steve have virtually identical practices. They are both management consultants, both have introduced executive coaching to their “product" mix. They are excellent at what they do and have stellar reputation among their customers and peers. But there is a difference…

John gets almost five times as many referrals as Steve, and he turns 95% of them into new clients. How, you ask? See if you can spot a difference. . .

Steve’s name occasionally pops up in conversations his clients have with their business associates. Since he does a good job, people are often intrigued by the results he creates, ask for his contact information and call him to inquire about his services. Those calls typically lead to an appointment.

In terms of frequency of exposure, Steve’s potential new clients might hear his marketing message only twice before the meeting: when they first get his information from a business colleague, and during the initial phone conversation.

At first glance, John’s case isn’t much different. His name comes up in conversations where he’s praised for his great work. His contact information is passed on, and he too gets an inquiring phone call leading to an appointment with a prospective client. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

Immediately after the call, John sends out a hand-written card saying “thank you for interest in my services, I’m looking forward to our meeting. "

He also sends a handwritten thank-you card and a small gift (like a $5 Starbucks gift card) to the person who gave him the referral. (I guess John understands that the best way to develop a habit is to reward it in the first place – so he tries to make his referral sources feel good about mentioning his name. And it works!)

The following day, John sends out a small package with positioning materials – a welcome letter, an article relevant to prospect’s situation, and an audio CD. This will allow the potential client to “sample" John’s expertise on the subject, build trust, increase the appetite for his services, and position him as a valuable authority.

Incidentally, John knows that many of his best prospects won’t have time to fully review those materials. He also knows it really doesn’t matter. All he wants is to see his “stuff" sitting on prospect’s desk when he walks into their office.

But he’s still not done. A couple of days before the scheduled meeting he calls his potential client to briefly confirm the meeting objectives, time and place.

After the meeting, John immediately sends out another handwritten “pleasure meeting you/thank you" card.

So let’s review how many times John’s prospects are exposed to his marketing message:

    1. When they first are referred to him in a conversation with a business colleague.

    2. When they call him to inquire about his services.

    3. When they get his handwritten “looking forward to meeting you" card.

    4. When they get his Positioning Packet. (And again when they make time to look through the materials he sends out)

    5. When he makes the reminder call two days before the meeting.

    6. During the first meeting. (Notice, that at this point prospect has been exposed to John’s marketing message five times – comparing to only two times in Steve’s process. )

    7. When they get the handwritten “thank you" card after the meeting

Plus, sending a thank-you card and a small gift to the referral source might prove helpful as well. Sometimes, motivated by the gesture, the referral source might choose to take a more active part in the process, inquire about how things are going, and offer additional help.

There is one other thing that separates John from Steve. John understands that his clients want to give him referrals but often don’t know how to do this. So he takes time to educate them and makes it easy for them to pass his information on.

He hands each new client a sample of a great Attraction Tool (most likely an audio program or a book), and informs them that he’ll gladly send this Attraction Tool to any of this new client’s business associates at absolutely no cost and no obligation – all they have to do is ask for it.

He might even hand the new client a few postcards promoting the Attraction Tool and encourage him to send it out to their associates. Why bother? Because by sharing this information John’s new clients are actually helping their colleagues. And it’s easier and less awkward to send out a postcard and to share a resource, than to hand over names of business friends. All this increases the chances of John’s name coming up in casual conversations.

I can already hear you whining: “but that’s too much work, I can’t do that in my business", etc. , etc. And you are right – it does take extra work to set this SYSTEM up.

Do you have to do this? Hey, it’s your business – you don’t have to do anything you don’t want! But the fact is – frequency builds familiarity. Familiarity builds trust. And we all do business with people we know, like and trust. So you decide if adding a few extra steps in the process could help you get more referrals and, eventually, paying clients.

(c) 2005 Adam M. Urbanski


Adam Urbanski, the Marketing Mentor, helps Independent Service Professionals and Small Business Owners attract more clients. For more promotional tips and a FREE 32-page marketing guide go to


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