There's the old joke about the two buzzards sitting in a tree overlooking a highway. One responds to the other, “Be patient? I'm hungry. Let's kill something. " Just like that buzzard, it is not in the nature of most marketers to be patient for business to grow. They want to go out and “kill something, " too.
The trouble is that most marketers go after new business the wrong way. They want to “take down" the new piece of business using all the tools of the trade from advertising and direct mail to cold calling and event marketing. This is an expensive way to drum up business. Your existing clients are just waiting to tell you about people they know who could use your services, and then help sell you in to these people they refer. Not only is this more cost effective, it practically guarantees the prospects will share the same characteristics of your best customers.
"OK, Harry, " you're asking, “but how do I do it?"
The first rule of getting referrals: ask. When should you ask? Let's review.
- After your customer has purchased something from you is a great time to ask. The new customer is pumped up about your offering and you can harness that energy by asking for names of others who could beneft from doing business with you.
- Upon delivery of your product or service is the next time to ask. The benefits of your offering should be readily apparent now, so you can remind the customer of the importance of their referrals.
- Anytime you have personal contact with your customer is a good time to ask. You are continuing to build a relationship with them and can use the opportunity to ask for referrals. Don't ask more than three times per year.
Many people hesitate to ask for referrals because they are not sure how to do it. Just be honest. Tell your customers that referrals are very important to the growth of your business, and that you want to grow it with people just like them. Remind them that the people they know will benefit from your service the way that they have. Then, ask.
Tell your prospect that you'd like for them to give you the names of three or four people who might benefit from your services. Pull out a sheet of paper and pen and look expectantly at them. If they can't immediately give you names, ask some prompting questions. Such as:
Who are your three best friends? Who are the most successful business people you know? Can you think of anyone who would benefit from my services?
Write the names down and keep writing until the customer runs out of names. Then, go back and ask for contact information for each one.
Thank the customer in the way you feel most comfortable. Some people like to send a gift, others will just drop a note of thanks. Some wait to see if the referral becomes a customer and then send a higher end gift. Do whatever works for you, but do thank them and keep them in the loop, letting them know about your follow up and the outcome of your prospecting.
So, don't just sit there in your tree. Get out there and kill something.
Harry Hoover is managing principal of Hoover ink PR, http://www.hoover-ink.com . He has 26 years of experience in crafting and delivering bottom line messages that ensure success for serious businesses like Brent Dees Financial Planning, Duke Energy, Levolor, New World Mortgage, North Carolina Tourism, VELUX and Verbatim.