We all know how important clients are to any business. Virtually all businesses devote a significant part of their time and effort to attracting new clients. Smart businesses take this one step further and spend significant resources on retaining existing clients.
Some need to design new programs or services to maintain clients who are no longer in need of their initial services, hopefully working with a creative consultant when doing so. But far fewer businesses attempt to turn existing clients into their own marketing arms. That’s surprising, given that personal referrals are always the most well received and easiest to close.
When it comes to personal referrals, most of the work needed to close your prospect has already been done by having worked hard and having satisfied the client who provided the referral. Not going after this resource doesn’t make sense. To help you do so effectively, I’ve put together a handful of tips to help you turn satisfied clients into satisfactory results for your business.
For starters, don’t assume that clients will automatically provide referrals. You need to ask for them. And no matter what business or industry you are in, you can always ask for referrals. But won’t satisfied clients refer you anyway? No, and not because they have anything against you. On the contrary, they do value your service. But even though your business is on your mind, it’s not on theirs.
There’s a famous story about Tip O’Neill (US Speaker of the House 1977-87), when he ran in his first election. He lost by only a handful of votes. A short while later he met up with an elderly lady, a neighbor he had always been friendly with for years. When she offered her “condolences” on the race he replied “at least you voted for me.” To this she replied that she hadn’t gone out to vote. The race hadn’t been on her mind that day and all she could say was “Tip, you never asked.” O’Neill learned his lesson then and repeated it often in future races. If you’ve read some of my other columns, you’ll realize that I’m not a Tip O’Neill fan (though I’d take him over many Democrats today). But one doesn’t need to be a fan to appreciate the lesson learned from his story. If you don’t ask for referrals, your customers won’t think of giving them. It simply won’t be on their minds. If you do ask, it will be and they will respond.
But what if your business deals in fairly confidential matters, stuff that clients wouldn’t wish to advertise that they need? Wouldn’t asking for referrals only serve to turn off existing clients? The answer: not at all, if done right. Even if your business is confidential in nature, such as certain doctors or attorneys, you can ask your clients to think of you if someone they know finds themselves in a similar situation or may need other services. If necessary, tell them that there’s no need for them to divulge how they know you. Ask them to simply say “I know a ........ who has a very good reputation.”
Another referrals tool is incentivizing. Everybody knows about offering discounts based on referrals and hopefully, after reading this column, more business owners will implement such a program and not just “know about it.” But discount incentives are just the beginning. Incentives can come in the form of mutual referrals. In fact, those are usually the best incentives of all. To do this effectively, you need to get to know your clients. Find out what they do, where they work, if they’re employed - whether they have a second business or can benefit from introducing new clients to their company. If the answer to any of these is yes, you may have the beginnings of a mutually beneficial two-way referral network that will not only strengthen their loyalties to you as clients but will bring you more business while giving you a chance to help them too.
These are just a few examples of how to generate warm, first hand referral leads, the most beneficial of them all and the kind you cannot purchase with money. So that more of these referrals come your way, treat your clients like gold and go the extra mile to help maintain them. But don’t just treat them like gold. Ask them to refer others and give their friends the opportunity to experience the excellent service (or product) your company or business provides.
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