Mar 19, 2011

Are You Getting Referrals?

At a business meeting recently, we went around the table telling our colleagues about the “best referral” we had in the last year, the business lead that generated the most revenue. After thinking about it, I realized that for the past twelve months I had not received a single referral that resulted in business! Fortunately, I have been busy, but looking back, I realized that all my business had come to me directly—by meeting and talking with people. I began thinking about why I had failed to reap any benefit from this traditionally important source of professional business leads.

After completing a survey of some recent customers, I identified some interesting answers. The top three reasons for not referring to me were:

1.       “I didn’t feel comfortable about what promises I could make on your behalf. Everything you do is different for each person.”
2.       “I don’t like asking people to do something. I just gave them your card.”
3.       “I just forgot about you!”

If you are wondering why your referral pipeline is not as full or moving as swiftly as you would like, consider whether the feedback I received could also apply to you and your potential referral sources. If any do, you may find that some solutions that I recently implemented may also work for you.

Make Promises

There is a big difference between telling people what you do and telling people what promises they can make on your behalf.  When I introduce myself at networking events, I usually say something like, “I specialize in helping companies increase their revenue by developing, launching and selling services.” I thought that was adequate, but I have been experimenting with a new “promised-based” description: “I work with small businesses for 6 months at a time to increase revenue by as much as 30% by selling new and existing services in smarter ways and for more money.”  People have told me that they feel more comfortable with the second version. What do you think?

I’ve heard other people use “promise-based” descriptions for what they do:

                “I specialize in helping people who can’t pay their mortgages or who owe more than their house is worth.  I will meet with them and offer suggestions without obligation.” My friend, Rick Smith, of ClickHome Reality, San Jose, CA, specializes in helping people sell houses at a difficult time. The way he describes his offering clears up any doubt about what he will do for anyone I may send to him.

                “If you know of a group or organization that would like to tour the Winchester Mystery House and would like to save some money on admission, have them contact me. I can offer them a group discount.” It ‘s hard to be confused about what will happen if I send you to my friend Nathan Emmett at the Winchester Mystery House. If you and 14 friends want a tour, he’ll give you a discount. Simple.

 Don’t Ask for Something; Give Something

Asking someone to do something is hard. Giving a gift is easy!  My friend and client Dan Gonzales, of the San Jose law firm, Ferrari, Ottoboni, Caputo & Wunderling LLP, recently wrote a “special report” that addresses risks of holding commercial property outside of an LLC. When I talk with my clients, I never ask if they would like a recommendation to a good attorney. (Obviously, my asking could seem insulting!) But I do frequently ask if they would like me to have sent to them a copy of Dan’s special report, which is well written and likely to impress them with Dan’s understanding of the law. If they say “yes,” it could indicate that they have a need for legal advice—and not just concerning the topic of the report. Offering this gift is a great easy way for me to generate leads for Dan while offering something of genuine value to my other clients. 

So ask yourself: Is there an informational product you could create that would make it easy for your referral sources to give a gift from you? This is what I came up with. What do you think?

Forgotten? I’ve got an app for that!    

People are busy. Moreover, according to psychologists, we have the ability to hold only about 10 people in our “shelf of mind”—the virtual bookshelf in our minds. As we meet new people in the course of business, other people automatically drop off the shelf unless they remind us of their existence.  If they can link the reminder with an additional benefit, even better.
To do a good job of staying on a customer’s “shelf of mind,” many  firms send them newsletters or greeting cards.  The key to success with both a newsletter and card program is making your content relevant and useful to your clients and potential clients:  it’s never all about you; it’s about them. Because then it gets read and you gain “shelf of mind” as someone attuned to their interests. My CPA is my son-in-law, and the father of 3 of my grandchildren, so whenever I talk to the grandkids or my daughter, I am reminded of Dave’s tax practice.  But even if I didn’t have Dave on speed dial, hearing from him once every 3 weeks or so with an article or a bit of news that might affect me or my business would be a great way for him gently to remind me of his availability. 

To stay in touch with clients and contacts, I have used a newsletter and created a business Facebook page that I post on daily. But I think that may be too passive. I’m going to start calling people about once every 6 weeks or so just to check in with them. 

What are you doing to stay in touch with clients with whom you are not actively working? Please let me know and in a future blog, I’ll share your strategies so all of us can benefit from them.