To get the best referrals, you need more than naturally occurring word-of-mouth. You need to have a program to actively elicit referrals from a number of services.
You may think that clients will just give you referrals because they like you or your service. However, it doesn’t always happen this way. To have a top practice, you must do more than produce good work and wait for referrals to follow.
Some clients are more likely to give referrals than are others. When you identify someone who is liberal with their referrals, cultivate them. They will be worth several people who like you just as much, but aren’t in the habit of giving referrals.
Ask For Referrals
You need to set up a regular system of asking for referrals. In addition to calling current clients and asking them for referrals, you can call past clients and ask them for the names of people who might need your services. You may find that even past clients are interested in working with you again.
A good time to ask for referrals is when people complement you. A woman said that her clients sometimes thank her effusively for helping them with their money situations. She tells them "The best way to thank me is to send your friends who might need the same help."
You may see asking for referrals as an admission of weakness – that you want more business. If you don’t ask for referrals, why should people assume that you want them? If you’re established in business, you need to be clear that you want more business. Asking can also show your strength. People understand that you may want to grow your business, or obtain more clients of a certain type.
Some firms creatively reinforce their referral sources. You may be able to reward people for referrals by sending them business, etc. While you can’t "pay" people for referrals, you can reward them in some ways. One accountant gives a restaurant gift certificate for successful referrals from either clients or staff. Many ideas exist for cultivating referrals. Try some that you are comfortable with and put them into practice.
As I discuss in my book, whenever you have a client in common with another service provider, it’s logical to get acquainted with that person so you can coordinate in serving the client. Get to know your best clients’ other professional service providers. We find lawyers, bankers, bonding agents, and insurance brokers among the best. They are open to you and will readily meet with you because of your joint client.
One large consulting firm uses this approach almost exclusively to add new clients. For every client they have, there are often 4-5 other professionals they can contact. And often they have multiple clients in common, creating a stronger tie.
Referrals Help Your Clients and Prospects
Referrals are not just for your benefit. Clients want informed referrals to resources that can help them, too. When you have cross-referral arrangements with other service providers, you add greater depth to your clients’ business support team. Together you create a "group" that is a more complete organization to serve each customer better.
Your prospects would prefer to hear about you from someone they trust and who has their best interests at heart. By setting up referral arrangements, you are helping your clients by strengthening their business advisors.
Getting more referrals is logical and easy. You should first create awareness of your most apparent referral sources. Secondly, create a simple action plan with a timetable for completion. Then stay in touch so that you remain “front in their mind” when they consider other quality professionals. If you will concentrate on referrals, you will be successful and they will be your most valuable source of new business.
Proactive service may be a little extra work over just reacting to client requests. However, it will create a big return on your investment of thought and time. You’ll reap the benefits in better relationships and deeper client loyalty.