referrals, Joe Girard, Sales, TrainingWe’ve all heard that our best source of new business is through word of mouth, right?

Well there is one way to drive referrals that is guaranteed to work better than any other technique.

If referrals aren’t the lifeblood of your business, my first question to you is, “Why not?”

Today, as consumers, we are inundated with marketing messages and pitches telling us to buy this thing vs that thing. Or that we have the lowest price or are faster, better, or sexier than the other guys. And if you are like me, you are trying to wade through this world of changing online marketing, advertising, and selling.

(If you want to listen to this post, click here or on the play button below. Today is a longer post, but one you should read, save, and refer back to if you want to increase sales.)

How do we sort through all of this information? How can we make our lives easier as consumers?

Simple. We ask other people what they think. 

That is why site like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon have been so successful. We are much more willing to trust the opinions of strangers than those of the person selling to us.

And that, my friends, is exactly why referrals should be a massive focus for your selling efforts now and into the future. Over the coming months, you will see quite a bit more content from me on selling more effectively, understanding customer behavior, and building better repeatable practices. Referrals are simply the BEST of all the ways you can build your business.

Think about it. When was the last time you bought a car, went to dinner, or watched a movie without first asking someone you know what they thought? Or deeper still, asking someone you know what they think would be best for you! Referrals are powerful tools and often I see people suck at generating them, repeating them, and following through on them. I am here to help.

What is a referral?

Before I tell you the best way to get a referral, let’s first understand what a referral is, exactly.

A referral is earned and transferred trust. (tweet that ya’ll!)

It really is that simple. But the key is that it contains two parts – EARNED and TRANSFERRED.

Earned trust… You see, it’s one thing to get your customers to know like, and trust you. That is the key to selling anything. And for the most part, you can satisfy your clients, help them solve problems, and give them what they asked for. You may even get them so excited that they will tell people about their experience with you and your company.

Transferred trust… This is where the magic happens, folks! As humans, we are all a little bit insecure. Heck, most of us are REALLY insecure. We are afraid or rejection, we get nervous around new people, and we definitely don’t like looking stupid in front of our social circles. So if you remember anything in this post, it is this point: When someone gives you a referral, they are TRUSTING that you’ll follow through on what they said you would do.  They are putting their social capital on the line to say, “I trust this person (or business)…and so should you.” This is massive.

And a referral is your opportunity to make the person who referred you look really smart, and help them increase that social capital. But the danger comes when we take referral shortcuts…

How you should handle a referral

This section could probably be it’s own ten part article, but I will try and keep it straight-forward. One of the craziest things I see people do is mis-handle the word-of-mouth business they receive. You would be surprised to know that quite often, salespeople, customer service reps, and even business owners take these referrals for granted.

Perhaps this has happened to you when someone says, “Oh my friend Jenny told me you guys were awesome and that you could help me!” And you think to yourself that this will be a slam dunk sale. So what do you do? Well, maybe you rush through to the sales pitch, you forget to build trust and rapport, and you essentially try and push them to a decision. And lo and behold, they don’t buy! They go back to their friend, Jenny, and tell her that it wasn’t at all the way she said it would be.

When you get a referral, you have to be on your 100% BEST to demonstrate that they were right to refer you. The potential new customer should be treated as if they were the only customer that ever existed (all your customers should be, but that’s a different discussion). You can’t skip steps, you can’t make assumptions, and you must ensure they feel the way they expected to feel.

I tell you this because I have screwed up many referrals in the past for this exact reason. I did a great job with a client, they were excited, and they sent someone to me who said, “You’re supposedly the best. I’m interested in buying from you” And in my massive ego-istic ways, I thought, “You’re darn right I am. This one will be an easy sell.” So I jumped to the pitch and as soon as I did, I knew it was all over. I saw the look in their eyes that told me, “Oh god, here we go, this guy is giving me the sell. What has my friend got me into.” It was too late. I turned into THAT GUY. The next words out of their mouth was, “Great, let me go home and think about it and I will get back to you…”  Let me be straight with you. This has happened a bunch of times, and that’s why I am trying to help you here!

So treat your referrals like gold and make the person who referred you look brilliant.

Build a referral game plan, don’t wait for them!

By now, I sure hope you see the power AND the danger of referrals. Done properly, you can grow your business very quickly with the right customers. Done poorly, and you can ensure a speedy trip towards a crappy reputation.

So let’s say that you have the information above dialed in. You handle the referrals properly, you ensure the service level is top-notch, and you deliver on your promises. Great, now how do you get more of them coming in? Well, it’s not done by hoping your customers will actually go out and solicit new business for you. That is what I would call a “unpredictable marketing model.” Cross your fingers and stare at the phone until it rings.

The smart way is to build an empowered referral network. Help your customers understand who they should refer, that you value referrals, and that you can be trusted with their networks. You must make it a part of your processes. And as you may know, that is what I specialize in – helping my clients tighten up their processes for repeatable results.

Here is a simple 8 step referral process you can use with your business:

  1. Identify  and be able to quickly describe your ideal customer. This may sound easy, but have you taken the time to create customer profiles, especially on your ideal clients? Often, when I ask someone who I should refer to them, they give me the silliest answer…“Well anyone!” Oh great, well I know anyone, so should I just tell everyone to come and buy from you? To quote from Jerry McGuire, “Help me, help you.” Tell me who would be a great fit as a customer, who would have the same values as you, and who would really be excited to meet with you. Then, I can go through my mental Rolodex (yah I used that word) or better yet, I would break out my phone and call that person directly. How would you like to be able to describe your client, and then have someone pick up the phone RIGHT THERE and call a referral for you? I did it just yesterday. So much easier than a Facebook ad! (And a quick shameless plug for me: My ideal client is someone with an established business, that has existing customers, doing less than $1 Million per year, and is ready to develop repeatable sales and marketing systems to grow predictably to the next level. I help them identify their  highest value activities, craft the right offers for the right customers, and scale – all while focusing on the ROI. I would love to meet anyone that fits that description and give them some free advice on how to do just that – and then see how we may fit!) Keep in mind, I said IDEAL. I work with businesses of all sizes, but the ideal is where referrals come in. You can probably picture someone that fits that profile, right? I don’t really need referrals for my other projects, but that client base has the most potential and also takes the most work to build trust. A referral helps quickly establish a bond and get the conversation started. What about you? Who is the ideal referral for your business?
  2. Ask for introductions instead of referrals. A little switch up here, since we have been using the R word for most of this. The reason you may want to try using the word “introduction” is that it does not come with any expectations of a purchase. Have you ever shied away from giving a referral because you weren’t sure if the person would be ready to buy? Help people understand that you are simply looking to meet people that your business can help and to just start a dialogue. You can describe someone in step 1 above, then ask if they know anyone that fits that profile. By actively describing, then asking, you trigger people to start tapping their minds to find you business. Most people don’t actively do this, so you have to make it a part of your conversation.
  3. Empower your referrers with tools. You must test this one out as it has helped me and my clients BIG TIME. Here are two points to understand. First, people WANT to give referrals because it makes them feel good. And second, they usually don’t do it because thy don’t know how. Your job is to equip them with referring tools. You see more of this each day with online businesses, where they give you a unique referral code, a “post this to Facebook” button that has a pre-defined script, or simply “sharing” buttons on a website. All of these tools have been designed to simplify the referral process. You can employ these same techniques with your offline customers as well. A perfect example is the email referral. Picture this: You meet someone at a networking event and you really connect well. During your chat, they identify someone who would be a great fit for you as a customer. The normal way to handle that would be to give them a card and tell them to get that person to call you, right? What are your conversions on that? How much control do you have with that process? A better way would be to tell them, “Hey that would be fantastic! How about we do this…I will send you an email covering some of the stuff we talked about and you just have to forward it to your friend. You can make any adjustments you like.” Then you go to your email later that day and send them your pre-made referral script. Something like this: “Hey _____, it’s _____. I want to introduce you to Joe Girard. He is a strategic business coach in sales and marketing. We were discussing some really interesting business ideas the other day, and I thought of you immediately. I think it would be worthwhile for you two to connect as I think you would get along quite nicely. I told him a bit about your business, and he was excited about what you were up to and wanted to meet you. He had some great ideas that you would get a kick out of, for sure. I will leave it up to you two to chat, see if you want to grab coffee or a phone call, and possibly be a good fit. You never know.” It can be as simple as that. Then send it to them with any adjustments and see what happens. that way, you take the guesswork out of referrals.  And the pressure of them having to type something up. They might completely change the whole message, but at least they get a sense of how you work, and it lets them breathe easier.
  4. Send thank you cards to all referrers. Make sure that you recognize people that have taken the time to transfer their trust to you. Hand written cards are the best. Email is the worst. Skywriting is over the top.
  5. Ask for referrals – even from lost business. Here is a great opportunity, especially if your business is a service. If you can get all the way to the proposal stage and they don’t end up buying, that is the ultimate time to ask for a referral, Obviously you did a good enough job to get them to the proposal stage, and hopefully you have built a decent relationship. So why not tell them it’s okay they don’t buy from you and ask them if they know of anyone who may be a better fit.  And, since they are rejecting you, they may feel bad enough already to make an extra effort. Just so we’re clear, I am not saying guilt them into it, but base it on the level of your relationship in the moment. Just don’t miss this golden opportunity to ask!
  6. Make a list of sources. You should get in the habit of actively listing potential referral sources on a regular basis. Click here to download my free referral checklist to help get you thinking about some sources as well as some more tips. Plus, the act of actually building your list will get you thinking deeper about your ideal customers and your processes. Try it!
  7. Schedule time to go and ask for introductions. If it isn’t scheduled, you probably won’t do it. Make a plan to connect with people on a regular basis and build a referral machine that you drive. Take time each week to share what you are up to with your network and ask people for introductions. Don’t look at it as selling, but simply helping people become more aware of what you offer and who you want t connect with. And, if you haven’t got my sweet ebook called the 90 Day Sprint yet, I would say go and buy it for $9 here. This will help you start to develop a referral plan into your already busy schedule and simplify your days.
  8. Track your sources. And the last tip is always about measuring, evaluating, and improving. Don’t spread yourself too thin by trying everything all the time. You don’t need to be at every networking function, you don’t have to have all the bells and whistles on your site, and you don’t have to be constantly calling all your customers for referrals. You just need to start tracking what works and where you get the best results from. See what sources give you good referrals, which ones convert best, and where you get the best ROI. Do you perhaps have a referral fee program that gets new leads to come see you? Do you have a customer appreciation event that is well attended? Do you belong to a community group that actively helps each other out? Get out and start making things happen for your business!

And finally…the best way to get a referral: GIVE a referral

At last, I will get to the point of all this. I actually thought this would be a quick post today, but I got carried away typing and sharing these ideas with you. I sincerely hope you test them out and let me know how they work for you!

Time and time again, I have seen people try everything to get new leads. But the number one way to build a referral machine, is to be the BEST in your network at helping others grow THEIR business.  This takes some time, but those who do this well, never have to worry about new business again. People in their network are so excited to send them new business, it’s crazy! Build trust and a reputation in your community as a connector and become known for what you do. Help others succeed and they will want to reciprocate. It is human nature. But, be warned…people will see through you if your goals are self-serving. You must give first and ask ask nothing in return. Be patient.

Phew! I hope that helps you in your business today and into the future. Today’s marketplace is calling for a new breed of salespeople, and the time is right for what I call the “Unselling” Revolution. Stop selling and build intelligent, collaborative communities that focus on giving value to each other. Selling in the future will require more than what you can do alone. It will be about how well you have built a network of trust. Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks and months.

Go out, apply this, and please comment below on how you build your own referrals and apply these techniques. And remember to share this with others.

Joe Girard
Follow me!

Share YOUR Thoughts and Ideas on This Topic: