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Your clients should be your best advocates

Your clients should be your best advocates and in turn refer you to businesses they come in touch with.  It is one of the easiest ways of reaching new clients and the foundation of business networking. So, why aren’t they referring you?

Background

We were discussing this the other day whilst travelling back from a client meeting in Reading the other day as we have been  relatively successful " in terms of both giving and receiving referrals " from a variety of sources.  This has traditionally been a mix of clients, suppliers and network colleagues.  The question I asked was, why do some people refer us and other don’t and how could we encourage clients to refer us.  Although our discussion was focused on our clients, as they should be our best advocates and logically should be our best referrers, it isn’t limited to them by any means.

Joining the dots together

We often refer clients, suppliers and network colleagues as part of our everyday business activities, in fact we have referred two businesses this week and this is something that has become second nature to us.  Once you understand enough about a business, it is extremely easy to introduce another business and there is a win-win situation, because the business you are referring is normally pleased and (as long as the person you have referred in does a good job) the person you made the referral to is also pleased /grateful.  During everyday conversations with people you’ll hear little triggers and it is up to you to join the dots together.

I was talking to an existing clients a couple of months ago and he started talking about video presentations.  Coincidentally I had also just had a catch up with someone I used to work with whilst at the Home Office, who had set up his own video based business.  It wasn’t exactly rocket science to put the two businesses together!

Although the above example was easy to join the dots together!

Quality not quantity

Sometimes it is more subtle than the above example and that is what makes the difference between someone creating one or two connections as opposed to two or three.  Remember, it is about quality not quantity, the last thing you need is dozens of soft leads that will not come to anything.  It is worth remembering " if you regularly network (or plan to) " that soft leads are a waste of everyone’s time, if you make referrals make sure they are good quality and follow up.  There is an excellent business called the Referral Institute for those of you that want a more formulaic approach, although network groups like NRG Business Networks offer training via their seminars for visitors and members (see NRG Business Networks).

Creating advocates

Within business networks you’ll hear people talking about advocates " these are people you know, like and trust and would willing refer into any business, but perhaps more importantly you most important client as well " and should be your objective when business networking.  In essence work on your relationships and stop pitching, the work will find you!

Clients should be your best advocates, because they have experienced your product / service first hand and should in all likelihood know, like and trust you.  In fact, you will probably find that clients already regularly talk about you with their business colleagues in a positive light.

Turning advocates into referrers

So, back to the beginning of this article, why do some clients refer you and not others (and for arguments sake lets just assume all your clients are happy and think you are the best thing since sliced bread)? Following our conversation last week, I asked one particular client (who is in professional services) why he didn’t refer us and to my horror he said “I never thought of it”.  It was particularly interesting as we have probably generated more leads for this single client over the last 18 months than anyone else and we also know he often tells people he comes in to contact at how happy he is with the work we did for him.

The client will often mention us in passing whilst demonstrating his solution, saying “blah, blah, blah … and Ayrmer Software did a great job … blah, blah, blah”, but the client hears “this solution is really going to help you … blah, blah, blah … and will solve your problems”.  The person our client is talking to is focused on his solution and isn’t interested, so the person listening will either block out or disregard the soft referral.

So how could he generate referrals?

Whilst talking to the client I explained the problem with the way he is currently referring us and said it would be better to pick up on any triggers the person to whom he is speaking and then refer us accordingly and at a separate time (after his presentation when they will be more receptive to other information).

A great is when I was talking to a client of ours and they said that they had issues with a certain area within their business whilst we were discussing their project.  I made mental note (well actually I made a written note, otherwise I would forget it) to come back to it when we had finished.  At the end of the meeting I then asked how business was going and had a more general / informal chat and said “early you said you were having problems within x area of your business, we have worked with an expert in this area.  Would you like a their details …” to which of course they said “yes”.

I followed up the referral with a telephone call to the person I referred in and then sent an email with their contact details to our client saying that I had spoke to the person mentioned during our meeting, to double check the referral was a good match and as a result have provided their details.

What this does is show both parties this is more than a soft lead and a continued interest in both their businesses.  It also creates a better introduction where both parties know that the two sides are expecting a conversation and avoids any embarrassing pauses whilst the person you referred in is trying to work out who they are.

Conclusion

Although the focus of this article is on how to get clients to refer you, this approach can be used across the board.  You need to focus on relationships first, but don’t forget to help your advocates refer you and don’t be sacred of explaining how you would prefer to receive referrals.

It is up to you whether you provide additional incentives, we offer a bottle of champagne to clients where referrals become contracts but don’t offer any incentives to suppliers and network colleagues as we believe this is just good business practice and what come round goes round.  As one network group says givers gain.

Date: 07/07/2011

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