Referrals are the fastest, no-cost method to growing your business. Yet, many distributors struggle with asking for referrals.
John Jantsch, author of the book The Referral Engine, surveyed several thousand small business owners, 63% claimed that over half of their business came by referral, yet 79% of those surveyed had no formal system for asking or tracking.
Many do not ask for referrals because they’ve tried and have had little success. Some distributors have difficulty asking because they are reluctant to bother the customer. A small percentage of businesses are more formal, they have programs with marketing managers who seek customer referrals; but even with such a structure, the referral rate remains relatively low.
Your clients love you. So, why can’t you get more referral business from them?
One simple reason: timing. Most referrals fail because we ask at an inopportune time.
A few secrets to getting a referral:
Secret #1: Ask at the heroic moment
We all perform miracles for our customers and, for a moment, we become their heroes. Examples?
- When the customer forgot to order for their big event, but you were able to help with a 24-hour rush.
- The extra TLC you provided on a very small but important order for a VIP.
- When you rescued an order that was shipped incorrectly or came up with a substitute item because stock ran low.
- Your flawless execution of a very complex project.
Yes, some of these successes are normal business practices but, in the customer’s eyes, you are salvaging an event, or protecting their reputation, sometimes, even saving their job.
When those moments happen, those are the golden moments; those are the moments when you should ask for a referral. The customer feels elated. In their trouble-ridden, overburdened day, the clouds part with good news and they are thankful, they want to express their appreciation. Give them that opportunity.
Secret #2: Ask with leverage
The wrong question: “Is there anyone else at your company that might need our services?”
Customers have little capacity for remembering. Meetings consume their days and the next fire consumes their attention. They will not give you an intelligent answer because they have too much on their mind. Moreover, they don’t know our business; they might not have a clue who else purchases in their organization.
Help them. You know potential buyers better than they do. Make a list of the departments that might buy promotional items: HR? C-Suite? Safety? Risk? Help your customer by asking specific questions, better yet, do your homework through LinkedIn and find out potential buyers’ names within the organization and ask your customer, “Do you know John Smith in HR? Is John the right person I should be talking to, if so, is it possible to get an introduction to John?”
By providing a little leverage, you alleviate the customer’s cluttered mind and pry open a window of opportunity.
Secret #3: Tracking
The not-so-secret but oh-so-important part: If referrals are the single most effective way to gain new business, then they are worth tracking. You can get as sophisticated as you want, you can use a system like Wishpond, you can engage a company like Influitive to help build customer advocacy, or (if you are on commonsku) you can simply create a status called “referrals” or use the hashtag #referral to track and report on all the referrals requested throughout the year. Here’s a simple method to get started with gaining more referrals:
- Create a top 20 client-customers list.
- List each of your buyer-contacts within each organization.
- Create a wish-list of potential departments and/or buyers within your client’s organization.
- Keep this list handy. (Better yet, let your software and reporting “keep” it for you.)
- Begin a deliberate, on-purpose campaign to ask for a referral from each customer.
- Run a contest within your company to see who can get the most referrals.
- Set a goal by mid-year to ask each of your clients for a referral.
Lastly, don’t forget to give when you get. If your customer gives you a referral, reciprocate with a “thank you.” Who knows? By year-end, with all that new business, you might need to delight them with one epic swag “thank you” gift.
This topic is a part of our ongoing tips in our Tiny Tasks series, for more in this series, visit the links below or check out our podcast episode: Tiny Tasks for Ginormous Sales Gain