Receiving a referral from a satisfied customer or business associate is an important first step. But even a strong referral does not guarantee sales success. As with any new prospective customer, the initial steps you take to establish rapport and keep the prospect interested will make all the difference.
You’ve just gotten a great referral from a current customer to a new prospect who needs what you have. What should you do now?
Asking for and following up on referrals is one of the best ways to keep your prospect pipeline full. Developing referrals is more efficient than cold calling, and a lot more satisfying. Yet many people don’t develop their referral network because they don’t know how to start. When you start at the beginning — at the first contact with a new prospect — you can develop your relationship and your referral network for maximum opportunity. Here are three tips on getting started right.
1. Plant Referral Seeds
As you begin your relationship with a new prospect, get the referral process started right away. I call this planting seeds. These tips for new relationships will increase the chances of getting referrals, often without even asking:
- When meeting with a new prospect for the first time, talk about the person who brought you together with a referral. Tell the prospect that referrals are valuable to you because they free up your time, giving you more time to serve them. Celebrate the whole process.
- As you leave appointments, tell your prospects and clients, “Don’t keep me a secret.” And they won’t.
- Tell them you want to “earn the right” to be introduced to who they know. Tell them you intend to earn that right by being straight with them, not selling them anything that isn’t perfect for their needs and by providing superior service all along the way.
- Give them a couple of your business cards to carry. Tell them, “One is for you in case any questions come up. The other is for a friend who might want to learn more about how my work might be of great benefit to him or her.”
- Tell your prospects and clients that you’re never too busy to see them if you can help out any of their friends, family or colleagues.
- Don’t be afraid to bring up the referral process right away. Do it in a way that’s a service to them or to others, and you’ll always be on safe ground.
2. The Golden Key to Instant Rapport With a Prospect
When you call a prospect for the first time, sometimes the strength of the referral is enough to create a warm call. Sometimes it isn’t. Here’s a strategy that can assure you instant rapport with almost every new prospect:
Find out what your referral source likes or admires (or finds interesting) about their friend or colleague. Then use that in the opening conversation:
“Bob, you have a real admirer in Mary. She told me you have the highest level of integrity . . . .”
It’s a genuine compliment and shows your relationship to their friend, colleague or family member. Sometimes this information will come out naturally, and sometimes you have to ask for it. Either way, when you get it, use it.
Have fun with referrals, and use these relationships to their fullest extent. Make sure you’re genuine in this strategy, not just working a technique.
3. Increase Referrals By How You Say “Thank You”
One life insurance company discovered that when their agents sent a small “thank you” gift after receiving referrals, their referrals went up a whopping 40%. Jeff C., a financial professional in Ohio, gets more referrals than anyone else in his company of 8,000 producers. How does he do it? He makes a big deal when people give him referrals. He sends small gifts such as certificates for an oil change, car wash or movie, lottery tickets and other fun items that are inexpensive and easy to mail.
You can get many of these small gifts for free from local merchants who want to give out coupons to promote their businesses. I know one producer who got almost 100 coupons from a Starbucks manager.
Invest in yourself and your practice with these small gifts. Celebrate referrals in how you say “thank you” and how you treat the new prospect. And don’t wait for the referral prospect to become a client; thank the referring person just for dropping a name.
With large and well-connected clients, or with centers of influence, you can make a bigger splash with your gifts. And the more thoughtful the gift (i.e., tailored to their interests), the less you’ll need to spend to make a statement.
Begin to develop your referrals from the beginning of a relationship, treat your prospects and referrers right, and you will find referrals rolling smoothly through your prospect pipeline.