Many experts point out that that the most powerful single source of new business for sales is referrals–from networking contacts, existing clients or strategic partners.
Endless studies have shown that people are far more inclined to buy a product or service that has been referred to them. Referred clients tend to be stickier than other clients, and satisfied clients have a high likelihood of offering a referral when asked for one.
The sales process is expedited and assured by a qualified referral, so it makes a lot of sense to cultivate referral sources. Few salespeople, however, are effective at the cultivation of committed referral relationships.
The question then becomes: what do you do to cultivate a fruitful referral relationship?
First let’s cover the basics. The most positive ways to ensure you obtain referrals are to:
- Do your job, and do it well
- Know how to ask for a referral
It is only when a client is satisfied with your service that they are willing to refer one or more valued contacts to you. They also have to know you’re actually seeking referrals.
Your clients most likely have a choice of referral partners, so it’s important to position yourself as that choice. Figure out why your client might be willing to refer business to you, and then take every possible step to reinforce those reasons.
It’s a mistake that many salespeople make to assume that a client, networking content or strategic partner is automatically going to refer business to them. No, you must continuously earn that referral right.
How do you earn the referral right?
Referral partners are generally willing to refer business to those who they would be willing to include in their business contact network, and those who they would specifically value, respect and trust.
By attaining and strengthening all of these relationship attributes you significantly improve the chances of gaining valuable referrals. The key to maximizing success is to focus on all of these attributes rather than one or two.
So how do I strengthen all these attributes?
These attributes are simply feelings that you can proactively influence by improving your “relationship score” in each of the four following areas:
Consider the Relationship Scorecard below (furnished by my good friends at SalesITV) and rate your relationship with a client on each of the four axes. The higher the relationship score, the more likely you are to develop strong relationship attributes that lead to more referrals.
The great news is that you can influence each score as follows:
Relates to your ability to influence others to have preference for doing business with you / referring you.
Consider developing greater rapport with your clients so that they grow to like you. Remember, clients who like you want to do business with you.
Develop a strategy for influencing a client to like you by understanding what they like, making an effort to put the “client first” at all times and developing a congenial communication strategy.
This relates to your ability to influence others to feel obliged to refer you to their connections.
What favors and “extra” services can you offer a client to make them feel obliged to return the favor by way of a referral. Be deliberate about explaining why you are offering the particular service/favor in order to gain greater leverage. Do not simply dismiss it as something you would offer any client.
By greatly influencing how much a client likes you and feels obligated to you, they are more likely to promptly include you in their network of preferred business contacts.
This relates to your ability to encourage others to seek your counsel / use your services.
Consider all the ways you can demonstrate to your client that you are an expert in your field and that your knowledge can further help them and their broader network.
Ask stimulating questions that create greater awareness about your broader value. Tell compelling stories or share valuable advice that can propel their business. Invite them to “exclusive” information events and suggest they bring a friend.
By greatly influencing how much a client likes you and seeks your expertise, they are more likely to trust that you can assist their business contacts.
Most sales professionals are good at building inclusive and trusted referral relationships but hesitate to take the relationship to the next level by seeking a formal commitment for referrals.
The most powerful referral relationship is one where you influence others to provide commitments to actively refer / introduce you.
This usually can only be achieved after you have genuinely developed liking, reciprocity and credibility. Consider what types of referral commitments you are seeking from clients, gradually formalize a mutually rewarding referral arrangement and aim to always be consistent.
Interestingly, some networking groups formally seek commitments from attendees to proactively refer contacts to each other. The tenure of each participant’s commitment however is directly correlated with how well the networking group cultivates relationships between all participants therefore networking groups also shouldn’t assume that referrals will be provided simply through inclusion.
Having established high Liking, Reciprocity and Credibility scores, a client’s willingness to now formally commit to giving you referrals would suggest they also now value and respect you and your services.
Consequently you have now reached the pinnacle in developing a highly rewarding referral relationship that should consistently produce great results.
Clearly a concerted effort is required to improve the scores in the four key areas that influence the quality of your referrer relationship, but the rewards for doing so certainly justifies the work.
Stop assuming referral partners will offer referrals simply because you ask and start taking proactive steps to cultivate a relationship whereby they are committed to providing you with qualified leads on a regular basis.
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