Making Referrals Happen: The Essence of Our Industry

Digital Agency Day

A couple of weeks ago the ‘Digital Agency Day’ conference was co-hosted by Unbounce and HubSpot (who are two of the biggest players in the digital marketing world) and in this post I’ll recap one particular talk regarding referrals. It was a wide-ranging chat by a guy named Bill Cates so I’ve summarized the most salient points for those that didn’t get a chance to listen to the original, and sprinkled in a few of my own opinions too.

The Central Statistic

The core stat from the talk that grabbed my attention was that 67% of people make a referral to help their friends and 31% of people make a referral to help you, the salesperson, owner, or executive. In reality, I believe that most referrers provide a referral because of a combination of the two stats listed above. Though, their primary motivation may just be one or the other.

Regardless, do you realize what this means? It means that 98% of people make referrals because of personal relationships and emotional influences. So first and foremost, you need to provide a ton of value to your client, and next you need to be likeable enough for people to actually want to help you.

If you aren’t very likeable, that’s okay, neither am I. Luckily, there are some great books out there that can get you on your way to being more likeable.

A classic that I’d recommend to virtually everyone is How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If you can ignore the bombastic title long enough to actually read the book, you’ll probably find more than a couple gems on connecting with people through caring.

A few other good books to get started with are:

The 5 Fears of the Ask

Bill listed 5 fears associated with asking for referrals. Although I think there’s a deeply subconscious component to asking (and therefore probably a mix of many things) these 5 do seem like logical fears that most people probably wouldn’t argue:

  1. You haven’t added enough value yet
  2. You don’t want to put people on the spot
  3. You’ll hurt the relationship
  4. You are afraid of rejection
  5. You don’t want to look unprofessional or needy

Bill talks about all of these in detail, but to save you the time, he basically says to forget all of them. By developing a strong and repeatable referral process, he claims that all of these fears can be avoided.

Whether or not that’s entirely true, I do think that there is a Lynchpin Fear that, when addressed, can avoid many of the other fears, regardless of what your referral collection process is.

For me, that Lynchpin Fear is number 1. I say this because I think that if you honestly felt that you had given 110% for a client and totally over-delivered, priced fairly, and built a great relationship along the way, I bet you would be much more open to asking for a referral. In fact, I bet Fears 2 and 3 would go away instantly and the toll of Fear 4 would at least be minimized.

So What About The 1st Fear?

It’s important to realize that not all value that you add to your clients is purely delivered through the product or service you are selling. In fact, you or your sales team should be able to add value just in providing objective 3rd party business sense and clarity in asking the right questions.

I personally live this out by being genuinely interested in a potential client’s business. As an entrepreneur turned salesman, I’m fascinated by business growth; emerging markets; and the latest hot topic. I’m also always interested in understanding how some of the fastest growing companies are finding their niche, and scaling their businesses is awesome to hear.

By acting like a consultant, I get to learn about the potential-client’s business in-depth, ensure there’s a mutual fit for both parties, and hopefully ask a thought-provoking question or two along the way that helps them. Regardless of whether or not we do business together in the future.

This is good business for both parties, which also happens to add value. Fast.

Essentially, if you have set a false barrier in your mind that you have to wait until ‘month x’ before you can ask for a referral because you haven’t added enough value yet. Then your sales process or other internal processes are probably off.

By having smart salespeople who are genuine in their curiosity (not just to make a sale), and by developing processes that help your clients feel like you have everything under control from day one. Then you should instantly start feeling better about asking for referrals quickly.

Getting the Referral

Bill began by laying out the “VIPS” of getting a referral, and while this certainly suits his personality, I’m not sure it’s applicable to everyone. I personally don’t know if it would work for me, but here’s his recommendation which may work for you:

1) Value

  • Discuss the value that the client or customer already recognizes. At Reach we do regular  reporting with our clients to ensure they see the value we add every single month. This part makes a lot of sense to me as a starting point.

2) Importance

  • Treat your request with importance by discussing some sort of personal mission you are on, why the referred prospect would benefit, or basically why the referral needs to happen.

3) Permission

  • Ask for permission to brainstorm with your client about possible referrals they could make for you (this part seems overly formal to me for most situations).

4) Suggest

  • And related to the above point, it’s important to do most of the legwork for your client by suggesting a few names or categories of people that might be good fits. LinkedIn research can be helpful here, but even suggesting categories like your entrepreneurs, accountants, suppliers, or their marketing agency, may help give them a starting point to brainstorm off of.

Again, I’m not 100% sold on this specific approach as it sounds like quite a formal conversation that doesn’t really match Reach’s culture or my own personality. However, I do think that the general principles behind this make sense and can be adapted for most businesses and industries with a little tweaking.

Securing the Referral with TRUST

So now that you have received your referrals, what are the best practices around making the handoff smooth? A really great acronym that Bill provided around the referral process is that you have to create TRUST:

  • Treat – Treat the referred prospect like royalty because they’ll end up talking to the referrer about their experience
  • Respond – Respond as quickly as possible (immediately if possible)
  • Update – Update the referral source as the new lead progresses through your funnel
  • Say – Say thank you with a handwritten note to the referrer
  • Thank –  Try to have the new client thank the referral source as well for the great introduction. One way we do this at Reach is by grabbing lunch or drinks (sometimes both!) with all parties involved.

I honestly think these are all spot on. When you treat referrals like gold (which they kind of are, considering you had to do virtually nothing to find them), your referrer (client/friend) will feel good about making the referral, and the prospective client will also have a great experience.

There’s a hidden compounding effect in here that doesn’t instantly show up on profit and loss statements or Cost of Business Analyses. Consequently, those who get referred and treated well may go on to share their positive experience with other friends and business colleagues. Regardless of whether or not they actually do business with you in the long-run, it’s kind of like good Karma for your future.

Final Thoughts

Bill Cates’ talk was pretty packed with helpful tips for a 60 minute session, and I was glad to see that Reach was already doing most of these things. Having said that, there were still some great nuggets in there for us, and I hope for you too!

Referrals are the lifeblood of Reach Digital, and by implementing a couple of these tips and techniques, they can be for you too!

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