Did you know that prospective clients who are referred to you are much more likely to become your customers than those who find you in any other way? The endorsement of a referral carries so much weight that referred prospects are less likely to shop for the lowest price, ask fewer questions about your expertise, and typically come to a decision much more quickly.
While some of the best referrals come from past clients, there are many other possible referral sources for any business. You can build your referral base exponentially by seeking out referral partners.
A referral partner can be any person, group, or institution that is willing to refer potential clients to you. Here are some examples of who might be a good partner:
1. Other prospects – People you have connected with who aren’t ready to buy from you now will still refer you to others, if you remember to keep in touch with them.
2. Colleagues – Others in your field can be excellent referral sources. If you offer non-competitive services, you may even approach prospective clients together.
3. Competitors – Don’t rule out competitors as referral partners. You may have an area of specialty that they don’t. They may also have times when they can’t handle all the business they get, or can’t take a particular client due to a conflict of interest.
4. Others who serve your market – Anyone who is in regular contact with your target market is a potential referral partner, regardless of his or her field. A computer network installer could easily collect referrals from the owner of a moving company, a commercial property manager, or a security systems salesperson — all people who might know about an upcoming office relocation.
5. Salespeople – Regardless of what they sell, professional salespeople are used to the process of giving and receiving referrals. If you make friends with someone who sells for a living, they will naturally be on the lookout for possible leads for you. Start with the salespeople who sell to YOU.
6. Centers of influence – These are the people who everyone seems to know. You see them at networking events, read their name in the trade press, and hear their name mentioned everywhere. People like this get asked for referrals all the time, so you want your name to be in their address book.
7. Organizations – When a prestigious non-profit or educational institution refers you, it is an implied endorsement, and makes you very attractive to prospective customers. Building relationships with organizations like this typically requires volunteering your professional services or teaching.
To begin identifying potential referral partners, develop a list of categories representing the type of people or groups that might be good candidates. For example, an executive recruiter specializing in start-ups and rapidly growing small companies might choose the categories of attorneys specializing in stock offerings, investment bankers, and venture capitalists.
Then look through your existing contacts to see who you already know that fits. Call those people up and say, “I think we may be able to help each other get more clients. Can we get together and talk about it?” After you have contacted the people you already know, you can add to your circle of referral partners by additional networking within your chosen categories.
The best partnerships are reciprocal. If the two of you share the same target market, the possibility of two-way referrals is high. But even if you can’t imagine how you could refer business to a potential partner, don’t let that stop you. Savvy business people are always looking for qualified professionals to refer business to, because it helps them take good care of their own clients.
When you meet with a potential partner, find out as much about his or her business as you share about your own. Exchange marketing literature and several business cards. Ask who would be a good referral for your partner, and describe what type of client you are looking for. End your conversation by asking, “Is there anything else you need to feel confident in referring people to me?”
Be sure to thank your partners for every referral, whether it turns into business for you or not. Prompt thanks will generate more referrals. Keep in touch with your partners over time, just as you do with prospective and former clients. And remember to be on the lookout for referrals you can give to your partners. That’s the best way possible to stay in touch with them.