Have you ever considered that prospective clients who are referred to you are much more likely to hire you than those who come to you in any other way? The endorsement of a referral carries so much weight that referred prospects ask fewer questions about your qualifications, are less likely to shop for the lowest price, and typically make their buying decisions much more quickly. In fact, they are often pre-sold when they contact you.
With the value of referred prospects being so high, it makes sense for generating more referrals to be an essential component of your marketing. But many professionals limit their ability to gain referrals by concentrating all their efforts on current and past clients.
There are many other possible referral sources for any business than its own clients. You can begin to build your referral base dramatically 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 examples of who might become a valuable partner:
- Other prospects – People you have made contact with who aren’t ready to buy from you now will often refer you to others, if you remember to keep in touch with them.
- Colleagues – Other professionals in your field can be excellent referral sources. If you offer non-competitive services, you may even decide to approach prospective clients together.
- 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 new business they get, or can’t take a particular client due to a conflict of interest.
- 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. An IT consultant who installs computer networks could easily receive referrals from the owner of a moving company, a commercial property manager, or a security systems salesperson — all people who might learn about an upcoming office relocation that requires these services.
- Professional salespeople – Regardless of what they sell, salespeople are used to the process of giving and receiving referrals. When 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.
- Centers of influence – These are the people who everyone seems to know. You see them at networking events, read about them online, and hear their names mentioned everywhere. Influential people like this are asked for referrals all the time, so you want your name to be at their fingertips.
- Organizations who serve your market – When a prestigious nonprofit or educational institution refers you, their implied endorsement makes you very attractive to prospective customers. Building relationships with organizations like this typically requires volunteering your professional services or teaching for them.
To begin identifying potential referral partners, develop a list of categories representing the types 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 categories such as attorneys specializing in stock offerings, investment bankers, and venture capitalists.
Then look through your existing contacts to see who you already know that fits. Contact 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 intentionally networking to meet new people in 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 like yourself 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 website URLs and/or 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 would 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.