August 19, 2015
Think about your last big purchase. How much did you research it before you bought it? You spend time reading reviews and asking your friends for their opinions. You would rather buy a product you were confident with than an impulse buy especially with a big purchase.
Much like buying a new home, car, or new tech gadget, people are more likely to want to use a consultant who they know rather than a stranger. Referrals allow consultants to be less of a stranger and give the prospect a higher comfort level before making a decision. So how can consultants get referrals?
For consultants, referrals make up a large portion of clients. Around 90% of consulting firms will tell you their most successful client base comes from referrals. Despite the high levels of success that comes with referrals, many consultants are afraid they will come off as too much like an obnoxious used car salesman.
If you haven't already started looking into referrals, you might be wondering why you should go out of your way to get them. Referrals are effective for sales and cost. They are the most effective method to gain new clients because you don't have to put as much effort into the sale. Referrals give you a cheap way to target new customers because you can spend less money on marketing them.
The best way to gain referrals is by offering great service. Your clients are not likely to refer you if they are unhappy with their results. If your clients have been given a valuable experience, then they are likely to want to share their experience readily with others.
Providing solid advice and doing your job well will encourage clients to speak positively of their experiences with you. Your clients will readily spread the news of the success they found through you if your work warrants sharing.
The journey to gaining referrals begins from the first interaction you have with a client and continues through the entire time you work with them. Whatever point of the process you are in with a client, their experience should be memorable and, hopefully, it should be in a positive way.
By referring you to a potential, your client is sticking their neck out. It is very embarrassing when you make a recommendation and it turns out to be a flop. Not only does this mean that you need to ensure you provide high quality service to your potential new clients, but you should also acknowledge what your current client/partner has done for you.
A simple thank you note or a phone call are great ways to follow up after receiving a referral. Acknowledging a referral immediately after getting a new referral will keep you top of mind with your client as well. Also, thank you notes are a great way to keep in touch with your past clients and stay connected. This lets your clients know how much you appreciate the referral and that it will not be overlooked.
Deciding the type of referral you want as a client will help you annunciate what you want to your client. You can express what size, industry, location, and corporate culture you are interested in working with. Even if your services can be extended to many types of fields, if you give specifics to your clients they are more likely to come up with a referral.
If you are worried about asking for a referral from your clients you can also come up with criteria for who would give you a solid reference. Think about whether or not they had an enjoyable experience working with you and if they felt like their problem had been resolved. If they do not meet this criteria, then you should work towards giving them these experiences. If they lack confidence in you then they are not likely to send you referrals.
Asking for a referral without being pushy can be a difficult thing to do, but you don't want to give your clients and partners too much to think about when coming up with referrals. You want to give a firm definition as to what you are asking for. If you are uncomfortable asking for something from your clients, then your relationship might need a bit more work. Asking your clients for referrals should feel natural and not daunting.
When you ask for a referral you should never ask simply 'if they know of anyone who would be interested in your services'. That gives a lot of room for them to try to come up with an idea. That statement is poorly defined and leaves a lot of room for error. Although this sounds great in theory, your client is likely to become overwhelmed trying to think of someone and end up forgetting the referral all together.
For instance, if you know that your client is a member of a particular group that you are interested in pursuing, then ask them if they can think of any other members who would be interested in your services. You should also ask for referrals including the criteria you set for yourself as mentioned above. Being clear and specific will help you to get referrals that will develop into a new client.
Just like a cheetah, don't be afraid to go after what you want. A great time to ask for a referral is when you are finishing up a project. If your client is having a good experience with you then it is best to ask for their help while you are still relevant. If you wait too long before asking for a referral the experience the client had with you will have faded in their memory.
By acting immediately, your client will be excited about their recent experience and ready to give a glowing review. Although you might not receive a referral from them immediately, if they have a positive experience it will remain more clearly in their mind, and they will think of you as the benefits of your service occur.
If you don't actively pursue a referral, then your clients might not even think to give you referrals. It is up to you to give them the idea. You can even work in asking for a referral when you first start a project. For instance: if I provide you with a great service then you should give me a referral. Although it might seem blunt, your client will be impressed by your confidence.
Another great way to get referrals is by readily giving them out yourself. If you have the power to connect clients or partners, then they are likely to return the favor in the future. Asking for referrals is not limited to just clients. You can ask for help finding partners or vendors as well. When you build strong connections with your clients, you build connections that might seem like short term plans, but they might help you get more referrals in the future.