For most organizations, referrals just “happen.” This forces me to picture some sad and lonely sales manager or business owner, sitting at his desk in the middle of the night, staring at his phone, hoping tonight will be the night that a referral comes in. When a client finally talks to somebody in their professional network over a drink and he gets a call. If this is you, you’re not alone, we’ve all been there. But how to change it?
2 Simple Techniques
By the end of this post, if you stick with me through at least 1 of the 2 techniques, you’ll be equipped to generate referrals on-demand and ultimately get more clients. I’ll give you a few specific strategies and tactics that we have had success with. Put all or some of them in place for your own business, and selling should start to get a whole lot easier.
1- THE “LIST & ASK” METHOD
Right now, referrals aren’t flowing because your clients aren’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves. We all do this. We have our own goals, ideas, and problems. If you are like us, if you looked closely at where your referrals are coming from (and specifically WHEN they are coming) you will likely see the same thing we do, referrals pick up DURING a project. It’s logical when you’re interacting often with a client, they’re thinking about you, when they think about you they talk about you, when you’re doing a great job they talk about you a lot. You’re at the top of their minds.
So how do you get back on your client’s mind without just doing more projects for them? Reach out and ask them for contacts and start building a list.
Your list is a fuel source. The bigger and better your list, the more results you’ll get. You will get several “no’s” on your journey. With 20 past clients…even if 80% say “no”— 4 people will say “yes.” Each sending you one to three referrals. The list starts building quickly.
Here’s a list….to help you with your list:
- Current clients
- Past clients
- People you know in the market
- People you met one time in the market
- People you know or have met in similar markets
- Contacts in your address book, social media contacts, and anyone you’ve ever had a conversation with (via email or phone)
- People you think someone in your network knows
Once you have your list built, the next step is to reach out, have a conversation, and ask for the referral. This can happen in a variety of different ways, but each with the same goal: getting introductions to grow your network, identify new clients, and earn new clients as soon as possible.
Ask #1: The 9-Word Ask
Start simple. The 9-word ask cuts the clutter and gets your intentions in front of your list. H0ere is the core question: “Do you know anyone that can use my help?” The beauty of the 9-word ask is that it’s not beating around the bush, it’s extremely specific. The other secret here is that it’s crafted carefully to avoid “client” or “project” or other words that imply selling. I love sales and selling, but I understand that most people don’t. Especially to their friends and network without their permission. We’re not advocating an MLM or pyramid scheme where you’re contacting high school classmates you haven’t talked to for 20 years. Just a quick introduction for you to solve a problem their friend might have. Now, when you ask, your referrer network will have to consider who they know and what they know about you and your abilities—and they will have to find an answer. The question might immediately illicit an “Hmm… I’m not sure. Who are you looking to meet?” or “Can you tell me a little bit about what you can help with?” Or better yet, they’ll think for a moment, and then start giving you some names and scenarios. You can use the 9-Word Ask in nearly any circumstance; phone, email, social media, etc. Just remember to let the 9-Word Ask do the work for you. Don’t wrap it up in nervous energy or ramblings. Just let it out and see what the response is.
Ask #2: Intro to a specific type of person
The next basic way to ask for a referral is to simply ask for an introduction to other specific people. Let the name on your list know that you’re wanting to meet more people like [insert specific type of person here] — then help them brainstorm a few names of people that might be a good fit. With this approach, it’s important to avoid asking for “clients” since you are focused on getting introductions, not getting them to sell for you. The more specific type of person the better. Let’s say you build websites specifically for restaurants. Here is a sample of what you would say:
“[name], it’s been really good to catch up today… I’ll stop by the restaurant next time I’m in your neighborhood. One more thing I meant to ask was if you knew of any other restaurant owners, managers, or team members of any other restaurants in Denver that you think would be open to meeting me and taking a meeting. I’m not looking to pitch them, just trying to expand my network and get to know more restaurant folks in Denver. Do you know of a couple of people that would be open to a meeting?”
After you ask the question, let them think. Don’t fill the emptiness. It’s tempting, but fight it, you’ll be better off. If they can’t think of anyone, consider having a few ideas ready for them. Do a little research and have a list from your target market that are top names and easily recognizable. This can get things moving and work toward getting you direct contact with your target person or company. Once they’ve identified the list of introductions they could send you, make sure to make note of who they will introduce and offer up an easy referral email template for them to use. Make sure they send a “mutual introduction.” In other words, have them send an email to the referral and copy you on the message so you can take it from there.
2 – The Hot Referral Clause
What if every client you got turned into at least one other client? That means you only need to get a single customer, then you would have a constant stream of new clients. Now…What if every client turned into THREE?
You’d have a business growing quickly and multiplying exponentially. Your clients know other people like themselves. Every business owner, organization director, and team member has a network of other people like them. The problem is that many people are protective of their network. And they need an incentive to go out of their way and make introductions.
Enter the Hot Referral Clause.
This is an optional way for a client to get a small discount instantly. By helping you to grow your network, add some social proof and authority to your business, and drive more awareness about your business.
Here’s how it goes:
- You give your client an instant 10% savings
- Your client gives you a written and video testimonial and at least three warm introductions.
- In addition, if any of their introductions turn into actual clients, you’ll credit back an extra 5% of their project investment
This tactic is great because it helps save on marketing costs by having my clients do the legwork for me. And in case you missed it, that’s 5% of the referral partner’s project—NOT 5% of whatever business you land from the introduction. That protects you in the event the new project ends up being bigger than your referral partners. This tactic can be hard to swallow at first. “I can’t bribe my clients to give me testimonials!” or “I can’t offer an incentive to simply refer them!” It’s important to draw a distinction, you’re not bribing them. You’re not asking for testimonials you don’t deserve, taking the time to record a video testimonial is a pain and should be rewarded, and introductions can take time and effort. You should be happy to pay your clients in exchange for the value they’re providing you. If the numbers are truly the thing that’s keeping you from implementing this tactic, then CHANGE THE NUMBERS.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that if getting clients is your #1 problem right now, it’s already your costliest problem.
Here’s what it could look like in your contract. Add a checkbox or initial box for them to agree to the clause and include the following:
We love referrals so much we’re willing to give you a 10% discount in exchange for three (3) warm introductions, a written testimonial, and a video testimonial. If any of your warm introductions turn into new clients, we will credit an extra 5% back to your account for each client. That means in total, you could save 25% of your investment for this project.
Now the next part….handling objections. We’ve got a list of the ones we get the most often and our generic response to them, obviously don’t copy these word for word, but it should get you started.
- “You don’t need to pay me or discount my project in order for me to give you a testimonial… I can’t guarantee that I’ll give a testimonial.”
- “We will never ask for a testimonial that we haven’t earned. But we also know it takes time to put together a quality testimonial and case study. We value your time and we’re happy to compensate you for it.
- “I’m happy to send referrals without a discount”
- “And we’d love to get referrals long-term—above and beyond what this option says. But we value your time and your network and want to make it easy and worthwhile to help our business grow; just like we’re helping your business grow.”
- “What will I say to people that I introduce?”
- “We’ll provide a simple email script to make it as easy as possible to send the warm introductions our way.” —> the secret here is to actually provide the script. Use something similar to this:
Hey [referral name],
I wanted to introduce you to the owner of the web development we just hired, [your name]. They’ve helped me ___ and ___. I know they could help you—and would be a great person to have in your network.
[Your name], meet [referral name]. [Insert 1-2 line background]
[referral name], I know you would benefit from working with [your name] because he/she can help you ___ and ____.
I’ll let the two of you take it from here.
- “What will I say for the testimonials?”
- “We’ll prepare you with questions and a generic template for the testimonials. We’ll do everything we can to make it super easy for you.”
- “What if I’m no good on video or don’t have a professional camera?”
- “A simple camera phone or webcam video is sufficient. And the more ‘you’ that you are, the better.”
- “How will I know if I want to refer you or give you a testimonial, we haven’t finished the project yet?”
- “You don’t have to wait until the end of the process for a testimonial. You can recommend our reputation, our sales process, the value you got during initial meetings and project kickoff, or many other pre-launch and early project steps. And getting introductions from you will put even more pressure on us to deliver for you.”
Once they sign and agree to get the discount it’s important to not drag your feet. Treat the 3 deliverables (introductions, written testimonial, and video testimonial) as deliverables in your project. Take each of these deliverables as seriously as every other aspect of your project scope. Don’t be afraid to schedule a meeting to get the introductions. You’ll want to talk with your new client about their network and brainstorm about who will be the best fit to introduce you to. You can use this same meeting to set a plan for their testimonials. If you want to capture a testimonial about your sales or discovery process, set that appointment right away. If you’re looking for a testimonial about your project process, the results or the end product, then schedule that meeting for after you know you’ll be done with each step in the process.
Now go and start your lead generation. We’ll keep providing some helpful information to keep the leads flowing and help you grow your business.