"Colleen - how can I get more referrals?"
This is the most common question I get when conducting prospecting workshops. My most common answer is: "What have you done to deserve more referrals?"
Referrals are the most powerful tool in any sales person's arsenal. A referred prospect is much more likely to be ready to listen to you, trust what you say and - ultimately - to buy from you. Referrals make your job easier, and help you sell more with less effort and in less time. What else could any sales person ask for?
If you want to increase your referral rate, however, you have to start not by looking to your existing customers, but by asking yourself a number of questions about how you conduct business on a daily basis. The most important question is: "how likeable are you?"
People buy you first, not your company or products. So to get more referrals, you have to make like Sally Field, and make sure your customers really, really like and trust you.
What are you doing every day to be more likeable? Like everything else in sales, there is no magic "likeability" bullet that works every time, with every customer. However, the following are six of the best ways I've found to help you increase your referrals, by putting the other person first - and simply having fun!
1. Start a monthly advocate program
Once a year, do a customer genealogy to see who or what was responsible for all the additions to your customer base. Odds are, you'll find between 5-20 primary referral sources, ranging from current clients to friends, partners and suppliers.
Make an "advocate list" of these active referral sources, and develop a concrete plan to keep in touch with them on a regular basis. Every 4-6 weeks, for example, send them something of value -not a brochure or promotional piece, but something they will actually value and use, like an article or book you think they will enjoy, a phone call, an invitation to lunch or breakfast, or even a referral for their business from you.
I can't stress this enough, though - whatever you send has to be of value to them, not simply an advertisement for you. After all, the goal is for you to help them improve their business, not your own. Think about it this way - what could you give them that will help grow their revenue? In helping to grow their business, trust me, it won't take long before they return the favor and help grow yours. For examples of what to send to your best referral sources, please feel free to download a complimentary copy of our Advocate Worksheet.
2. Develop a culture of referrals
Another approach that can help you develop a steady stream of referrals is to ask questions
that benefit your customer first. One Engage customer doubled her referrals simply by asking
the following client-focused question at the end of every client meeting:
"Now… how can I help you?"
By putting the needs of her customers first, she demonstrates that she truly cares about them. When people sense that you care, they tend to want to return the favor. In fact, you may find that many of your customers are genuinely surprised by a question like this, because no one has ever asked them that before. And that's why your follow-up question is equally indispensable:
"You've helped my business grow by becoming part of our family network. I'd like to help your business grow, too. So let me ask you - what type of people do you want to meet to help increase your revenue?"
3. Write some letters
If you don't feel comfortable asking for referrals face-to-face, try the approach that's worked for sales people, direct marketers - and hopeless romantics - for centuries: write a letter!
Regardless of the business you're in, an effective letter writing campaign can bring in a steady stream of new leads that will have an immediate and dramatic impact on your bottom line. When drafting your letter, the key is to make sure it says four things:
- Thank them for their business.
- Remind them how you met - especially if it was through a referral.
- Ask them to send you some names.
- Tell them that you will reward them with lunch or a gift basket if their referral turns into business.
Sound simple? That's because it is! And the real beauty is - it works! Since implementing this system at Engage last month, we've seen a steady stream of new referrals arriving from our customers and advocates, on an almost daily basis.
4. Send thank-you notes and gifts
Send a thank-you note for every referral, and a gift for every referral that turns into business.
Thank-you notes should be handwritten, on a note card or postcard that isn't branded with your company advertising. Keep a supply of traditional, fun, theme and plain note cards handy for all occasions throughout the year. For a real treat, spoil yourself with a great fountain pen to make writing the notes something you really look forward to.
For gifts, don't send the same old thing to everyone. Instead, take a minute to think about what your customer would really like. If they're dedicated oenophiles, send wine. If they're into sports, try tickets to a game. For gourmets or candy-o-holics (like myself), food baskets work wonders, and are available in almost any size, style and budget at the click of a mouse - some of my personal favorites are www.harryanddavid.com, www.elenis.com, www.candybouquet.com and www.baskits.com
Got some favorite sites of your own? I'm always on the lookout for new ideas (not to mention new sources of gourmet delectables!). So if you send us a list of your favorite Web sites for client gifts, we'll return the favor by sending you a gift, too - a free copy of our Prospecting for Profit eBook. There - see how easy that was?
One last thing - I implore you NEVER to send electronic greeting cards, no matter the occasion. E-cards look like you were too lazy or didn't care enough to do the real leg work needed to honor your customer - and let's face it, that's not too far off the mark, is it?
Go the extra mile, and write a personalized note. That little extra effort is what will get you noticed - and get you more referrals.
5. Bring like-minded people together
Create a top-of-the-class networking club. Make a list of those people in your city who you know to be well-connected, great networkers, then invite them all to come together with one catch - they have to bring someone that they think the rest of the group should meet. It's likely this person will be a great networker, too.
When great networkers get together in the same room, the energy is unmistakable, and they share leads like there's no tomorrow. Plus, because everyone in the room will be of the same caliber, there'll be an even higher propensity to share, because everyone will feel like the giving and receiving is balanced.
6. Have fun with holidays and celebrations
Most sales people send Christmas cards. If you want to stand out and be remembered by your customers, why not try something a little different? In addition to sending cards out each December 25th, mix a few of the following ideas into your annual calendar:
- Valentine's Day candy baskets.
- Birthday cakes on their birthday.
- Champagne on their company's anniversary.
- Thank-you cards or gifts on their anniversary of doing business with you.
- Gifts for their children's birthdays.
- Plants on the first day of spring, or at Easter.
- Candy at Halloween.
- Gifts for your clients' admin assistants on Secretaries' Day.
- Patriotic presents on national holidays (e.g. July 1st or 4th).
- Thanksgiving cards or food baskets.
- If your client has a volunteer day where they help out a local project in the community, see if you can participate with them.
- Send congratulations to your clients when you know they've completed something significant in their personal or professional lives - like they just ran their first 10K, earned a black belt in Karate or qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Yes, some of these ideas require you to know detailed information about your customers. But isn't that what sales is all about?
At its most basic level, selling is relationship building. And to build a successful relationship, you have to know a few things about the other person who's in the relationship with you. Think about it this way: if you don't know this information about your customers, who does?
There are countless ways you can let your customers know you care and are thinking about them. Each has its pros and cons. Some work consistently but cost too much. Others are cheap and easy to implement, but don't produce as many leads as you might want.
Try them all, and try them often, and I guarantee, you'll start to see results - and more referrals - in no time.
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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