Sunday, August 14, 2011

Referral: The Name of the Game

by Frank Graham, Owner of Graham Insurance Agency

You need referrals to make your business grow. Any business depends on it. Most likely you will need more than one source of referral, because one person or entity can't provide all the business you need. Gaining one referrer is like making a sale, but this sale can mean so much more to you and your business. You have to cast a wide net, sometimes more than once, to get a pool of interested parties. Once you've got their interest, you must finalize that sale to count on them - again, and again, and again.

Truth be known, the best referral source is the one you never have to ask, but those are few and far in between. While close friends and people who have been very happy with the way you do business are your best workers, you need to expand your search for more than one pot of gold beyond the immediate rainbow. You see, there are many rainbows in the future and many pots of gold!

You will want to recall that even those closest to you, and those others who want you to succeed along the way, must be coached on how to help you. Some may even need to be coaxed into it, but not as many as you would think! Ask for their referral - tell them, "My business depends on people like you who have benefitted from what I do and tell other people about it."

The referrer can use their own words for the referral. After all, they know their friends and neighbors and people they do business with far better than you. They also know how those people think and and how they speak. So don't over inform the person you think might actually help deliver your message, but do let them know you count on them and appreciate them passing along the word about what you do and how well you do it.

Always reward your source. You may think that they do it for nothing, but everyone helping your business deserves some recognition. Find out a few things about the people who seem most comfortable with referring your business and reward suitingly. If they garden, maybe a little shoveling of manure is the trick. Ok, maybe that's going to far, but know what they like and make a small gift, a token of your appreciation.

Don't stop gifting your referrers. I had a dog who I trained to bring the paper to the front door. He was a puppy named Gatsby. This small dalmation, after about a week of helping him pick up the paper each morning, would proudly pounce up the long drive to the house, paper locked in his jaws, and drop it religiously each day at the front steps. But it didn't come without reward at first. He wanted his treat each day for a couple of weeks. After that he delivered the paper each day, on Sundays the paper was bigger than he, so he would literally drag it the quarter mile, the front page in shreds, but we got the paper, on cold days, without much effort. Gatsby kept delivering the paper, day after day, week after week. But one day, then one week, then one month, the paper disappeared completely. Our family went bezerk. You see we are curious about the world - and curious about what happens to our paper when it is missing. So we accused the paperboy of not delivering. We accused the neighbor's kid (at least among ourselves). Well, not to get too off the lesson here, one day I went out to clean Gat's pen. He had a stack of 30 papers in the back of his doghouse, piled neatly like logs.

Rewards don't need to be excessive, nor every single occasion, forever. But they do need to be meaningful, regular, and permanent. By this I mean to say, you should keep giving - and never forget the true value represented in what is otherwise work offered to you for free.
Even if they aren't a client, you can take the referrer (or potential referrer) to lunch. This is the best opportunity to sell them on the idea and coach them on how to do it. Always recognize birthdays, holidays, send cards of thanks to people you come into contact with. The internet makes it simpler, but tangible recognition of who they are and their value to you is to your benefit. B

By all means refer back to the referrer and the people around them. Drop cookies for the office to share. Recognize the administrative assistant(s) and others working for the "boss" referrer. The people around your clients and primary referreral sources have far more power than often estimated.

Some businesses may be more dependant on the process of referral than others, but all need a good word for them now and then. That's the nature of referral. It's a good word that sends a client or prospect your way.

Don't just go for the business the referrer is sending you - the referrer should also be a client. Your treatment of any client will make you. Word travels fast about what that person thinks of you. And the people you don't close the sale with also have something to do with whether you prosper or not. You can't go making people angry with poor service during the sale, not listening, pretending to care. You have to care about every person who seems interested.

I once told a sales manager, "I've learned that the primary motivator for a person to do business with us is that we make them think we care about them." The manager, who had far more experience and, more importantly, understanding, said to me, "No. They have to know you care about them for them to listen." People don't think that you care about them if you really do - they know it. There's no fooling anybody and what are we in this for anyway? This has been my biggest lesson in sales. I know that I must genuinely care about my clients. If you care about your clients, you will have an endless source of referral. Word gets around.

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