by Tony Vidler
Getting referrals is usually a very hit & miss thing for professionals…IF they remember to put the issue on the table at all.
Then there is the angst-filled question of when it is best to table the topic….early in an interview, or at the end? When someone is still a prospect, or when they’ve worked with you for an extended period of time and have developed trust in you and your process?
Or is one best to not ask at all, as it is just a tacky salesy thing anyway?
I think the answer is “do all of the above – BUT…change the language and don’t try and corner people into doing something they feel uncomfortable doing”.
To program clients to understand that referring others is just part of our business relationship we need to begin with the introduction of the concept that referrals are an expectation. We then need to create ongoing top-of-mind-awareness of that expectation….but we have to deserve them too.
There are several elements involved in successfully “programming” clients, and all of them have to be done if you are to get clients to the point where it is a natural and logical act for them to be referring the right prospects to you.
It is important too that we understand the distinction between “recommendations” and “introductions”: The first are those where clients have suggested to someone that they should talk with you, whereas the second are the situations where the client has suggested to you that you should talk to the prospect and is willing to help facilitate. Both are types of referrals, but with quite different degrees of commitment and involvement on the part of your client.
One of the reasons why so many prospects or clients veer away from the professionals referral process is because we push them into a space where they feel distinctly uncomfortable by asking for a level of involvement that they are not ready for, or we have not yet earned. That old technique (which I have always loathed) of asking “who do you know who….” is one which essentially corners people. They feel they have nowhere to go…they have been put on the spot…..
The result is that the majority of the time they either try and shut the issue down and refuse to participate, or they give you rubbish to get rid of the issue, or they avoid committing to any course of action. Regardless of which variation of “fight or flight” they choose, the direct referral request creates tension which was not necessary, and which was not there beforehand. Cornering people simply will not produce ongoing quality referrals, no matter which clever technique is used.
Giving people the option to pass your name along to others in the form of a recommendation is comfortable however, particularly when it you acknowledge that any recommendation is conditional. The professional has to earn the right first, and there is no expectation that recommendations will be given until that has been achieved.
Some will be comfortable reasonably early in the professional relationship with introducing you to others, but many won’t. It is an escalation of commitment and involves more effort and reputational risk for the referrer. It follows therefore that this often requires a deeper level of trust and confidence on the part of the referrer….it requires time and effort on the part of the professional to grow the relationship to the point where people are happy to do it if asked.
A significant part of getting to this stage where clients are very comfortable recommending or introducing you is obviously the delivery of your core service. No matter how cleverly one builds the expectations into the processes, poor service or poor advice simply doesn’t warrant being referred. Assuming however that the service delivery is meeting or exceeding their expectations, then it is a relatively straightforward matter of being process-driven and following the 10 steps relentlessly.
That’s how we program clients for ongoing referrals.