Qualified referrals can be the oxygen that keeps careers and businesses alive and thriving. (A qualified referral is one where the person who wants to refer someone has confirmed the referral is interested in learning more about the products or services offered by the person about to be referred. Confirming this in advance can make the difference between a good referral and one that never should have been made.)
You may have difficulty remembering how often you have 'asked for referrals' during the past year. Many skilled professionals and business people have difficulty imposing (in their eyes) on clients, friends, colleagues and other advocates to help them find new clients. They may feel uncomfortable putting pressure on those whose friendship they value and don't want to tarnish it by asking for favours. Or, they don't want to run the risk of being rejected or receiving referrals that don't match their ideal client profile. Some may feel that broaching the topic of referrals might make them sound desperate for business and shake the confidence others have in them.
Others have no qualms about inviting referrals whenever the opportunity presents itself. Much has to do with the services and products you provide and how many clients and customers you are seeking. If you are in a highly personalized profession such as wealth management, you may seek referrals on a more selective basis than if you were a retailer who served many different types of customers who patronize you intermittently. Or, you may be a very confident person and have no concerns of asking advocates and people you don't know well to refer you to others. Most of us are somewhere in between.
How do we remain comfortable in asking others to help us build our business?
Asking for referrals has become an accepted practice and few people are offended. On their websites, business cards and in concluding comments to client communications, many professionals note that referrals are important to them and they always appreciate receiving them. If you're still not comfortable mentioning referrals, remember that making it easy for others to refer you is not so much a question of 'asking' for referrals as it is introducing the topic of referrals into the conversation.
If you are looking for a more subtle way to get the "r" word into your contacts' subconscious, try this. Instead of asking for referrals in client communications, include a paragraph at the end of each piece (or under your email signature) with your own variation on this theme:
"As a (financial advisor), I am committed to helping people reach their investment goals. Part of my job involves raising the financial awareness of people who may or may not be clients. If you have a friend, colleague or family member who has questions about their investment portfolio or personal finances in general and feel that I could be help, please contact me. I would be pleased to speak with them, without obligation."
Client surveys can be a great way to get the "r" word on the table
People enjoy filling out opinion surveys on things that affect them and they feel they can change for the better. The quality of the services and products you provide to them is probably very relevant to them (as long as you don't bombard them with surveys each month.)
Consider adding this question to your next client satisfaction survey: "If you were to recommend my firm to another person, how would you describe the products and services I offer?" This is good way to get clients thinking about the last time they referred you (if they ever have).
Suggest ways to help clients earn referrals
In an e-newsletter or blog post, consider writing an article about earning referrals. As the article contains useful tips that will benefit them, clients will be more likely to read it and include referral gathering (and giving) in their business building toolkit.
Provide clients with qualified referrals
On the surface, this is perhaps the most obvious approach to earning referrals. Grateful clients appreciate the extra value you add and want to reward you with more clients in return. It supports the 'givers gain' approach to business building and is evidence of your commitment to your clients. However, approach this strategy with caution. If you don't know them well and a referral you offer turns out badly, you could find yourself digging out versus moving the relationship forward.
Begin this approach by asking your clients if they are looking for referrals, and who their ideal clients might be. Careful that you don't inadvertently overshoot their expectations, you may find that you have an additional role of rainmaker to fulfill and sustain.
Most people want you to succeed
Regardless of the outcome of your referral gathering efforts, it's important to remember that most people want you to succeed. Be clear about your ideal client, be patient and communicate consistently with your advocates. And thank them for every referral.
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