The easiest business you will ever get is more business from existing, satisfied customers. And if they’re satisfied customers, they should not only purchase more from you but become a “walking advertisement” for your company. The problem is most of them don’t. Why not?
Don’t expect people to know that you need more business or the type of customers you need. Your customers are busy people with a lot on their mind and unless you remind them, they probably won’t give you referrals. You need to make it very easy for them to be a “walking advertisement” for you.
I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who has known me for years and is in a position to refer clients to me. I was talking about how I was currently serving my customer base and mentioned that I could use a few new clients in certain areas of my consulting practice. He said, “I never refer anybody because I thought you were really busy and couldn’t take any new customers.” I wanted to shout, “Where in the world did you get that idea?” Instead, I politely said that I always appreciate referrals and that I almost always have room for new customers. This was a huge eye-opener for me. At some point I must have stopped asking for referrals or given the impression I don’t need new business. But everyone needs new business — even me.
Get referrals started
Are your salespeople asking for referrals? What about your other customer-facing employees? How do you get your customers to go around telling everyone how much you’ve helped them and recommending you to everyone?
Do you have a referral process? If you have one, be sure it’s written down and communicated to your salespeople and all of your employees. If you don’t have one, here are some tips to get you started.
- Be sure your employees do an outstanding job for every customer.
- Check periodically for customer satisfaction. When a customer says they’re happy, this is the best time to say something like, “We appreciate your business and we’re looking for other customers like you. Do you know anyone who could use our products and services?”
- If a customer isn’t satisfied, fix it right away. Once it’s fixed and they are happy, ask them for a referral. If they won’t give one, it may be a sign that they’re not completely satisfied or that you have to do more to earn back their trust.
- Send your customers handwritten appreciation notes and include a business card. Ask them to give the card to someone they know who could use your products and services.
- Send an e-mail special offer to your customers and ask them to forward it on to others.
- Be specific about what kinds of customers you are looking for. “I’m looking for companies that need the personalized service we provide.” “I’m looking for entrepreneurs who want to outsource their controller function.” “I want to help entrepreneurs who can’t afford to have a full-time assistant.”
Here is a sample referral process to start you on your way to having your customers become a walking advertisement for you.
- Just as the sale is complete thank the customer for the business and let them know that you’d be happy to help others who they know. (Or after a customer service call.)
- Thank the customer for their business with a handwritten note, within five business days of the sale or service. Place a business card in with the note and ask them to pass it on.
- Call the customer 2-3 weeks after the purchase to determine their satisfaction level.
- Send a newsletter four times a year. Provide useful information and a section thanking people for their referrals and reminding them their referrals are always welcome. If you reward for referrals, be sure and highlight that as well.
- Throughout the year when you call customers for various reasons be sure and ask if they know anyone that could use your products and services.
- Be sure to send referrals to your customers whenever possible.
If you don’t thank customers, the referrals will stop. But thanking them isn’t enough. If you really want them to send you referrals, be sure to let them know the outcome. It really bothers me when I give someone a referral and never learn whether the two parties connected, let alone the outcome.
After you get the referral
So when you get a referral:
- Ask them to introduce you by e-mail, on the phone or in person. If they aren’t willing to do that, ask for permission to use their name when making contact.
- Thank the customer for the referral at the time.
- Send a thank-you note by mail or e-mail within five business days.
- Let the customer know as soon as you have connected with their referral.
- Let the customer know the outcome and thank them again. If you made a sale you may want to reward the customer who gave you the referral.
Here are some tips to help you do build and implement a referral process:
- Bring all of your salespeople together to discuss referrals.
- Ask them how they currently get referrals.
- Write down all of the “best practices.”
- Let them help you design the referral process that will be implemented.
- Set goals for the number of referrals they get each month.
- Have them determine how they will be rewarded for getting referrals.
- Continuously encourage your salespeople to use the process and ask for referrals.
- Post the number of referrals each salesperson gets per month.
If you put a referral process in place and make sure your salespeople are working the process, you can increase sales–starting tomorrow.
Alice R. Heiman is president of Alice Heiman LLC, a sales consulting and sales management firm based in Reno, NV.