Allen Harris: Your clients stink at giving referrals

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Tell me if you've heard this story. Mary Jane, a client of yours, says, "Hey, I told Roger Referral about you. You should expect him to call you." You smile and say, "Thank you." And then what happens? Nothing! Referrals don't work that way, and you need to stop expecting them to.

While Mary Jane means well, she's not doing you any favors. Referrals aren't that helpful, but introductions — those will help grow your business.

Jeff, the owner of a residential construction firm catering to wealthy second-home owners in Southern Berkshire County, used this knowledge to build a small empire without the assistance (or cost) of a sales or marketing team. Because Jeff's prospective clients were not only typically hundreds of miles away, but seemingly too busy to schedule a three-way phone conference with his Mary Janes, he began relying on email introductions.

Asking for an introduction, even an email introduction, can be a big ask, so, it is important that you create a process that will reduce the burden that Mary Jane feels. That process starts with more than just a smile and a "thank you." You want to make it easier for the people who are trying to help you, which means putting thought and care into what your introduction request looks like.

When Jeff was told by Mary Jane that a referral was given, he says something like, "That means a lot. I'd like to help your friend. Let's make it easy on them. I'll send you an email introducing myself to them. That way you can forward it to them, and they can just refer to that email when it's a good time for them to go any further."

Jeff knows that scores of people are trying to get into Roger Referral's network, and that an email from a friend is more likely to get through than some vendor who got a mention over dinner. Also, Jeff doesn't ask for Roger Referral's contact information. He allows Mary Jane to handle the entire process, including seeing exactly what you are going to say to Roger.

She is going to feel much more comfortable knowing that Roger Referral isn't going to get exposed to a pushy sales pitch.

Make it clear

The forwardable email should be sent to your Mary Jane but written out to Roger Referral — because you are speaking to Roger. Use the first line to state clearly what the heck Roger is reading, "Dear Roger, because our mutual friend thought I'd be a good fit for to help you, I asked her to forward this email so that you'd have some information on me, including my contact information for when you are ready to have a conversation."

The point of the email being forwardable is that it can explain everything Roger Referral needs to know, and to make it easy to connect with you — not only in terms of the logistics of a meeting setup, but because when Roger sees that you and Mary Jane are connected, it's easier for him to bring you into his circle.

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Of course, you should go one step beyond connecting by showing that you are part of the same tribe; you need to briefly introduce yourself. Think about doing so in terms of a few bullet points, as opposed to a full-length biography. At the close of your email, you can include a link to your website and LinkedIn page if they'd like to dig a little deeper.

Show your value

Next, show your value.

You want to be definitive as to what Roger Referral needs help with and how you might be of service. Jeff would say something like, "I understand that you are considering building your dream cottage in Alford. Over the last couple decades, we've built dozens of second homes, including some that made their way into Homes & Gardens. We can help familiarize you with the building lot options in the area, customize some plans for you to consider, and provide you with an accurate construction timetable."

I always loved that Jeff left the price out of it, but mostly, I love that he presented Roger with potential value — answers to questions, which drives further engagement.

Should Roger be ready to get the ball rolling, you need to make it easy for him to connect with you. List your email, include your phone number, and give a few days and times for Roger to select for a conversation, should he wish to talk sooner, rather than later.

And, if you use one, leave a link to your online scheduling software.

'Thank you'

Lastly, close with a "thank you" to Roger. People are more likely to do business with you if they know you appreciate it. And I know this is old school, but send a handwritten thank-you note to Mary Jane. She didn't do it for you, but she did you a favor nonetheless, and you should express your gratitude.

If your business would benefit from increased referrals, it's up to you to help your clients make those introductions. The old way of thanking your clients for a referral you don't even get a chance to engage with is dead. You need to make it both easy and comfortable for them, and you must be thoughtful and deliberate in your process.

Allen Harris is the author of "Build It, Sell It, Profit — Taking Care of Business Today to Get Top Dollar When You Retire" and the owner Berkshire Money Management in Dalton. He can be reached at aharris@berkshiremm.com.


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