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As a professional services business, you’re probably aware of how powerful referrals can be.

REVENUE GROWTH 9 mins 29 May 2018 by Steff Green
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As a professional services business, you’re probably aware of how powerful referrals can be for generating new business and finding and keeping loyal clients. Did you know exactly how powerful?

According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust referrals from people they know. A Marketshare report notes that word-of-mouth can improve marketing effectiveness by as much as 54%. Businesses using referrals as part of their regular marketing see conversion rates up to 70% higher, and they also report a 69% faster close time.

The numbers speak for themselves. Clients trust referrals. Hearing positive things about a product or service has a significant impact on their decision. If you want them to hear positive things about your business, then you’ll need to step up your referral game. Here’s how to get referrals:

Get referral ready

Before you start actively hunting out referrals, make sure your company has the right systems in place for managing this new influx of interest, as well as a clear plan for sourcing and screening referrals. The last thing you want is to be fielding calls from interested prospects while scrambling to answer their simple questions.

To get ‘referral ready’ you should:

  • Identify your ideal prospects. Figure out the type of clients who provide your bread-and-butter. What is their business size, industry, and demographics? What are the key problems they’re trying to address? You need a way to quickly identify and qualify referrals to see where you need to focus your efforts.
  • Offer a special package. Consider if you’d like to offer referral prospects a special deal, eg. 30 days free or 3-months of discounted pricing. This can help convince referrals to give your company a shot. Make sure the logistics of this package are organised before you start actively looking for referrals, and that everyone in your company is aware that it exists.
  • Create referral collateral. Build out specific marketing and sales collateral – emails, one-sheets, social media graphics, infographics, presentations – that can be used to answer referral questions and get a prospect over the line.
  • Nail your sales process. How will you convert referrals to customers? Have a clear sales process in place to make sure referrals don’t get lost in the ether.
  • Be amazing. If you work hard to cultivate a strong reputation by over delivering, adding value, and providing a friendly service, then referrals will naturally come to you. No one wants to refer a mediocre company, so make sure you’re awesome. You might like to further establish your reputation by encouraging clients to leave online reviews or provide testimonials and case studies for your website.
Remind clients why your company is special. There are thousands of web agencies, lawyers, and accountants out there, so what makes you so unique? Remind clients that they made the right choice and they’re part of an amazing family through your monthly newsletter, social media, unique offerings, or welcoming office. Find new ways to delight and surprise clients and you’ll earn their goodwill and respect.

Effective tactics to get more client referrals

Now that you’ve referral ready, you can start encouraging your current clients to shout about your company from the rooftops!

Many business owners shy away from referral marketing because it’s something out of your direct control. It’s tough to have to rely on others, but with a clear process in place, you should be able to transform your clients into referral machines. Here’s what we recommend:

1. Ask at the right time

Most of us ask for referrals at the end of a job, when we send the invoice. It seems like the most sensible time to ask about passing on your details.

However, this may not be the most opportune time to ask for a referral. After all, this is the stage of the project where the client is thinking about the money they owe you. They may well just see your invoice email and forward it direct to their accounts department without even reading it.

Instead, experiment asking for referrals at other times. Look for opportunities where a client is particularly pleased with the work you’ve done. Perhaps after you hand in the first stage of a multi-stage project, or when they’ve come back to you after one project is finished to ask about a second.

Also, be sure to use our referral email template to get the best response when you ask.

2. Offer a reward program

With referrals you’re trying to get your clients to hunt out potential business for you with no direct benefit to themselves apart from a warm fuzzy feeling. While some people enjoy connecting others in their network, most will simply forget about sending referrals as they get busy with their own work.

However, if your client gets something out of the arrangement (beyond the warm fuzzies), they will make an effort. Once referrals are tied to a reward, you can transform your clients into referral machines. In the B2C marketplace, referrals often give clients discounts, free swag, vouchers, or items to collect.

Joe Kindness of Agency Analytics points out that rewards are also an excellent way to show gratitude to returning clients who give referrals, and that everyone in your company can offer the same deal (they don’t have to clear rewards through you).

For a professional services firm, rewards usually work best as a certain discount off the following month’s service. Some companies also offer a workplace lunch or bottle of wine to clients. You have the opportunity to be creative here and tie your rewards to your industry or role.

Choose a reward that fits your values and gives your clients something of value that they’ll enjoy striving towards.

3. Partner up with other service providers

Approach other companies who offer complimentary services about combining forces for a referral program. For example, an accounting practice can partner up with a bookkeeper to cross-promote their respective services.

To give a partnership the best chance of success, offer referral clients a discounted package on both services. Sell your package as a way for prospects to fulfill all their needs in one place.

Create unique collateral outlining the package and disseminate it to your current clients to see if they know anyone who want. You could also both set up a ‘Recommendations’ page on your respective websites outlining different partners and the complementary services they offer.

4. Change the conversation

We always present referrals as a favour a client can do for us. For many clients if this message comes at the right time and they know someone who is a good fit it can be effective.

But what if you flipped the conversation around and reminded clients of how valuable giving referrals can be for them? If a client has other business clients who ask for advice and they’re able to point them to someone who can solve their problems, giving a referral makes them look good.

Certain business types thrive on being known as connectors. Once you change the conversation and present referrals as a service they can offer their clients to improve their business, you’ll be in.

5. Share your client bucket-list

Everyone has dream clients – the companies they’d most love to work with because they’re doing amazing work, their ethos matches yours, or you just want to be part of their amazing vision.

It’s time to make those dream clients into reality.

Make a list of the five companies you’d most love to work with. Contact your current clients and ask them about contacts within these companies. It might be a good idea to go in with a specific and personalised pitch, so they feel more comfortable about flipping through their rolodex.

You never know – your current clients might be playing golf with or taking their kids to the same kindy as someone from your dream list!

6. Offer unique content

Present your referring clients with content they can share with their customers or business networks. Sharing free content gives you a reason to contact referrers on a regular basis to keep your name front-of-mind, and it also helps you to build that authority and trust with potential prospects even before they’ve been officially referred.

This is easier to pull off if your clients are all part of a similar industry. You can try:

  • Inviting referrers and prospects to a free seminar or webinar on a topic of interest.
  • Writing a whitepaper about an important industry trend.
  • A blog post about how businesses can deal with recent regulatory changes.
  • A Facebook live link for a Q&A session especially targeted to new businesses.

7. Give clients permission to say no

Some clients feel uncomfortable giving referrals. It could be that they recommended someone in the past who turned out to be terrible, or they might feel uncomfortable pushing a service provider on their clients.

If a client says they don’t give referrals, respect their request/decision. Some experts recommend untangling their resistance and trying to bring them around, but I personally feel it’s better to respect their choice and continue to offer a standout service so that if they do refer you in the future, it’s because they genuinely want to, and not because they feel pressured.

If clients won’t provide referrals (or the referrals they do provide are useless), you can utilize them in another way. Try asking them to:

  • Become a case study: interview your client about their success for your website. You can create a written testimonial or – for best results – shoot a short video.
  • Review your services online: 92% of customers read online reviews, and they’re vitally important in the decision-making process (according to Vendasta), so getting positive reviews on trusted websites is a great way to improve trust.
  • Fill out a survey: learn how your clients discovered your company, what services they need and other ideas for improving your service offerings through a short survey.
For more tips on asking for referrals from your clients, see 25 Ways To Ask For a Referral Without Looking Desperate, by John Rampton in Entrepreneur.

You’ve got the referral. Now what?

Congrats! You’ve put in the hard work and scored a referral from a client. Now what do you do?

  • Research the company. Do a little background snooping – check out their website and social media, and see if there is anything interesting about them in the news recently. This way, you’ll be able to dazzle them with personalised info when you speak to them.
  • Prioritize contact. You want to speak to this referral as soon as possible, while their conversation with your client is still fresh in their mind. The longer you take to make contract, the colder the lead becomes.
  • Follow-up. Set up reminders to follow up with referrals who don’t close within a few months. They might be a great fit for you, but just aren't ready the first time you make contact.
  • Send out a thank you. Send your client a message to thank them for the referral. If you manage to close the sale, provide your client with a discount from your referral program or send them a lovely surprise. If your client knows their effort is appreciated, they’re more likely to refer again.

Referrals are all about putting your clients to work as mini billboards for your company. As long as you put the effort into providing the best possible service and ensure your clients are receiving value, they will do much of your marketing for you. All you have to do is close the deal.

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Published 29 May 2018 Last updated 19 Mar 2024