Everyone will tell you: Referrals are your company’s best line to new customers. What they leave out is that quality referrals are few and far between.
“The vast majority of new referrals fail because your professional network doesn’t have enough influence over others,” claims Michael Beck, a leadership and marketing strategist at ClientMonkey.com.
But you can turn around a plummeting referral strategy. Beck offers these four keys to referral success:
Key #1: Build Your Referral Network
Most professionals believe they know plenty “centers of influence” (COI), or people who can convince others to try a new product or service. However, when quizzed, most professionals can only point to six or seven COIs.
Reality: For a successful referral program, you need at least 12 core COIs and more than 100 potential COIs, Beck says. Your core COIs are the ones you frequently socialize with and feel most confident about. The others are people who you hope to develop a relationship with.
Action plan: There are two easy ways you can begin to increase your core COIs: attend networking events for professionals in your area and ask your current core COIs for their suggestions. They may know someone who will become an asset to you.
Key #2: Create A Referral System
Your core COIs didn’t start out that way — you developed those relationships over time. You can finesse more relationships and be more effective with your core COIs by creating a “system” for attending to your COIs.
Get started: Determine how you want to nurture your professional relationships, including lunches, cards, emails, voicemails and letters. Once you know which methods you’ll use, create a system so that you don’t become overwhelmed.
Try this: Spend some time plugging your system into your Microsoft Outlook calendar. Set alarms and reminders that alert you to when you should schedule the next lunch or send the next email. This way, your system is consistent, all COIs are included and you aren’t racking your brain trying to remember everything.
This type of regular contact will enhance your existing COIs and help you develop new ones quickly.
Key #3: Differentiate From Your Competitors
Just as with marketing messages, your core and potential COIs are bombarded with referrals from other companies. You must grab their attention with a witty, smart message that cuts through to your COIs.
Your job: Develop a message that sets you apart from everyone else and gives people a reason to remember you, Beck suggests.
Example: Rather than simply tell COIs that you can improve their businesses, show them how you’ll do it. You can follow up that message with any hard numbers or other data you have.
Key #4: Create A Relationship “Bank Account”
You can’t just take from referral streams — you must give back to them, as well. By making “deposits” in your referral bank, you ensure that your COIs continue working for your business, Beck says.
Strategy: Get to know your COIs and find interesting ways to enhance your relationship with them. For instance, you could note their or their families’ birthdays, their favorite sports teams, their children’s names or where they went to college.
This takes some work upfront, but once you build a foundation, you’ll be able to sustain your “bank account” easily, Beck predicts.