Winning new business continues to be on the minds of many practitioners these days, but the thought of cold calling, blogging or tweeting has many in a panic. As the nation continues to rebound and business leaders return to the basics for insight, maybe it’s time to revisit one of the profession’s most tried-and-true sources of new business — the referral relationship.
The Right Fit for the New Economy
Why is the referral relationship so important in this new economy? When you get right down to it, winning someone’s business is a matter of trust. Especially as we recover from recent economic woes. Bill Cates, author of Get More Referrals Now, reveals the hidden power of referral relationships this way. “Your clients would prefer to be introduced to you by someone they trust.” That explains why we often reach out to those we already know and trust when we’re making an important decision, such as the retention of a new professional advisor.
Referrals are also less expensive and time consuming than many forms of marketing. When someone who already knows and trusts you introduces you, the potential client tends to be more comfortable with you. This comfort level can shorten the sales cycle and increase your likelihood of being hired. Bottom line, referral relationships make good business sense as part of an integrated business-development strategy.
Where to Begin
Chances are good that you’ve already laid some groundwork to build referral relationships. So the big question is this:
Are referrals relationships something you dip into when you have the time or do you work at developing them throughout the year?
Fruitful referral relationships, like any solid relationship, don’t happen by chance. They require focused, ongoing effort. So if you want to produce referrals, you’ve got to do the cultivating.
Before you run for the door saying, “I don’t have time to commit to anything else,” hear this. A little focused energy can go a long way in the referral department. It’s all about rethinking and rechanneling your energy, so you can yield maximum results without adding more to your “To Do” list.
Supercharging Your Referral Relationships
Here are seven tips you can use today to strengthen your referral relationships:
- Be Purposeful. Winning solid referrals requires more than just good conversation over lunch from time to time with a banker or attorney. It’s essential to be purposeful in your actions. Consider such details as:
Be Selective. If you want more referrals, it’s also important to narrow your focus. Although this sounds counter intuitive, it enables you to channel your energies on those relationships that have the best chance of producing the types of referrals you want. Once you know and can articulate the types of clients you are seeking, identify the types of people who are best in a position to provide those referrals. For example, if you are looking for more privately owned construction clients between $10 million to $75 million, consider the types of people who interact with your ideal construction clients, including bonding agents, construction association executives, lawyers who specialize in the construction sector or other thought leaders in the industry. The more specific you can be on the front end, the better your yield.
Re-examine Current Relationships. Once you are clear on what you want, take a close look at your current referral relationships to make sure you are getting those things. Here are some questions that can help:
- Who you meet with;
- What you talk about;
- How you communicate the type of business you want;
- How often you meet;
- How you stay in touch in between meetings; and
- How often you provide them with quality introductions.
Re-ignite Past Relationships. If you’re like most professionals you have a handful of relationships that have simply grown cold because you haven’t had the time to nurture them. Chances are they would welcome the opportunity to reconnect. Reach out to them with a phone call or an e-mail that might go something like this: “Bill, this is Sam Smith, remember me? It has been too long since we got together. Things here have been hectic and I apologize for not reaching out to you sooner. I would like to invite you to have lunch or coffee in the next few weeks so we can reconnect and learn what’s new with each other. If that’s okay with you, let me know a few days that are good for us to get together? I look forward to seeing you soon.”
Form New Relationships. “Every time you make someone aware of why your firm is special, you create an outside sales person,” says Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli in their new book, Becoming a Trusted Advisor. What a good reminder of the importance of continually growing your referral network. We change roles over time and won’t always be in a position to provide the types of referrals that are needed. Consider these sources as you look to develop new referral relationships. Hint: Potential referral sources may be right in front of you, but have never been cultivated:
- Are you networking with the right people?
- Are your interactions as purposeful as they could be?
- Are you meeting as often as needed?
- Do your meetings produce the types of results you are seeking?
- When was the last time you clarified the types of new business that each of you is seeking?
- How often do provide qualified referrals to each other?
- Do you brainstorm regularly about new ways in which you could help each other?
Re-think Questions and Talking Points. It’s easy to have a good conversation with a referral source, but miss the opportunity to gather the latest information essential to winning new leads. To help guide your conversations, here are some questions and talking points to consider. For best results, put them in your own words:
- Advisors to your ideal clients;
- Thought leaders in your industry or service niche;
- Association leaders;
- Current and former colleagues;
- Current and former clients; and
- Referrals to your referral sources.
Amp Up With Social Media. Although social media has been embraced with varying degrees of acceptance, a growing number of professionals have found it to be an effective part of their overall business development strategy. Consider these tips:
- What are your top goals and priorities?
- How has the economic downturn affected your business?
- Who is your ideal client?
- What common problems do you help clients resolve?
- How can I best help build your business?
- Are you using social media to build your business? If so, could you share some success stories?
- During our next meeting, can we brainstorm to identify new ways to help each other?
- Invite all referral sources to join or follow you on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
- That goes for your blogs and e-news too. Reciprocate by subscribing to theirs.
- Post regular updates with links to your articles, blog posts, media coverage and niche involvement. Also post links to articles, blog posts and other pertinent tips from members of your referral network.
- Stay current with your referrals’ activities. LinkedIn and Facebook simplify this task by sending regular updates of network members’ recent activity.
- As your referrals add new connections, visit their profiles. Determine if they could be a good fit for you. If so, reach out to the common connection to make the introduction.
Isn’t it time to revisit one of the most-tried-and-true business development sources — the referral relationship?
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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international groups to do more of the work they love. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com. If you are looking for more practical tips to help build your practice, visit her new blog.