Almost all professionals say their main approach to get new clients is Referrals.
But sadly, what they're often talking about is Passive Referrals. Referrals where they've been recommended by a previous client or contact without taking any active action themselves.
While it's great to get these types of referral it's not really a sustainable business model. A sustainable business model needs to be influenceable by the professional.
In practice, a great many professionals have a psychological barrier when it comes to asking for referrals. They hesitate – and don't ask for anywhere near as many as they should.
There are three main reasons for this:
- They're not convinced asking for referrals works
- They're worried that asking for a referral might damage the relationship they have with a client or contact
- They're embarrased asking for referrals: it “feels like begging”
Does Asking for Referrals Work?
In their 2009 Benchmarking Study How Clients Buy, RainToday.com looked at which methods buyers of professional services were most likely to use to initially identify and learn more about providers.
The top 2 methods? Referrals from Colleagues and Referrals from Trusted Service Providers.
Take, for example, the experience of one of my newsletter subscribers who recently emailed me to say:
On a visit to a client, where I had done a good job and over-delivered on client's expectations; we were waiting on someone returning to his office with a bit of information we needed.
For something to say I asked “Can you think of anyone else who might be able to use my services?”.
He immediately opened his address book and started giving me names and numbers, even ringing a few there and then to warm things up.
I've since made contact with most of the nine names he gave, and seven are happy to meet with me.
In future I'm going to make “asking for more” a part of my after sales follow-up!
Does Asking for Referrals Work? Absolutely – if done right.
Will Asking for a Referral Damage your Relationship with a Client?
There's an element of truth in this – if you do it wrongly.
The best referrals are to people the person doing the referral knows well. After all, we're far more likely to act on a referral from someone we know and trust than from someone we barely know.
By introducing you to someone they know well, your clients and contacts are putting their relationship and reputation on the line. Before the do this, they will need to be sure you're going to do a great job for the person they introduce you to – and that you'll be thinking in their best interests.
So you must wait to ask for a referral until you've proven you can do a great job and that you aren't just being self-centred.
The best way to do this for clients is to ask after you've over-delivered on your engagement for them. Or if it's a long project, after you've delighted them during the process of delivery.
And your relationship must have progressed so that they've come to trust you and see that you aren't just in it for yourself – that you always act in your clients' best interests.
The language you use when asking for a referral can help here too. Don't just ask if they can refer you to someone. Ask “can you think of other accountancy firms who I might be able to help?” or “I believe my services would be really valuable to Jones & Co., if you were me how would you approach them”.
Is Asking for Referrals Embarrassing? Will it seem like Begging?
Again, the answer to this is that it can be – if you do it wrongly.
Part of this is mindset. If you really are just asking for referrals to help yourself – then clients and contacts often pick up on that.
But if you've thought through who it is you can really help, and you truly believe you can do a great job for them: then your sincerity will show through.
Again, the language you use can help. Don't just ask to be referred. Tell your client or contact why you believe you can do a great job for the person you're asking for a referral to.
In my blog post of a few months ago: How to Get More Referrals Using Offers I showed how creating tailored offers (free, or entry-level) makes it easier for clients to refer you and feel comfortable they are adding value to their contacts. Having these offers also makes asking for referrals less embarrasing. You're able to name something specific of value the person you're being referred to will get – rather than just asking a favour.
Could You Get More Clients by Asking for More Referrals?
Have a look at the 3 factors. Do they apply to you?
My experience is that we all suffer from at least one or more. Myself included.
We've not fully convinced ourselves that asking for referrals really works. Or we're embarrassed to do it, or worried it might hurt relationships.
Whichever negative belief you have, think about whether that belief is really true.
Think about whether holding that belief is helpful to you.
Then think: if I suspended that belief, just for a week, and asked for more referrals, might that help me?
I bet it would.