Three tips for getting more referrals

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Life is nearly always tougher when it comes to landing new clients. Trying to do more business with or through existing ones makes much more sense, potentially, because taking risks with new suppliers is still tricky for a fair number of buyers. So why are so many professionals so meek when it comes to asking for referrals?

Well, some people just don’t ‘get it’. What they don’t get is that they can and indeed should be asking their contacts for introductions to others who they can help. Others associate ‘it’ with the conduct of networking and other outgoing business development pursuits – from which they habitually run a mile. Both attitudes are business-limiting. So here are three tips to help make the most of your referral opportunities.

Recognise the potential. “Who could I possibly ask?” are the first words on some lips, as if the universe of potential referrers was but a small table of reluctant speed-daters. Just tot up who you know!  When you analyse it, the potential number of referrers for most professionals is often extremely large consisting of:

  • existing clients – both specialist (e.g. members of the legal team, Finance Directors) and in other disciplines (Sales, Marketing, HR etc.)
  • similar contacts who we have worked for (but may not be currently)
  • a bewildering array of third parties (e.g. intermediaries, other professional providers, relevant people in associations and other industry/sector entities).

Of course, not all of them are going to be ‘live’ referrers so..

…Select the best.   Prioritisation of referrers is a matter of applied common sense. So here’s an applied common sense quiz. In our selection:

  • Should we focus on a) new clients/contacts or b) those with whom we have an established track record?
  • Do we give priority to a) clients who are happy with us and/or the service we provide or b) those who have a gripe or for whom the last transaction did not go so well?
  • Finally, should we direct our efforts to a) those who are well connected both within and without their organisations or b) the work equivalents of Billy or Bertha No Mates?

When to ask.  When and in what circumstances to pop the dreaded question? Make it easy by doing it:

  • At the end of a meeting, the business having been successfully concluded.
  • Over lunch or coffee making best use of informality.
  • At a post-transaction or relationship review meeting using, as a platform, the wider discussion about the client’s current/planned business activities.

Of course, how the question is popped is another matter….

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

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