Steps to Increase Business Referrals
Business leaders will often hear that growing a business requires referrals. In a similar way, the growth strategy of making current customers raving fans is often discussed.
And yet most of us want to receive referrals, but we don’t want to ask for them.
Why is this? What holds us back?
What if there was a way to approach referrals differently, one where you didn’t have to ask? How would that change things? How would that change our perceptions of generating referrals?
Stacey Brown Randall shares five steps to building a business sustained by referrals in her new book, Generating Business Referrals Without Asking: A Simple 5 Step Plan to A Referral Explosion.
I recently spoke with Stacey about her approach that has been so successful in generating referrals.
“In business, trust is the real currency and relationships are the economic driver.” -Stacey Brown Randall
Relationships Start Referrals
Would you share your referral philosophy?
Referrals only come from relationships. We have to trust someone before we will put our reputation on the line and refer them to people we know and care about—which means our focus needs to be on cultivating and maintaining relationships with our referral sources and to do that we need to connect with them. Those connections happen through memorable and meaningful outreach (or touch points) which allow us to be top of mind with our referral sources, furthering strengthening their trust in us.
“Relationship cultivation is at the heart of a referral generating plan.” -Stacey Brown Randall
What do most business owners get wrong when it comes to referrals?
We all understand that referrals are the best kind of prospect to receive. A referred prospect shows up already trusting you, is less price sensitive because they have assigned value to you, and they are aware that they have a problem you can solve. All of this happens because of the referral source. The referral source knew someone – your “soon-to-be” prospect – had a problem and knew you were the one to solve it.
Because referrals are so valuable, we go looking for ways to receive more of them. And this is where we get a few things wrong.
First, we think our referral generation should be a part of our prospecting plan or our marketing plan. But the activities we do when prospecting (cold calling, networking) or the activities we do when marketing (PR, sponsorship, advertising) are different from referrals. We need a third and separate plan – a referral plan – where we focus on building and deepening our relationship with our referral sources.
“We are building relationships, so our outreach, our touch points, must be different from our marketing and prospecting tactics.” -Stacey Brown Randall
Second, we believe the conventional wisdom that says, ‘if you want a referral, then ask for it.’ But you cannot artificially create or manufacture what doesn’t exist. This is why asking for referrals typically doesn’t yield the results we want… a ready to go prospect. When we ask, we make the person we are asking uncomfortable and set an expectation that they will come up with a prospect who needs what we do.
When you understand the human dynamic and psychology of why a referral happens – someone helping someone solve a problem – then you understand that “asking” places the focus on you. Asking for a referral creates an artificial or manufactured lead, not a true referral.
“Someone giving us a referral is not about us. And asking for a referral makes it all about us.” -Stacey Brown Randall
Why Businesses Don’t Receive Referrals
What are some of the reasons why many businesses don’t receive referrals?
Being worthy to receive referrals mean you are referable, and you are willing to do some work to generate referrals. When people work with me to increase their referrals, I start by looking at a few key areas that could be the reason why they aren’t receiving referrals.
Reason #1: Your client experience is choppy.
You need to deliver on a client experience that is worth telling others about. It is not just the excellent work you do but how you build a relationship with your clients.
“To receive referrals, you must be worthy. Period.” -Stacey Brown Randall
Reason #2: You don’t have a dedicated referral generating plan
Referrals need the same time and attention as any other lead generation source. But the focus of your referral generating plan is how you take care of your referral sources. The focus is on cultivating relationships with memorable and meaningful outreach using the right language, so you strengthen the relationship with your referral source and remind them how important they are to you and your business.
“Creating a referral generating plan shouldn’t be complicated.” -Stacey Brown Randall
Reason #3: You confuse top-of-mind with keep-in-touch
When I first start talking about creating a referral generating plan and cultivating relationships through memorable and meaningful outreach, most people immediately think this means how often they keep in touch. But you need to transcend keeping in touch and focus on staying top of mind with your referral sources. You keep in mind with acquaintances or general people in your network. You stay top of mind with those who make your life easier by sending you clients, your referral sources.
“You deserve referrals but you are not owed them.” -Stacey Brown Randall
The Referral Mindset
Talk about the importance of mindset when it comes to referrals.
Many people believe referrals will just happen if they do good work but that they aren’t consistent. Many see referrals as a bonus way to receive new clients, but not one you can count on. Even if you believe you deserve referrals, you must remember you are not owed them. So, you need to be willing to do some work to have referrals flow into your business as a consistent and reliable source of new clients. Just like with your prospecting and marketing plans, you will need to have a referral generating plan using the right language and staying consistent with execution. I have a client who is an attorney and has been executing on her referral generating plan for more than 5 years. And each year, starting in 2014 she hit or exceeded her yearly goal of 25 referrals received. Last year, in 2018, she received her most referrals in one year – 40. This consistency of focusing on her referral sources through executing on her referral generating plan each year has allowed her to add another attorney to her practice and be selective with the cases she takes.
“You must show up authentically for referrals to work.” -Stacey Brown Randall
Would you give us a quick overview of the differences between referrals, buzz, warm leads, and introductions?
A referral is not word of mouth buzz, an introduction or a warm lead. Those are four different types of prospects. These three types of prospects – word of mouth buzz, introduction or warm lead – are missing one or both of the two components that make a referral, a referral.
First, a referral must involve a connection where the referral source connects you – as the service provider – with the prospect. The connection is important because this is where the trust in you is transferred from the referral source to the prospect.
Second, the prospect has to know they have a need, a reason to meet with you and decide if they should work with you. The prospect must be in buying mode and looking to solve their problem.
“A connection made and a need identified…without these two points you don’t have a referral.” -Stacey Brown Randall
For more information, see Generating Business Referrals Without Asking: A Simple 5 Step Plan to A Referral Explosion.
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