A few days ago I covered the Design the Referral System part and today I want to finish up with the Operate part – after all, a system design is an academic exercise until you put the process into action.
Equally important to the design is the way that you systematically and automatically integrate your referral system into the everyday customer and network interaction. I can’t tell you how many business owners admit that they don’t get more referrals because they simply don’t think to ask for them. By designing the ask into your day to day routine, it’s more likely that it will get done.
The Referral Operation parts:
Get an expectation mindset – first step is to believe that you deserve referrals and more than that, you are doing your customers and network a disservice by not allowing them an easy path to bring the tremendous value your products and services can deliver to those in need. If you can’t get past this point any system you devise will break down under the weight of your fear that you are simply begging for business.
The mindset must pervade your entire organization – it’s everyone’s job to create, nurture and convert leads by way of thrilled customers. In addition, your lead conversion process must contain the condition of referral generation as part of the deal. “We know you are going to be so thrilled with what we’ve agreed upon today Ms. Customer that in 90 days we are going to schedule a meeting to gauge just how great your results have been and at that time we are going to allow you to introduce us to 3 others that you know need these same results.”
Now, some might find the above statement hard to get to fall from their mouth, but I’m telling you it’s the most positive marketing message you can utter – we know you are going to be so thrilled you will refer us. You’ve still got to deliver, but when you do, you’ve established referrals as an expectation and condition in the relationship. It really is that simple.
Segments customers from partners – You need completely different referral approaches and offers for customers and strategic partners. By targeting your approach to these segments you can more easily develop programs that make sense and motivate for the right reasons.
For customers the likely motivation is that they like what you do so much they want to refer you and you simply need to stay top of mind and make it easy for them to do. Hint: Ask and remind!
For partners the motivation is quite different. Your job here is to effectively position referring you in a way that helps them add value to the relationships they already have with their customer. In that vain, the simplest way to do that is create valuable education based content, in the form of a white paper or seminar, and take it to them and propose they share it, co-branded, with their customers. They know they should be doing this so you’ve just made it easy for them to do something they want to do and you win.
Create turn-key tools – The education process of your referral sources can be aided greatly if you put tangible referral tools in their hands. Create documents that teach them how they would spot your ideal customer, the trigger phrases your customers use when they need you, and your referral process.
Create coupons and gift certificates and give them to your referral sources. Create jointly branded marketing materials for all of your strategic partners. Create a network blog that your strategic partners can all contribute to. Again, make it easy and it will happen.
Plan for logical collection – The place that referral systems fall down most often is in the actual collection. Expectations are set, customers are thrilled, the referral motivation is in place, but nobody thinks to actually ask for the referral – doh! – Create processes that involve customer results reviews, project reviews and satisfaction surveys and use these as triggers for referral collection – you might just find that it’s a great way to really find out what a great/lousy job you are doing and course correct accordingly.
More than one creative entry point – Just as not all referrals are created equal, not all motivations are created equal. You must have multiple referral opportunities going at all times so that you can take advantage of the highly engaged customer who wants to set up a lunch to introduce your firm, the customer that needs the quarterly reminder gift certificate mailing, and the non-profit agency partner that would love to run a promotion with you to benefit their cause and promote you to their members.
Start with one or two referral program offers and gradually build to many as a way to keep the marketing focus on the subject of referrals and let everyone find a way to play.
Measure and Adjust – You should create a dashboard of key referral indicators as a way to set goals and measure the success of your referral initiatives. So, what are the key metrics? Page views, referred leads, appointments, closed deals? I would suggest that you have a logical path of indicators so that you can see where your programs might be breaking down and need focus. You may be receiving referrals, but not closing them or closing every referred lead, but just not getting enough.
This is s place you might consider including your referral sources by way of follow-up. What you learn from your measurement practices may help you adjust and create better education tools.
All this talk of a systematic approach to referrals is great, but never forget my golden rules of referral or no system will work – Don’t be boring, don’t be rude, give to get.