It can be a struggle to grow your small and medium sized business (SMB), particularly if you have a lot of competition who have deeper pockets, bigger brand awareness, and bigger organizations.

However, big is not always better. Many larger companies do not consider their customers as an important contributor to their future success; they simply do not invest enough resources or energy for retain customers, turn customers into repeat buyers and company champions, expand business within existing customers, and leveraging customer referral for new logo business.

In a prior post I discussed techniques to retain your base, to solicit customer referrals, and to improve your prospecting outcomes. In this post I’d like to discuss 3 secrets to accelerating your referrals:

  1. Relationships
  2. Repetition
  3. Reputation

Relationships: Earn The Right to Receive Referrals From Your Professional Contacts

Your customers might be willing to provide you with an occasional referral based upon the quality of the work that you delivered to them, but your customers and your professional network will only provide on-going quality referrals if you’ve earned the right to receive them.

  • Your customer doesn’t make decisions in isolation, particularly in the B2B and Professional Services market segment. They have trusted advisors influencing them; their banker, their tax accountant, their lawyer, their wealth manager, their insurance company, etc. These professionals can refer you to their other customers or to other rain-makers within their firm. However, if you haven’t nurtured a relationship with them as part of your on-going visits to your common client, you have not earned the right to receive high quality referrals.
  • What goes around, comes around. If you are only thinking about what’s in it for you, and not trying to help your referral source, you are just a “taker” and you will receive a dwindling number of referrals. Some of your professional network may give you the benefit of the doubt initially, but if you continue to demonstrate a lack of interest in their business and/or a lack of action in helping them, you haven’t earned the right to receive high quality referrals.
  • Leave the magic tricks to magicians and con artists. If you act like “the wizard behind the curtain” protecting your “secrets”, don’t expect too many referrals. In today’s internet-connected world, knowledge is no longer a big secret, lack of business transparency is no longer acceptable, and a bad referral can quickly damage one’s reputation with a client. If you are using networking techniques from the last century, don’t be surprised if your COIs (Circle of Influence) think that your products/services may also be a little dated, and not worthy of high quality referrals.
  • Provide a clear, concise, competitive differentiation. If your differentiation is “we do everything”, or, “we put our customers first”, expect to be put in the COI’s huge “generalist” folder, never to be heard of again. Unfortunately, everyone wants to put a label on you. For example, I have a track record in the Sales function for over 10 years, and I have a track record within the Marketing function for over 10 years, and even after I explain to COI’s that I am a Marketing and Sales consultant and how that adds significant value to my clients, they say “Yes, I understand Dave, but are you a Sales guy or a Marketing guy”? Given the reality of human nature, at the end of the day, either you need to determine which folder you want to be in or your COI will decide for you. It’s an extremely difficult exercise to decide your own differentiation without third party input (i.e. customer feedback or expert consultant). If you can’t help your COI identify why they should refer you instead of another vendor, and who your ideal customer is, you have not earned the right to receive high quality referrals.
  • Walk the Walk. It’s too easy for everyone to talk the talk, so as soon as possible after the meeting, follow-up and demonstrate that you walk the walk. When you do, the COI will feel obligated to return the favor, unless of course, they are just a “taker”. Networking with “takers” is a lose/win proposition that wastes your valuable time and energy. Drop them like a hot potato and move on to COIs that embrace win/win networking..

Repetition: Stay Top Of Mind

It’s been months and you haven’t received any referrals. Why?

If you followed all the steps above, maybe the reason is simply this: out of sight is out of mind. Immediately following your discussion, they were inundated with other personal and business priorities. The more hours and days that passed, the more they forgot about your value proposition, your differentiation, your target market, etc.

How do you stay top of mind on a weekly basis, or even monthly basis, with 300+ COI’s?

  • You need on-going content that they will value (e,g, insightful customer success story, new industry research findings, an upcoming event, etc.) that also continually re-enforces your value differentiation and your ideal referral.
  • You also need the help of some inexpensive software technology to help distribute the right content, to the right recipient, at the right time, with personalization. “Dear Friend” is not personal.
  • However, if you choose to do it the “old manual way”, the best you can do is manually keep track of the last time you requested a referral from each COI and it’s outcome.

The secret is to develop each piece of content so it can be evergreen (i.e. still highly relevant 1+ years from now) and repurposed (good for COIs, for the COI’s clients, and for net-new non-referred prospects).

For example, create a simple two minute video with you personally explaining how to best resolve a common industry issue that 1/ will be viewed by your COI, 2/ can be forwarded by the COI to one of their clients who might be struggling with the same problem, and 3/ can be posted on your website or Social page to educate any visitors. Do not create a corporate slideshow with voiceover. It’s all about relationships; They want to meet you not your slide deck.

Reputation: The Silent Killer Of Your Referral Business

There are two critical things you must understand about Reputation.

First, over 50% of referrals decide NOT to call based upon their personal research. The referral source didn’t tell you because they were trying to protect their client’s privacy, and although the client was initially interested, they subsequently decided that you weren’t right for them. According to recent studies by Hinge Research Institute, before a referral reaches out to you, they do the following:

  • 80% will check out your website (and/or your Social profile),
  • 60% will do a Google search on you and your company,
  • 60% will ask a trusted source (colleagues, friends, online social network).
  • Based upon what they see, or don’t see, they will decide whether you might be right for their situation.

Secondly, your reputation alone can generate referrals from people that have never met you: Based upon your specialty expertise that was demonstrated in a presentation or article that you delivered, or, the specialty reputation that was highlighted by advertising or an award.

The REAL Secret to Accelerating Your Referrals

The real secret is understanding your target buyer/customer.

If you really understand the buyer purchasing journey, and understand what they need to know before they make a decision, when they need to know it, who they will trust to help them find out, then you have an excellent chance of not wasting your time or your company’s money on under-performing business development activities. For additional insight:

Are you really aligned with your target buyer’s purchasing process or are you still using the outdated techniques from 15 years ago?

The sooner you start to better align with your customer, the sooner you will start benefiting from higher revenue growth rates and profit margins.

Let’s take the advantage. Please comment and share this with your colleagues to continue the discussion.