A few weeks ago, I was up way too early on a Sunday morning, as I normally am when my daughters force me from my bed. I flipped on Your Business on MSNBC and a business consultant was answering questions submitted by viewers.
One viewer said her company prepared legal documents and she wasn’t getting results from advertising on Google and Yelp. She was looking for ways to grow her business.
The consultant responded with something that I didn’t expect from a consultant. First, she said that she would need to know more about the woman’s business, audience, and goals before making specific recommendations, but Yelp didn’t seem like the right fit.
Then the consultant said the woman’s company would have to earn someone’s trust before expecting that person to hire the company to prepare legal documents. Instead of investing time and money into advertising, she suggested using those resources to build the company’s referral network.
She said to think about networking events that would make it possible to connect with attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, mortgage lenders, or anyone else who would need legal documents prepared. Approach networking strategically to build relationships and expand the company’s referral network.
This was great advice. Referral marketing can be a valuable growth tool, especially in certain industries and business categories. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked and misused.
When I say “misused,” I mean that most professionals only think about getting referrals instead of giving them. If it’s all take and no give, your referral partners won’t be referral partners for long.
Sometimes referrals fall onto your lap. If someone comes right out and says, “I need a new accountant” and you have a relationship with an accountant, your job is easy.
Suppose you hear someone telling a story about how his wife is in the hospital after some jerk who wasn’t paying attention knocked her down while backing out of a parking spot. If you know a personal injury attorney, your job is easy.
Of course, if you want to seal the deal for your referral partner, you won’t just hand someone a business card or give them a phone number.
Make an email introduction. This way, you have a record of the referral. Include both your referral partner and the referral in the email. You’ll already have given both people a heads up, but remind everyone of the specific problem and solution in your email. Validate your relationship with your referral partner and give them an endorsement.
After you hit “send,” leave it to the two of them to connect, but follow up in a few days to make sure they do.
Sometimes a good referral isn’t easy to spot. But an effective referral partner will listen for triggers that may not be so obvious.
For example, my referral partners know to listen for statements like these:
- I hate my website.
- My brochure is ancient.
- I haven’t updated my blog in months.
- It takes me all day to write a (fill in the blank).
- People are going to my website but we’re not getting any calls.
- Marketing projects take forever because we’re always waiting for the content.
The response isn’t always as simple as, “Do you need a content writer?” Most people don’t realize they need a writer.
More often than not, they can’t tell good content from bad. Or they think they can write their own content – you know, because they can type.
Which brings us to the next point…
The Half-Court Shot
The secret is to respond to those triggers with questions that get the potential referral to state a problem that can be solved by your referral partner. After all, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that the problem exists.
In my case, instead of asking someone if they need a content writer, I always tell people to ask, “So who writes your content?” Unless they have a rock-solid resource, they usually fumble over the answer until they admit they need help with content writing.
Sometimes you need to do a little more digging to get to that admission.
For example, one of my referral partners mentioned how his company digs deep into analytics, beyond superficial metrics like opens and clicks, to find out what parts of your marketing are working, how many leads are being produced, where exactly those leads are coming from, etc. They connect activity to actual dollars.
This immediately made me think of a client of mine that publishes a lot of content. I write multiple blog articles per month for this client, as well as white papers when needed.
I could have just asked my client, “Do you need someone to help you with analytics?” But I think we know what the answer would have been.
Instead, I asked how the blog articles were performing. I asked if there was any article, or type of article, that was performing better than others.
My client said they were very happy with the blog articles, and they were getting great feedback.
I said, “That’s great, and I’m glad everyone is happy. But how are you tracking and measuring their performance?”
My client said, “Well, we look at some basic numbers, but nothing too deep. We probably should look at the analytics more closely.”
That was the opening I needed.
Knowing my client is a one-person marketing department and barely has time to breathe, I mentioned my referral partner. I said exactly what he said during our networking meeting and offered to make an introduction.
She said, “Definitely, that would be great. I constantly get calls and emails from people selling their services, but I’d much rather work with someone you would personally recommend.”
I made the email introduction and they spoke later that week. They agreed that it would be best to circle back after the holidays, but the connection has been made and they’re on each other’s radar.
Not only have I passed an excellent referral to someone who has done the same for me, but I’ve strengthened my relationship with my client by helping her do her job more effectively. Win-win-win.
All it took was a little investigative work and the right questions to find a lead for someone else when it wasn’t a layup.
Prioritize referral marketing, and prioritize finding referrals for others. Put a little effort into cultivating those referrals.
It’s not just good business. It’s the right thing to do.