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Four tips on how to win clients and prospects through referrals

Word of mouth is still relevant both online and offline
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The most trusted ways to win new clients are through word of mouth and referrals.

However, our business landscape has dramatically changed.  Traditional methods of in-person business development have been forced to evolve as a result of COVID-19.  This holds true for both brick & mortar as well as digital businesses.

“With fewer in-person communication opportunities, referrals have the potential to be an even more powerful business development tool in this new dynamic,” says Rosanne Horner, Director, British Columbia and the North Region, BDC Advisory Services.

“Referrals lay the groundwork for your business to grow,” Horner adds.

 Here are four tips that Horner recommends to win referrals: 

1. Make a habit to ask for referrals

American novelist Nora Roberts, once said, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”  To add a Canuck slant on that quote, Canadian hockey icon Wayne Gretzky said in a 1983 interview, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 

In applying these concepts to referrals, Horner says, “If you want to have referrals, you have to regularly ask your clients for them.” 

Research from Texas Tech has show that 83% of satisfied customers are willing to give referrals, but only 29% do, probably because they were never asked to give referrals.

Horner says referrals can even be asked for during the first meeting with a customer because generally, they’re most excited and engaged when learning about a new product or service. 

You can try this: “Just like you are trying to grow your business, I am trying to grow my business. If you know of anyone who could use my help or add to their value, please do pass along my name.”

If you feel uncomfortable asking for a referral because it feels like you are asking your clients for a favor, consider asking for an introduction.  Try asking “Is there anyone in your network who may benefit from an introduction to me so I can support them and add value to their business as I have done with yours?”

With practice, you will become more confident to directly ask for a referral and promote your brand, Horner says. A word of caution when asking for a referral: Don’t over promise and under deliver.

Lastly, don’t forget to say thank you for referrals.

2. Use online reviews to your advantage

It is now widely known that online reviews are only second to reviews by friends and family, Horner says. Even when potential customers hear about your business through a referral, they will still research your business online. They want to know what people are saying about you – both, offline and online. As a result, it’s extremely important to make sure that your company, products, and services are positively reviewed online. Make sure to manage any negative reviews promptly and directly to make the situation right, she adds.

Many online review sites make it easy for businesses to encourage reviews from their clients by giving them access to links they can share with their clients that can be sent as a regular part of their email campaigns.  To further encourage reviews from you clients, you may elect to offer a small donation to a local charity if your customer will post a legitimate online review about your company’s exceptional service. 

Remember, the more people leave positive reviews about you, your company, and your products and services, the more likely future clients will enter their first meeting with you with an incredibly positive image of what you do.  This ultimately helps you not only meet more prospective clients, but also close more business.

3. A “like” is the equivalent of a digital referral to everyone that person knows

Social media can create a firestorm of attention if what you offer resonates with your target audience. “Think of this as word of mouth on steroids,” Horner says.  If someone connects with your message, product, or service, they will be more inclined to follow your brand online or “like” one of your posts. 

This engagement is visible to their entire network and serves as a virtual referral.  A recent Nielsen study has found 83% of respondents trust recommendations from friends and families.  Thus, this virtual referral or recommendation, will encourage their network of peers to also engage with you on online.

These so-called “warm leads” -- people who have shown an interest in your product by either following your company on social media or signing up for your newsletter due to a referral – can be specifically targeted with your marketing initiatives and usually take less time to close with a sale. 

4. Make it easy for clients to refer you

Everyone is busy and the easier you make it for someone to do something, especially something that they may not have a direct financial incentive to do, the more likely they are to do it.  Below are a few suggestions on what you can do to make it easier for customers to refer you:

  • Add a line in your email signature indicating your interest in referrals. Include a link to where they can leave an online review/testimonial about your products and/or services
  • Have a templated introduction email that your clients can “copy + paste” to connect you with others in their network
  • Send a periodic personalized greeting message to your clients thanking them and asking them for referrals

Regardless of who you speak to, frontline sales staff, sales leaders or marketers in business-to-business or business-to-consumer environments, they will likely agree that referrals from partners, customers or influencers are the best leads you can receive, Horner adds. It’s your responsibility to ensure you remain top of mind for your clients and that you are open and available for referrals. 

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