The best way to get more referrals is to stop asking for them.
I’m completely serious.
Sure, this is contrary to 99% of the sales and marketing advice we hear today.
But, if you really want more referrals for your business (no matter what kind of business you have) then stop asking for them.
And throw away any notes or articles or books you have that use the phrase: “referral system.” That’s right. I said throw them away. Right now. Because they won’t do you any good.
The very idea of a referral system is contradictory to how referrals truly work. Having a “referral system” is like having a “friend system” or a “breathing system”. It’s fake and phony and it will not create long-term value for your business.
There are only two reasons people will tell others about your business.
One is because you have given them something to talk about.
Mark Hughes would say you’ve pushed one of their “six buttons of buzz.” In working with a client or customer, if you make their experience memorable and outstanding, they will talk about it. You’re giving them material for future conversations.
The other reason people talk about you is to help others.
If your customer likes you, trusts you and knows you do good work then they probably would not hesitate to refer others to you. But they only do this when they believe the other person wants or needs what you can do for them.
A true referral will only happen when these conditions are met:
1. Your customer trusts you and knows you provide a good product or service. They believe in you.
2. Someone they know wants or needs what you can do for them.
3. They want to help this person.
If you read these three conditions carefully, you’ll see something is missing. Nowhere do you see anything about what YOU want.
Because what you want does not matter to your customer or their friends.
What matters is what your customer wants and what their friend wants.
What you want does not enter into the equation.
My point here is that, as business people, we need to focus 100% on serving our customers. We need to make sure our goal is to help them get what they want as it relates to what we can do for them.
If we focus on that, people will do business with us. They’ll do business with us because they know we have their best interests in mind. They’ll trust that we are working to help them get what they need rather than to simply put money in our own pockets.
(Obviously we need to do this in a way that meets our needs too. But if we don’t meet our customer needs first, then ours will never be met either because we won’t make the sale.)
So, if as we work with our customer, we focus on what they want, then why should things change when it comes to referrals? How come when we’re done serving them we feel it’s okay to turn around and start focusing on what we want? Why do we think it’s okay to ask our customers to help us build our business?
Remember, no matter how much our customers like us, they’re not here to help us build our business. They are here to get something they want or need.
A lot of people think that because we do a good job for a customer and because we have a good relationship with them, we have the right to ask them for help. Some people even believe we have the right to EXPECT them to help us. Somehow, the customers OWES us something.
Once you start believing this, you’re on your way to a smaller, less profitable business.
It’s true that we often develop such good relationships with our customers that they want to help us make more sales and grow our business.
But, we’re still talking about what THEY want.
If my customer wants to help me, they will. If they don’t feel strongly enough about wanting to help me, then they won’t.
Here’s a real world example:
About eight years ago I owned a small technology company. One evening our offices were burglarized and our server (among other things) was stolen. We had back-up tapes. But we were effectively out of business until we had a new server up and running.
I spent all morning calling our customers to let them know our situation.
That afternoon, as we got back to the office after lunch, there was a brand new server sitting in our lobby. This was surprising because it was not what we ordered and it was several days early. When I looked closer, I saw a note that said:
“Kevin, sorry to hear about the break-in at your office. Here is one of our extra servers. We will not need it for several months, so please use it to get up and running.”
It was signed by our largest customer.
He WANTED to make sure we were operational. Whatever his motives were don’t matter. What he wanted is what mattered. So, he took action to get what he wanted. And the action he took also was helpful to our business.
His gesture did not surprise me. We had a great relationship. We liked doing business with each other. We trusted each other. We cared about each other.
So, it makes sense this customer would want to help us in our time of need. And it helped them because we (their primary vendor) were not shut down for three or four days.
But, even though I wasn’t surprised this customer offered such help, do you think I even considered ASKING them if we could borrow a server?
Not in a million years!
That would have been ridiculous. It was my job to get a new server. I’d feel like a complete fool asking a customer to get us back in operation.
Do you see my point?
It’s your job to build your business. Don’t ask your customers to do YOUR job.
If you have great relationships with your customers and if you provide fantastic service then it’s not surprising they will want to help you build your business. But, it’s their choice, not yours.
My friend, Mark LeBlanc has a marketing concept that he calls “The Greatest Marketing Strategy in the World.”
It’s all about maintaining relationships with people who care about you and your business. The outcome of the strategy is that these people give you referrals. Yet, part of the structure of his strategy is that you never ask them for referrals.
They give you referrals because they care about you and they want you to succeed.
A true referral is all about people helping people because THEY WANT to help them. Not because someone asked them for help.
If you treat people well, if you provide excellent service and if you care about others, they will care about you. And they’ll do things to help you, like sending you referrals.
I guarantee it.