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Why You May Not Be Getting Business Referrals

April 3, 2010

From Ann Handley, American Express Open Forum March 2010 

Are you basking in referrals for new business? Do your customers tell others how much they love you, all the time, with a nearly embarrassing outpour of enthusiasm? Doth your sales funnel overflow?  

There are two basic approaches to generating more business: The first is to focus on making your existing customers insanely happy, so that they want to tell others about how much they love you; the second is to simply be a resource, or be helpful, to those who aren’t customers yet. 

So if you aren’t inspiring referral love from your customers, perhaps: 

1. You don’t have a clear goal. Set a clear goal with a specific timeline – for example, you want an x increase in referrals over the next six months. You know that old adage about how you can’t get there if you don’t know where you’re going? It’s true.

2. You don’t thank people enough. Monitor the web and primary social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for people talking about you or your company. Say thank you (if they are saying nice things). 

3. You don’t solve problems fast. If people aren’t saying nice things about you in those places, or elsewhere, why is that? Reach out and ask how you can help. Apologize for mistakes and solve problems so they don’t reoccur. Speed is your ally.

4.  You’re “that guy.” You sell, rather than engage. On the web and social channels (Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn), you monitor for specific keywords relevant to your business and join relevant groups, only to be “that guy” who pops in to pimp his stuff shamelessly. Your primary goal on any publishing platform (blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) should be to inform and assist, not to shill. Be approachable, conversational, and helpful. Be a resource. Engage, don’t sell. 

By the way: Does this one sound obvious? If I had a nickel for every time I see this rule shattered, I’d be writing this column from a larger office with a better view.

5. You’re too silent. When someone comments on your blog or Facebook page, respond. Talk back. Thank them for participating with a follow-up email. This is a dead-simple thing, and something a lot of people don’t do. (See “nickel” comment in #4, above.)

6. You’re a wallflower at the party. Read other relevant blogs in your industry, or by your customers, or would-be clients. Comment there, too. How? I almost want to repeat that bit about engaging-not-selling again, but I know you get it.

7. You don’t ask. Put something on your front door (if you have one) that reminds people to tell their friends about you. Put a tell-a-friend form on every page of your site. (Hat tip for these two to Andy Sernovitz.) .)  Put a special offer in easily forward-able mail and ask existing clients to pass it along, if they find it of value.

8. You never call, you never write…. Create a mechanism to keep in touch with existing customers or clients, even if they aren’t in buying mode. Perhaps you publish an “insider’s” newsletter, guest-blog on their blogs, or pick up the telephone and call every once in a while, just to say hello.

9. You don’t act generous. I know you are generous, but perhaps you don’t always show it: Are you generous with your own referrals to others? Or when someone refers you, do you go out of your way to thank them back? (An especially nice touch in this digital age is a handwritten card of thanks. The kind that arrives in the mail.) People refer people who treat them well, are approachable, and likeable. Be that person.

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. Follow her on Twitter @marketingprofs

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