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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Jul 31, 2013 7 min read

Inbound Marketing Gets Everyone In Your Firm To Ask For Referrals

Inbound Marketing Referral ProgramsInbound marketing impacts more than just website design and blogging. The approach you take to getting more referrals for your professional services firm is also guided by an inbound marketing methodology.

Referrals to the firm are always going to be a major source of highly qualified and vetted new business opportunities.

But with so many partners, practice leaders and associates—why aren’t you getting more referrals? The answer is that your people are probably NOT ASKING for them.

But before we get inot that, let’s make sure we are clear on the difference between a referral and a reference. A referral is simply one company giving you the contact information for another person at another company. Hopefully, this other person has similar challenges as those of your client. That’s the definition of a good referral.

A reference is when one person endorses you to another person. This typically requires a pretty deep and comfortable relationship.

Today, we are focusing on referrals only.

With that in mind, the reason your people struggle to get referrals is they don’t know when to ask, how to ask and why people love giving referrals.

WHEN to ask for a referral – Once you work out this little detail, the rest of the process falls into place nicely. However, knowing when to ask a client for a referral is challenging for most people. Do you wait until you've proven your firm's worth? Maybe when the engagement is over?

The best time to ask a client for a referral is right after they have chosen your firm. Remember, this isn’t a reference. It’s just a referral. You aren’t asking for an endorsement, just the names of a few other people who might need the kinds of services you provide. That’s it.

There is another reason why this is the perfect time. As human beings, we need to be validated. Your new client needs to know that he made the right choice. The more people they know using your firm, the better they feel. “If John at ABC picks them too, then I must have made the right choice.” This is the ONLY time during your engagement that they are looking for validation. Once you start working for them, it’s your work that will drive whether they refer you or not, but at this point, it’s the decision to hire you that drives it.

HOW to ask for a referral – It’s not hard to ask a client for a referral, but if you haven’t done it before or you don’t do it often, it can be tricky. This is the issue for most professional services firm associates. They simply haven’t had to do this sort of thing before. Part of the key is making it a company-wide program. This gives your associates a framework to fall back on. Making it a program means telling them exactly when to ask for the referral and giving them the script they need to make it feel natural, non-threatening and easy. After they get a few referrals using this framework, they will have no problem asking more often.

We typically recommend something like this to our clients:

“Hey John, thanks for returning the signed agreement, our team is excited to get started. By the way, I was wondering if you knew any other business owners who might need a similar set of services. After all, you know us, what we do, how we do it and we are only looking for quality businesses like yours to work with. If you do think of anyone who you might be a good fit, just email me their names and I will follow up. Thanks!”

With this little script, we are asking for the referral, complimenting the firm, telling them exactly what we want and how to go about getting it to us. It’s simple, easy and highly effective.

WHY people want to give you a referral - As I mentioned above, referring your services makes your clients feel better about their decision to hire you. Unfortunately, they are probably busy and they may forget to follow through. One way to keep them focused is to incent them to remember you.

Standardizing a referral program that incents your clients for helping you grow your business is a great idea. You can reward them for the referral or you can incent them for the new client. We like incenting the client for the referral; after all, it’s our job to turn the referral into a new client, not theirs.

You want to create scalable and remarkable way to incent your clients for referrals. We deliver a bottle of root beer with a custom label and the message, “thanks for the referral, we owe you a beer.” The package has a sticker on the box and the bottle of gourmet root beer with our funny label. The little gift encourages clients to continue to refer new business to us and it thanks them for going out of their way to give us a referral. It works beautifully and costs about $3 in all.  

Getting more referrals for your business is one low cost, easy way to impact your new business development process. But it has to be scalable, easy to implement and remarkable for your clients if you want it to be successful.

Start Today Tip – If you don’t have a repeatable referral program that everyone knows about and is comfortable executing, then you have work to do. Get a small group of people together and create one. Figure out the timing, the script and the small incentive you are planning on using to remind clients to refer your firm. Then train your team, give them goals and keep track of progress. You can make it fun: whoever gets the most referrals gets a prize. This shouldn’t be painful. After all, your clients want to refer you...they may just need a gentle reminder.


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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.