Published December 27, 2011
Your best source for new business is satisfied customers and clients.
It seems obvious that people satisfied with your services or products would be great brand ambassadors, yet asking for referrals or recommendations is one of the least utilized and most avoided techniques used by small business owners to gain more customers.
It’s not always easy to ask for referrals. You don’t want to turn off clients or embarrass them by asking and risk losing their business. Or perhaps you’ve already asked and are reluctant to ask again. Or maybe you’re afraid the request will make you appear needy or unsuccessful.
Here is another way to look at it: We’ve been asked for recommendations--whether it’s for a restaurant, movie, physician, school, or product. And as a business owner, you have most likely picked up business through referrals as well.
Asking for referrals proactively can increase your business even more than random and sporadic referrals. Here are steps to take to make asking for a referral easier and more effective.
Confirm Your Value and Define Your Brand
Confidence in the value your product or service provides is integral to making a recommendation request that yields positive results.
You should understand the unique value you provide to customers and how to articulate it. Be able to communicate how you help make customers’ lives easier, why they use your services and your advantages—this helps you define your brand from the standpoint of your customers.
Once you have the answers to these questions then you can formulate the ask.
Make the Ask
Who to ask: Target repeat customers—people you know by name and have regular interactions with. If you provide services, ask clients who are extremely satisfied with your work and can point directly to how you fulfilled their needs.
What to ask: Before you make the ask, reconfirm with them the value you provide. Let them know you are looking for clients and customers like them that stand to benefit from your services. Be specific with what type of clients you are seeking. For example, if you own a small real estate sales company you might want to ask a customer for young couples (like them) looking for their first home in a particular geographic region.
Another way to ask for a recommendation is to create programs to encourage referral business. Programs that incorporate discounts like a 2-for-1 offer, or a bonus card that becomes more valuable with each referral can also generate a buzz.
No matter how you ask, remember to always reiterate the value that these potential new customers would be receiving.
Regardless of who and how you ask for a recommendation, show your customers appreciation for any referrals they make. It could be a gift card, flowers, or a handwritten thank-you note--anything that enables you to “touch” your customers or clients and acknowledge their support. An act of gratitude is remembered for a long time, and serves as an incentive for them to keep on passing the word about your great business.
Mary Rosenbaum is a Master Certified Personal Branding Strategist and Career Coach with over 25 years experience as an entrepreneur and career professional and 10 years in business and finance. Mary is a dynamic and passionate coach whose talent is empowering entrepreneurs and careerists to perform at their peak by gaining clarity and more effectively communicating and leveraging their value proposition. For more insight into her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter here