There’s a right and wrong way to do just about everything. With client issues, the right way is always to vocalize concerns and solicit feedback. The wrong way is to ignore issues until they go away.
With missed deadlines, the right way is to communicate ahead of time and warn your client that the project will be late. The wrong way would be to avoid the client and scramble to get the work delivered, even if it’s sloppy.
And, just like every other facet of business, there’s a right and wrong way to ask for customer referrals. And, it’s especially important that you ask for referrals the right way, as referrals can be a powerful tool to grow your business.
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Here are three wrong ways to ask for client referrals and what to do instead:
Don’t ask for referrals too soon
If the ink isn’t even dry on a contract, don’t think about asking for a referral. You need to earn your client’s trust and respect first. Give them time to see what it’s like working with you – the quality of work you produce, your personality, your professionalism, and your timeliness. You need to impress your current clients before you start asking them to introduce you to new ones. Plus, the happier your clients are with you and your work, the better the referrals.
The right way: When is the best time to ask for a referral? Wait until your value is recognized. Sometimes this is very easy to recognize, like if your client tells you, “I’m so happy with the work you’re doing” or “You’ve made my life so much easier.” Once these comments are made, you know that you’ve impressed your client.
If your client isn’t one to give compliments, ask value-seeking questions at the end of a meeting, like “Of all the things we talked about today, what do you find most important?” or “Since this is a rather new working relationship, I was wondering if you have any feedback for me and my work?” This is an easy way to gauge your value before asking for referrals.
Don’t overdo it
You can be persistent, but don’t come across as aggressive or nagging with referrals. You don’t want to act like a salesperson to someone who is paying you for services. You want to focus on your client’s experience and making sure they’re happy before you start pushing your own agenda.
It also depends on your individual clients. If someone has told you “no” straight-out after you asked for a referral, don’t ask again. If a new client relationship is starting off rather rocky, give it a couple months to be sure your client is happy before you ask. And, if you have a client you’ve known for years and you have a great relationship, it’s probably safe to ask for referrals more often.
The right way: First, it’s important to establish some sort of referral program (How will you thank clients who successfully refer you? Will you make collateral to give out? How will you promote yourself? More on a referral program here). As part of this program, establish how often you will reach out to clients for referrals. Once a month is generally a good rule of thumb. If you wait longer, you may risk being top-of-mind of your clients.
Don’t be ambiguous
It’s a lose-lose for everyone involved if you are not clear about what you need. Let’s say you ask a client, “Can you refer me to someone?” Your client will have no idea what kind of person is a “good fit” or “good client” for you, so he may shop you around to anyone he knows. And, his pitch for you will be rather vague. Your client knows what it’s like working with you, but the service you provide him may just be a small piece of your total offerings. So your client won’t be equipped with the information he needs to really make you shine.
And, the referrals you do receive will be weak leads, meaning the least likely to become a new client. These are not “your people.” You didn’t specify who your people are to your client in the first place!
The right way: Instead, be really specific about what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to identify your ideal new client. Here’s an example: “Do you know any CMOs at small tech startups that need help with digital advertising?” or “Do you know anyone at X, Y or Z company that needs SEO help?” You’re narrowing down the audience so you receive the strongest leads possible, and you’re telling your client exactly what kind of referrals you’re looking for.
Your best source of new business comes from happy clients. The best lead comes from a strong referral from someone the prospective client trusts.
The good news is that if you build a relationship with your clients and earn their trust and respect, you could get dozens of new leads, just from asking for a referral in the right way.