There is no fool-proof way to find new clients. Any business development resource or salesperson will tell you that. There are, however, some approaches that work better than others. We at 3coast believe that referrals, which come in different forms, are the best way to find new customers for most B2B businesses.
There are three kinds of business referrals: customer referrals, personal referrals, and professional referrals. Let’s focus on customer referrals.
Customer referrals come from customers who are willing and able to make introductions to other potential buyers of your service. In order for a customer to refer you business, you must have earned the privilege.
WHAT Must You Deliver?
First and foremost, you must be delivering a quality product or service. If you are not, then most likely you know that you can’t ask for referrals and if you did, you wouldn’t receive any.
- Quality is the focus of many books and methodologies. Let it not be forgotten that quality has ramifications on business growth, and that business growth is limited by poor or substandard quality.
- You should be collecting customer satisfaction metrics and feedback on your service. You will stub your toe and catch an earful if you ask for referrals from a customer who is less than satisfied. Ideally, your customers should be raving fans. This is where you set the bar.
WHO Must You Ask?
Second, you must consider who you will ask. Will you ask the decision makers, or will you expand the referral program to end users? Will you offer something in return? Discounts towards future business? Referral fees?
- Different individuals within the customer’s organization have different motivations and can provide referrals at different levels. Not better … just different. The owner may know other owners. The procurement team may know procurement resources at other companies. End users may be able to provide leads that have to be pursued over a longer period of time.
HOW Must You Ask?
Third, you must consider how to ask for customer referrals. Like most things, you need to be specific about your request.
- Do not leave it open-ended or ambiguous. Provide examples of how customer referrals have worked in the past. Explain how the referral would benefit both the customer and the vendor. Base the request on their satisfaction, not your needs.
WHEN Must You Ask?
Fourth, consider the timeframe. While asking for referrals should be a standard practice, what is the schedule? Quarterly? Annually? At specific milestones in the relationship, such as delivery milestones or product shipment? Every business is different.
- I would caution you not ask for referrals at the same time as when you gather customer satisfaction feedback. This will make your quality assurance (QA) process seem disingenuous.
Most importantly, your approach should be soft and gracious. Show how appreciative you would be for a referral, and that you will not be disappointed if they cannot provide a good referral. No pressure!
- You do not want to turn a happy customer into a customer that avoids you because you pressure them for referrals.
In sum, asking for customer referral is not simple and should not be addressed haphazardly. Do not leave customer referrals up to chance and variation.
See the complexity and nuance? As such, business owners and managers should develop a well-thought-out customer referral program for their sales teams. Be sure to address product and/or service quality and customer satisfaction at the outset.