Failing to effectively generate referrals from clients and other professionals is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
The biggest resource any company has is its client base. You may be uncomfortable asking your clients for referrals because you think it jeopardizes the integrity of your company. On the other hand, you may be able to approach professionals such as accountants, attorneys and bankers and ask for prospects but find that very little materializes.
Here's how you can overcome your objections to asking clients for referrals and sharpen your dialogue with other professionals so you benefit from those conversations. When you approach professionals for leads, you're probably asking for referrals as an afterthought. You think you're doing the right thing because you've gone to the chamber meetings, the lunches, etc., but nothing materializes, it's possible you're not approaching the meeting correctly. Here's a dialogue that can work.
You: If you're like other attorneys, you're probably looking for ways to expand your business. As you can imagine, we're looking to expand our business as well. One of the reasons I thought it might make sense for us to get together and have lunch is to talk about ways we might be able to help each other. Is that something you'd be interested in?
You: My experience has been that either one of two things will happen. Either we'll decide that we have a fit or that we don't have a fit. Any time during lunch, you can stop and say, "Sam, I don't think we can help each other. Why don't we just enjoy lunch?" For us to work together, it has to be a win-win situation. So it might make sense for me to tell you the types of people I'm looking for and what you might be able to do for me. Then you can tell me about the types of people you do business with and what I might be able to do for you. Then we can decide whether we can help each other. Does that make sense?
You: If we decide to do that, then we'll discuss the ground rules on how we're gong to go about it and how the mechanics might work.
The other mistake most frequently made by firms I provide training for is they don't ask clients for referrals and introductions.
The most common reason is they have a professional image to uphold. They ask how they can professionally consult a client about his business if he's looking for business himself.
"It diminishes my image," they say. "I have to look strong, like I don't need any help to attract new business."
You must overcome that mindset. Assume it isn't an obstacle. Assume you could go to your clients and get them to introduce you to people who might have an interest in your service. What is the likelihood these individuals will become new clients? Probably much higher than if you'd met them in a random setting. First, you've already established a level of credibility, and that leads to a much higher new client conversion rate. You'll find clients like to be associated with successful people. Nobody wants to have an unsuccessful accountant. Nobody wants to go to the doctor and be the only one in the waiting room. People want to work with successful people, so if they can help you, they will. It confirms their decision to work with you in the first place.
You need to become comfortable approaching clients and give them a reason to help you. Welcome to the world of stress-free professional selling. Any business professional needs to know how to sell in order to grow his or her business.
And you can grow your client base in a manner which is congruent with how you view your profession - with integrity.
This article appeared in the October 2001 issue of Akron's SBN Magazine.