How many times have friends, family and associates said "If there's anything I can do to help you, let me know"? How often have you said "Well, now that you mention it, there are a few things you could do"? If you're like most people, you aren't prepared to accept help at the moment it's offered. You let opportunity slip by because you haven't given enough thought to the kinds of help you need. You haven't made the connection between specific items or services you need and the people who can supply them. But when help is offered, it's to your advantage to be prepared and to respond by stating a specific need.
Don't let the next opportunity for others to help slip through your fingers! Being prepared with some simple requests can make a real difference in the success of your business. Systematic referral marketing requires that you determine, as precisely as possible, the type of help you want and need. There are many ways your sources can help you promote yourself and your business:
1. They can provide you with referrals. The kind of support you'd most like to get from your contacts is referrals--the names of specific individuals who need your products and services. They can also give prospects your name and number. As the number of referrals you receive increases, so does your potential for increasing the percentage of your business generated through referrals.
2. They can introduce you to prospects. Your contacts can help you build new relationships faster by introducing you in person to people they think need your products and services. Furthermore, they can provide you with key information about the prospect. They can also tell the prospect a few things about you, your business, how the two of you met, some of the things you and the prospect have in common, and the value of your products and services.
3. They can endorse your products and services. By telling others what they've gained from using your products or services in presentations or informal conversations, your sources can encourage others to use your products or services.
4. They can display your literature and products in their offices and homes. If these items are displayed well--such as on a counter or bulletin board in a waiting room--visitors will ask questions or read the information. Some may take your promotional materials and display them in other places, increasing your visibility.
5. They can distribute your information. Your contacts can help you distribute marketing materials. For instance, a dry cleaner might attach a coupon from the hair salon next door to each plastic bag he/she uses to cover customers' clothes. Including your flier in the middle of their newsletter is another idea.
6. They can publish information for you. Your contacts may be able to get information about you and your business printed in publications they subscribe to and in which they have some input or influence. For example, a source who belongs to an association that publishes a newsletter might help you get an article published or persuade the editor to run a story about you.
Keep this list with you and add to it as other needs occur to you. Knowing how to match your needs with the right sources is key to obtaining the type of help you need. But remember--it's a two-way street. These support activities are also things you can do to help your contacts promote their businesses and generate referrals. Helping your sources achieve their goals goes a long way toward building effective and rewarding relationships.
Finally, it's good practice to develop a list of ways to reward referral sources for helping you. Once a referral has become a customer, be sure to recognize and reward your source appropriately. Doing so encourages them to send you more referrals. Distinguish between tangible (e.g., cash) and intangible (e.g., a public thank-you) rewards. Estimate the cost, and set aside some money to pay for your recognition program. The key is to find a unique, memorable way to say "Thank you" and to encourage your colleagues and friends to keep sending you referrals that turn into business.
It may take a while, but if you've selected and trained your sources well, and if you use the system to its best advantage, you will speed up the process of turning the ever important referral into business.
Ivan Misner is co-author of the New York Times bestseller Masters of Networking. He is the founder and CEO of BNI, the world's largest referral organization with more than 2,400 chapters in 13 countries around the world. He also teaches business courses at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and resides in Southern California with his wife and three children. Dr. Misner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.