When I was just starting my consulting business in the early '80s, I knew that I wanted networking and referral marketing to be a major part of my business development strategy. One of the biggest questions I had in mind at the time was, "How do I generate referrals for other people?"
Today, I'm asked that question a lot, and so I suspect that many of you might have that same concern. I'd like to share with you just one of the techniques I used that had a huge impact on my ability to provide quality referrals to others--which, of course, led to me getting referrals.
I wanted to be the person others came to if they needed a referral for anything--the "Go-To Guy." Today, a person like this is known as a "gate keeper" of referrals. To become known as a gate keeper, one of the things I did was to compose a letter that was sent out to my client list several times a year. Today, you could send out a quick e-mail to your database, but send it at least once a year as hard copy just to stand out from everybody else who's e-mailing your clients. I've excerpted a sample letter below:
I really believe in the process of referrals, and so part of the service I provide is to be sure to refer my clients and associates to other qualified businesspeople in the community.
Attached is a list of areas in which I know very credible, ethical and outstanding professionals in. If you're looking for a professional in a specific area I've listed, please feel free to contact me. I will be glad to put you in touch with the people I know who provide these services.
Dr. Ivan Misner
Notice when reading this letter, that I just listed professions; I didn't list names and phone numbers. I wanted my clients to contact me so I could put the referral and the contact together. I wanted to build relationships, not just become a glorified Yellow Pages. I wanted to become known as an effective networker, and that was done by making the connections myself.
I was trying to increase my visibility and establish my credibility throughout the community. One way of establishing credibility is to help other people attain what they want before you start asking them to buy your product or services, or expect them to make connections for you that'll further your goals.
I sent this letter out to all my clients (and prospects) four times in the first year. I didn't even get one response until the third time. After the third time, the floodgates opened and I got responses every time I sent it out. Eventually, I no longer had to send it out multiple times each year because I had finally cultivated the reputation for being a gate keeper. People began to come to me because of the reputation that I developed for knowing many businesspeople in the community.
What began to happen was that others would ask someone on my client list, "Who do you know who does XYZ?" If they didn't know anyone, then they would send that person to me!
The importance of becoming a gate keeper is huge for any entrepreneur seeking to grow his or her business with word-of-mouth marketing. It's a strategy that gets people to not only contact you for a referral, but also to open up a dialogue with people about what your business is all about and how you can help them. This, in turn, leads to more business with existing clients and new business with prospects.
In addition, the people on that list of professions worked hard to reciprocate and send people my way as well. They were another part of the equation in the process. In time, even they would begin to come to me when they needed a referral for something. (Be sure to copy your letter to each professional represented on that list, letting them know that you're going to be sending business their way.)
As I developed my mailing list, I would drop certain people off it with whom I didn't have any further contact. One time someone who had been dropped from my list called, stating that he missed the letters! He had needed a referral for a certain business and had to look up an old letter of mine he had kept on file. I actually ended up doing some business with him as a result of this incident.
This is just one technique to consider when building your business through referrals. It's a "touch point" that puts you in contact with your clients and prospects in a way that fosters different dynamics than when you're trying to sell to them. You have something they need in the form of referrals and contacts. Allow this to open the door for reciprocal sharing and giving. You'll be amazed at how much more business you'll find you're able to do with each other as a result.