5 Referral Marketing Strategies for Professional Service Providers

Referrals are a great way to increase sales and clients. Here's how to get more of them.
5 Referral Marketing Strategies for Professional Service Providers
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Referrals should be one of the top marketing strategies professional service providers focus on.

Why? Because referrals are likelier to translate into more clients than leads generated through other marketing methods. According to this study, the two biggest factors that increase the probability of referrals are visible expertise (34.7 percent) and a professional relationship (24.4 percent).

There are two types of referrals -- experience and reputation -- and your marketing strategy should target both.

Experience referrals are a direct result of working with your business. A previous client is a prime example of an experience-based referral.

Reputation referrals come from people that have heard of your business. Someone who has previously seen your advertisement or engaged with your content online is an example of a reputation-based referral.

Here are five marketing strategies to help generate more referrals for professional service providers.

Related: 8 Reasons a Powerful Personal Brand Will Make You Successful

1. Become an industry thought leader.

Many professional service providers have experts on staff, but they are not known names outside of their own firm. There are a few simple things you can do to position yourself as an industry thought leader.

Start by contributing consistent content on your company blog. Most service businesses will have several team members -- those that take the initiative to publish helpful content can use it as a stepping stone to secure contributor and guest blogging positions on relevant industry websites. The exposure these websites provide will often be your number one source of reputation-based referrals.

2. Publish case studies and results.

Publishing case studies and results on your company’s website is an easy way to increase referrals two ways. First, the subjects of the posts will often want to share it with friends and family members, which can spark instant referrals. Second, when someone visits your website but doesn’t convert, there is still a chance they can be a valuable asset in terms of future referrals. They might not have engaged with your company, but if your published results and case studies were impressive, they might refer your business to someone that needs your service in the future.

“Publishing our case results directly on our website shows potential clients that we are results-driven, and it also helps attract referrals. If someone lands on our website looking for representation in a practice area that we don’t focus on, there is a good chance they can provide us with a referral down the line if they are impressed with our published case results,” explains Marc C. Brotman, Partner at Brotman Nusbaum Ibrahim.

Related: How to Start a Business With (Almost) No Money

3. Make your client list public.

Many people don’t want to list their clients publicly or simply can’t because of non-disclosure agreements. If the only thing preventing you from making your client list public is fear of your competition attempting to poach them, you need to reconsider.

When someone is deciding whether or not to do business with your company, a client list can give them the confidence to move forward. Also, a potential customer might reach out to a client on the list and ask them about their experience with your company. This is very simple to implement and it can be an easy way turn your client base into a referral machine. Make sure you receive written permission from any client you add to the list.

4. Focus on your specialty.

You will attract more referrals if you focus more of your marketing and branding efforts on your specialty, rather than a wide range of services. When I first launched my marketing agency more than seven years ago, we did everything under the sun. With dozens of services, we were not known for one specialty over another.

Over time, we reduced the number of services we offered, and today we only do one thing: performance-based digital ad buy management. We were also heavily involved in influencer marketing from the beginning, so we launched a separate agency to handle that part of the business. Our referrals have increased dramatically now that we have two agencies, each specializing in one thing.

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5. Feature your clients in your marketing.

Steve Kappel, President of Coldwell Banker Kappel Gateway Realty explains the benefit of client-feature marketing, saying, “Including a client success story in your marketing can send you referrals two ways. First, the client will typically share the marketing piece on social media, introducing your company to his or her friends and family. This can send highly qualified leads, in the sense they are already comfortable with your company because of the close connection. Second, success stories show that your company is good at what you do. In our case, someone might see our marketing and refer a friend to use that is in need of a real estate agent.”

Featuring clients and sharing your company’s success shows that your service solves the problems a potential new client is facing. You can attract reputation-based referrals from people you don’t even know if the marketing featuring previous clients is done right.