How to Ask for Referrals, Part 2

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Monday’s blog talked about including a discussion of referrals in your contracts/proposals.

This blog talks about when and how to ask for referrals from clients. (The next blog will talk about strategies to get referrals from non-clients).

First, the biggest mistake that IT professionals make when asking for referrals is confusing “word of mouth” with referrals. Word of mouth is relying on the good will of your clients to talk about you when you are not in the room. It is relying on happenstance, and on the off-chance that your clients — with all that they have going on — will remember to rave about you to others.

If you benefit from word of mouth, congratulations! But you still have a major opportunity to ask clients for referrals. While word of mouth is passive, asking for referrals is active. It puts things in your control.

The right time to ask clients for a referral is whenever you have demonstrated value or otherwise improved the business relationship. These times include: when you sell the engagement, when the client thanks you, when you produce a deliverable and the client tells you they like your work, when the client gives you a referral, when you fix a mistake (believe it or not, this is one of the best times because you have made amends and taken responsibility for an error, something that’s rare among most professionals), when you go above and beyond the call of duty, when you and the client overcome a tricky obstacle, etc.

Or, you can demonstrate value simply by asking, “What have you liked most or found most valuable about our work together so far?”

Once you create the right atmosphere for asking for referrals, you have to ask the right way. Start by asking the client to sit down and brainstorm with you. “Thanks for those kind words. Would you mind taking a few minutes to talk about who else might find similar value from my services?”

Then focus the client’s memory on specific categories of referrals. Don’t just ask general questions. For instance, if your client sits on the board of the local chamber of commerce, you might ask, “Who else sits on the board with you that might be interested?” If the client sells to businesses that you could serve, ask for names of their customers that might benefit from your services. If they play tennis, ask for tennis partners that might want to engage you. And so on.

If you have a great relationship with the client, you might even ask to go through their contact list.

When you get some names, ask the client whether they want to make an introduction, or if you can follow up. Develop a plan of action together, so that you respect their relationship. Then take it from there.

Keep the client in the loop about what happens. After all, they are taking a risk on your behalf. Regardless of the outcome, thank them for their support and help. If you do land a client from the referral, send them a great gift.

At the same time, be sure to ask your client what kind of referrals they look for. One of the best ways to get referrals is to give them!

That’s how to ask for referrals. May I suggest that you pick your top 5 clients and develop a plan to ask them for referrals this week? Let me know how it goes.

Andrew NeitlichAndrew Neitlich
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