Don’t ask for a business referral; you must earn it

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Published: May 15,2006

Becoming referable is a matter of earning, not asking.

A good friend gave me a book about building your business through referrals. The author believes, “The best marketing strategy is to be referable.” He is correct. He writes, “Referability means that your very best clients and customers are continually cloning themselves — continually introducing you to those like themselves or better than themselves.”

According to the author, your referability depends upon four habits:

1. Show up on time.

2. Do what you say.

3. Finish what you start.

4. Say please and thank you.

Could being referable be that simple? The author asserts that these four habits convey respect and appreciation toward the customer. He says, if you’re arrogant or erratic, you won’t be referred, no matter how talented or charming you are.

He says if you’re not getting enough referrals, cultivate the four habits. He is partially right. Very partially.

I say his four elements don’t create referability — his four elements are a GIVEN in any business relationship. To be referable, you have to go WAY BEYOND showing up on time and delivering what you promise.

Those habits may have worked in 1955, when “Happy Days” was in full swing, but becoming referable and earning referrals in today’s times (unhappy days) are far more complex.

In my experience, I have found that a referral is earned, not asked for. When you ask for one, you immediately put your relationship in an awkward position, especially if the customer is reluctant to give you one, and you keep pestering him or her.

Here’s why: The one-word definition of referral is risk.
When someone gives you a referral, it means they are willing to risk their relationship with the referred person or company. They have enough trust and faith in you to perform in an exemplary manner, and not jeopardize their existing friendship or business relationship.

Once you understand the definition of a referral, and realize how delicate, yet powerful, it is — you at once realize why you get them (or not) — and that you must become risk free in order to earn them.

Referrals are awkward to “ask for,” and often create discomfort on the part of the customer.

Here are the elements that breed proactive referrals:

1. Be likeable. This is the first prerequisite. Without a friendly relationship, there is no need to go further.

2. Be reliable. The company, the product, the service, AND you, must be “best,” and “there when needed.”

3. The customer considers you an expert in your field. To be referable, you must have an expertise that breeds customer confidence.

4. They trust you. The customer is CERTAIN that you will do everything in the referred party’s best interest, like you have with theirs.

5. You have a track record of performance. You have already done the same thing with the customer and they’re comfortable that you can repeat the performance.

5.5 They consider you valuable — a resource, not a salesman. Not just, “do what you say.” There’s no real value there. I mean, provide value to the customer beyond your product and service. Helping the customer to profit more, produce more, or some other form of value, either attached to your product or not. Not value in terms of you, value in terms of the customer.

And there are telltale signs — clues that you “qualify” for a referral:

REFERRAL CLUE: Your phone calls are returned. This means there was a purpose, a value or a friendship reason. Returned calls connote respect for who you are.

REFERRAL CLUE: You get reorders. This means they WANT to do business with you, and they LIKE to do business with you.

REFERRAL CLUE: There are no problems with service issues. Your interactions are smooth and your execution is flawless.

REFERRAL CLUE: They accept your lunch invitation. And the conversation is more personal than business.

Here’s the secret: If the one word definition or referral is “risk,” then you must be risk free — or at least risk tolerable.

Here’s the strategy that will work 100% of the time: Give your customer a referral FIRST. It will not only blow them away, they will become an advocate on your referral team.

Here’s the report card: The referral you got turned into a sale.

GitBit: If you want more information on the value of a referral, go to www.gitomer.com — register if you’re a first time visitor — and enter REFERRAL in the GitBit box.

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail
salesman@gitomer.com.

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