Five Ways to Generate Referrals

What is the biggest mistake that keeps most people from getting more referrals?

The most common mistake is: We don’t ask. If we do ask, quite honestly, most people are not that good at it. The most common method is a general question like, “Do you know anyone who would be a good person for my business?” They normally roll their eyes back, put their hand to their chin with a furrowed brow and respond, “No, can’t think of anybody.”

You know what? They are telling the truth. What we really asked them is, “Do you know anyone of all the people you have ever met, who given their position and current business situation, would be willing and able to pay thousands of dollars per year, to have an experience similar to the one you have had or I have described as a client or customer of my business?” Whew! They reel and give up.

Here are five ways to ask that might help you become more effective at generating new referrals. These techniques are not intended to manipulate just to enhance the ability of the prospect to help you with referrals.

1 – The Specific Ask

In this case, we want to set context for the referral request. This method helps narrow down the myriad of possible prospects by having the request targeted more specifically. The Specific Ask can be industry specific, demographically specific, business characteristic specific or background/expertise specific. An industry specific ask narrows the field of prospects to those in a certain industry group; banking, high-tech, manufacturing or construction for example. It could be an industry you are targeting or it could be generated by a question about what industries might round out the group.

A demographically Specific Ask focuses on the personal attributes of an individual. One of my clients once noted that the members of the group were all about the same age (early to late 40s), and that we needed some ‘gray hair’ to complete the group interaction. Although I pointed at my own head, I knew what he meant. He wanted more ‘been there’ done that,” like he had before two senior group members retired.

A business characteristic Specific-Ask pinpoints businesses with unique characteristics such as public companies, fast growth companies, ESOP or employee owned companies, women-owned businesses or companies who were on the Top 100 companies list.

A background/expertise/situation Specific Ask focuses on people who are accomplished or experienced in a specific area. It could be turnarounds, acquisitions, IPOs and leadership. In another type of business, it could be based on their financial worth or their need to protect their assets. Being a new parent or newly married might fit this criteria.

2 – The Value Ask

In the Value Ask, we are engaged with the client/customer to find out where they are currently receiving value in their experience with us. One method is to review the elements of your value proposition with your client/customer, probing as to where the most value was generated for them this year. Another method is to review the individual products or services provided and asking when and where value was generated. A third way to ascertain value is to focus on the intended outcomes they had for your product/service and how those have transpired for them.

However the conversation starts, once the client/customer has articulated the value they have received (which in and of itself is important for you to know), you have the opportunity to ask who else they know or have come in contact with, who might be able to benefit if they received the same kind of value the member just described to you.

3 – The Expert Ask

The Expert Ask is suited for client/customer and contacts who have built their own businesses by referrals. The most likely candidates are accountants, insurance professionals, attorneys or investment advisors. The idea is to visit these individuals and present the question, “You have built a successful business based on referrals, I am building my business based on referrals also; would you tell me how you did it?” Then be quiet and just ask follow up and clarification questions. They will usually give great ideas as they look back on the ‘early days.’ At the end, you are set up to put yourself at the feet of the master by saying, “I guess I would not have learned much today if I did not ask you for a referral.” Ah, says the Master, you have learned your lesson well. 

4 – The Ego Ask

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, you probably remember when he talks about categories of people. One of the types is a Connector. Connectors just know more people than the rest of us. They collect relationships like others collect stamps or baseball cards. They typically do not mind trading them. With a Connector, the goal is to ask them to open their rolodex (or IPhone these days) and give multiple referrals. They are usually very social beings and like to set up breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings for you, them and their referrals. The Ask I used with my client/customer who knew everybody was something like, “Ken, you know I am asking all my clients/customers for referrals but the reality is you know more people than the rest of them combined, so can we work through your contacts and come up with some ideas on how to approach them?” I would then ask him to think of people he would like to meet as well and would then work hard to make those connections. 

5 – The Help Ask

One of the hardest things for most of us to do is simply look another person in the eye and ask for help. I guess we are brought up to see it as a sign of weakness, yet every time I do it, the response is “how can I help?” There is a nice way to ask this way, by not asking. Using what I call a ‘pre-ask,’ first make a declarative statement, “I would like to ask you for help.” Notice we didn’t really ask yet, but the response is typically, “what do you need?” Explain what you are looking for in a client/customer or company contact or segue way back to one of the other ways to ask such as the Specific Ask.

So the next time you think about asking for a referral; first think about ‘how’ to ask for the referral. Matching the method to the person may make all the difference.

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