Vendors, your most powerful marketing is through referrals
The importance of building up a business out of references is very well established, especially in B2B industries. This is because it’s much easier to persuade somebody who has otherwise never interacted with your brand through a personal reference. If people don’t use a point of reference, they are significantly more likely to scrutinize your material because they are building trust with your company. But if you connect your brand to one of their friends, then the user can actually “tune down” their brains. What I mean is that people won’t think too much about something if they don’t have to. Why go through the effort of scrutinizing what my friend has already done for me? It becomes a point of convenience to utilize a social reference in choosing a brand.
Authentic vs. Inauthentic Referrals
So if referrals are so great, why not just ask for them? Seems simple enough. If I ask for 3 referrals from each of my clients, then I’ll quadruple my leads! My answer is, unfortunately this doesn’t quite pan out. I assert that the answer to this problem is that we are not creating “authentic” references when we try to be so straight forward about it. People are exceptionally good at reading people; better than we give them credit for. As a result, it might actually impede on a sales attempt because the person doing the referral just isn’t saying it “with feeling” like you would see in an authentic point of reference. This problem happens in psychological experiments all of the time. The psychologist will ask for a certain behavior from the subject of an experiment, but the results of that experiment are confounded because the subject is aware that they are being asked by the experimenter to elicit that behavior. That in itself changes the behavior. The best references happen because the individual wants to make the referral for you autonomously.
Staying in front of Users Makes You Referrals
Whether it is through a newsletter, social media, remarketing display advertising, or having dinner with a client, staying in front of your client base is the best way to turn them into referrals. Make them love you so much that you don’t have to ask for the referral. It should come as naturally as breathing. The only way you can get somebody to be like that for your company is if you become a regular part of their weekly life. You might only be in the peripheral, or you will be the center of their attention at 5 min increments. Whatever you’re doing to stay in front of them, you’re reminding them of their positive interactions with your company/brand. That’s not only keeping your company salient enough in your consumer’s mind’s eye for them to remember to refer you, but also encouraging them to continue to use your service. After all, it’s easier to convince somebody that already knows you to buy from you again, than it is to get an entirely new customer.
Does this mean we can’t ask for referred leads?
Not necessarily. But you need to be aware of the timing. At which stage is it best to ask somebody to make a reference for you? When first selling them the service? When they make their initial sign up? When they have purchased your service? When they’ve used your service for a full year? How about when they’ve used your service for a full three years? The further along they are into involvement with your company, and with that being a positive experience, the easier it will be to get a referral from them. You also need to read your leads. If you’re getting the vibe that one of your clients is still warming up to the company, then the best thing for you to do is nothing except continue to perfect the quality of your service. If they seem more comfortable with your company/brand, you may be able to elicit some help from them, but never be so pushy as to scare them off.
How About Incentivizing Referrals?
Interestingly, this can have a substantial effect with users that haven’t even experienced your brand yet. The friend’s motivation for the referral can be strong enough in this instance to not require the drawn out process of building familiarity with a client. Keep in mind, the person making the referral isn’t likely to be able to effectively communicate the value of your brand. What it will do is extend your reach to individuals that are most in need of your services today. This reduces the barriers associated with most references.
A Business Listing is like a Referral Source
You could call a “search engine” a “referral engine.” When somebody searches for something on a search engine and clicks on your listing, it’s like receiving a referral. Users who search on a search engine trust that search engine to provide them with the most relevant information in their search first. It’s easier to trust a business at the top of a search engine listing than it is to trust one that is at the bottom. All of this substantially bolsters the importance of having good SEO. Newsletters/blogs are an excellent tool because they can better impact your SEO by having the content on your website and build your personal referral sources as well when you email and post your content on social media.