Has this ever happened to you? One of your clients says, “I’ll be happy to refer you to my colleague. You and your team have done a terrific job for us.” And then, NOTHING happens.
Did they change their mind? Did they forget? It feels awkward to ask them why they haven’t followed through. On the other hand, your growth strategy is partially based on the ability to use your voice of the customer program to increase referrals from existing (and satisfied) clients. The next step you take seems important.
Relax. It’s unlikely your client changed his mind and while he may have forgotten, it's probably not because your request was unimportant. More likely that, like you, your client is very busy. Not only that, but as happens to us all sometimes, in his enthusiasm he agreed to do something and then was not entirely sure what next step he should take.
You can probably relate. If your desk is like mine, you probably have one of those stacks that needs your attention. You know the one that keeps getting pushed aside (and continues to grow) because you haven’t decided exactly how to move forward. You’re still ‘thinking’ about what to do next until one day, the task you were ‘thinking about’ falls off your radar entirely. This happens to your clients too.
Just because your client tells you he will refer you he may need your help to do so. He’s happy with the work you’re doing and feels confident you would do a good job for a colleague. But he may wonder who he should refer you to? What projects his colleagues are working on where your firm could be helpful? Or, how he should start the conversation?
This is where you can help. When your client says they will refer you – make it easy for him by following this 3-step process – Research, Relate, and React.
Start by looking at the feedback you’ve gotten from this client for the past couple of years. Was there a particular trigger that let you know they would give you a referral? Has their feedback been consistently positive over time? Many firms use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) question, “How likely are you to refer me to a colleague?” to capture this information. Client Savvy’s Client Feedback Tool ® (CFT) voice of the client program, helps our clients get insights at important project milestones and it is integrated with NPS. Here's a case study for reference.
Besides identifying clients who may be interested in making a referral, using CFT lets you gather specific positive sentiments. Consider this example. Instead of going to a client who has said he would refer you with nothing more than the knowledge he must feel your team has done a good job, you can leverage specific client sentiments like, “Bob and his team met our accelerated deadline. This saved us significant costs and delighted our community stakeholders.” Knowing how he feels you have specifically helped his group, you can now mention how glad you are that your team meeting his accelerated schedule was so positive. This gently reminds your client of one reason he is happy to refer you. It is also a prompt to help him recall colleagues who he knows (or suspects) have been affected by similar stakeholder challenges.
Before you meet with your client, take your research one step further and leverage LinkedIn to identify some of his contacts you would like to be introduced to as part of this process. If you can bring 2 – 3 of his connections whom you would like to meet to the meeting, you are doing most of the work for him. If you aren’t sure of the specific people, consider following your client's social media platforms. What are they focusing on? Does your firm have capabilities to help them there? Who is commenting on their feed? Making a specific ask helps your client identify how they can help – and if they can’t do it themselves, they probably know who can.
Just to recapture the Research step:
- Use feedback from your client to remind them why they are happy to refer you
- Suggest several connections you would like to meet asking if he thinks those individuals might benefit by the same help you’ve given his group
- All that is left for him to do is say, “sure.”
Your firm’s ability to even have the referral conversation is based upon the relationship you have built. It makes sense then that when you get ready to discuss this with your client, it will be best done face-to-face. If that is impossible, then a telephone call can work. However, you never want to surprise your client with such a call. Yes, his response to the net promoter score question indicated he will refer you to a colleague but remember, you are trying to make it easy for him to do so. Catching him off guard is not how to do that.
Whether your conversation will be on the phone or in person, contact your client after you’ve done your research to set up a time that works for him. We’ve included a sample email in our Activating a Promoter Guide you can use.
Once you have him on the phone (or in person), begin the conversation by continuing to build your relationship with him. You can use the specific sentiments you identified in the research step to learn more about why the work your firm did for him was so valuable. Discover who else in his organization was affected by what your firm did. Is there anything else he would find valuable as you continue to work with his group? Not only will your greater understanding of why what you did was valuable help you when you speak with his colleague, it will also help you continue to do work that your client finds valuable. Your relationship with them isn’t ending even as you ask for a referral. Definitely a Win-Win-Win scenario.
Once you have a clear sense of why he feels your efforts were so valuable, you can either ask him if he has any colleagues outside his organization your team might help, “like we’ve helped you.” Or, you can use the information you gathered during the research step to provide the names of a colleague (or two) you feel might face similar challenges asking the same question.
Note the emphasis on the phrase “we might help like we’ve helped you.” This wording gives your client a compelling reason to make the introduction. By introducing you, he is helping his colleague rather than doing you a favor. If he can give you a name(s), thank him and let him know you’re looking forward to connecting with his colleague. Let him know you appreciate him taking the time to meet with you (or speak with you).
After the meeting, send your client an email. Recap your conversation and restate any agreements you made with him regarding ways your firm can continue to serve his group. If there were any action items agreed to as part of your ongoing working relationship, include them. Let him know you will be back in touch on those items soon.
End your message with the list of referrals agreed to, a timeframe for your client making the introduction if that was part of the conversation, and a closing statement like, “I look forward to being introduced to your colleagues and reporting back to you how we’ve been able to help them.”
Once the introduction is made, get curious. Don’t forget this extends a trusted relationship between you and your client. Your goal is not to sell your services to his colleague but to identify if your firm might help your client’s colleague, “like you’ve helped them.” Over lunch or drinks, ask the referral what she knows about the project you helped your client with (let her tell you). Fill in gaps on what she knows as needed and then ask questions about any similar challenges she’s facing. Offer ideas, not help. Like your existing client, working with this potential new client will be all about building relationship. This is just the first step.
After your meeting, take a moment and report back to your client. Let him know it was a great meeting and thank him again for the introduction. Let him know you discovered his colleague is dealing with [name a challenge] you feel your firm can help them manage. If appropriate, ask for his thoughts on that.
By reporting back to your client, you demonstrate your consideration of his colleague. Whether we are conscious of the thought or not, when we recommend that a friend or colleague try something we’ve used based on our experience, there is an aspect of holding our breath until we feel confident that we did help them. By closing the loop, your client will know you didn’t drop the ball and he will breathe easier that the action he took was positive for his colleague.
When you activate on a promoter, you set up a Win-Win-Win scenario. While the referral may not be a perfect fit every time, you’ll find potential new clients whose challenges your firm can solve. You will also deepen your relationship with your existing client and build their trust that when they refer colleagues to you, you will treat them well. Finally, you will establish a process for the referral conversation with that client which will likely lead to additional referrals. And perhaps the biggest win of all – your firm will experience the growth you desire from your referral strategy.
Download Client Savvy’s guide, Best Practice: Activating a Promoter and make it easy for your satisfied customers to help your firm grow.