One of the most frustrating things I heard as a young business owner was hearing time and again a colleague say “I live off word-of-mouth referrals from X thousand clients and I never do any advertising”. I always walked away wondering what I could possibly be missing because I was not getting that many Word-Of-Mouth referrals. I got some, but not that many.
After 15 years in business, I have learned a thing or two and figured out there are essentially three types of word-of-mouth referrals.
- Networking – where someone introduces you to someone who doesn’t need your services directly but provides a key connection that leads to work.
- Word-of-Mouth Referrals – The traditional kind where someone occasionally says “Yeah, I know someone who services pianos…”
- Online Reviews – These are essentially digital referrals that work 24/7 every time someone asks for the services you provide.
The big question is not what works best, you need all three. The big question is what does it take to get your clients to actually do any of it? To understand this you need to understand why people choose not to refer a perfectly good business who did everything right and made them perfectly happy.
If you did everything right, why are your clients still not giving you referrals?
The answer is because they don’t know how. That might sound crazy, but let me explain.
Before your clients can give you a quality lead, they need to know how. You have to teach them how to do it or they will never do it. Sure if their good friend happens to ask they will say something nice, but you have to understand they did it for their friend, not you. So why will they not do it for you? It’s easy. They need to be the hero and everything you are currently doing to get them to give you a referral is all about you and your story, not them. People are never adequately motivated by external motivators like discounts. Sure they might make an impulse decision and collect the bonus bucks, but they will not make a calculated risky move unless they have a compelling reason.
What could be so risky about giving a referral?
Here are 3 reasons people will not refer a business they are perfectly happy with:
- Hard work. Building your own business is hard enough, doing it for someone else is a chore. Referring a friend doesn’t even register on my “must do list” unless my friend is begging to “do it now”.
- The unknowns. Sure maybe you did great work, but nobody is perfect and something might go wrong with their friend’s experience which could strain their relationship. Think about it, don’t you remember the time you gave someone a referral and in the back of your head thought “Gee, I hope they get the same great experience I got?” – If you pay attention, this is always a factor to overcome when we give a friend a recommendation. Honestly, it is sometimes easier to give a stranger a referral than a friend. But we rarely do either.
- I don’t want to be your pan-handler. No one wants to do someone else’s begging. It just isn’t comfortable and no matter how much of a discount you offer I will not do it. Thanks but no thanks.
So How do I get past all this?
You have to make them a hero and they have to know three things without a doubt in their mind:
- Who you need them to refer
- How they should do it
- Why they are doing it
Most business owners focus on the “how” if they do anything at all. So let’s talk about the things you need to do to put an exponent on your referral leads.
- Educate – From the moment they first engage with your company you need to future frame what you need from them by communicating why you work so hard to network with other people. Notice the shift I just made. I don’t work hard to “get referrals” I work hard to “network”. I don’t network with “piano owners”, I network with “people”. This is crucial. If you miss this, you are missing the iceberg under the water.
- Educate Again – I have built opportunities into the structure of my business to educate clients at every step of the way. Most of it is subtle, all of it is intentional. By being strategic with my communication I re-enforce the end result I want to see. Before I ring the doorbell I have at least 5 opportunities to engage with the clients and I want them to know that I value networking and value their business.
- Tell a story – Take time during your first appointment to share a story about how you have built your business by networking with people, musicians, and folks who might not even own a piano. Make it natural and keep it true. But just mention the key parts in passing.
- Ask at the right time – Don’t just ask, ask at the right time. The moment to ask is after you have had enough time to build a rapport with them and after money has changed hands. This is likely at the end of your first paid appointment. I do it as I touch the doorknob to leave. I turn around and say “Would you do me a favor…”
- Look in their eyes – Shake their hand, make a personal connection, but for goodness sake look in their eyes. If you don’t personalize this request, you are wasting your time.
- Make it easy – Whatever you say next better be easy. I ask them if they would be willing to “Do me a favor” because favors are easy, optional, and non-threatening. I am simply going to ask them a question and assure them it will be easy to do.
- Ask away & quickly re-educate – “Would you give me an online review?” Nothing more, nothing less. Notice I didn’t ask them to do 3 things. I just asked if they would do one thing and I quickly mention (for the 3rd time) how I have built this entire business on word-of-mouth and online reviews.
- Shut Up! – silence, zip it – They are going to say “yes”
- Say ‘thank you’ and assure them it will be easy -Thank them for offering to give you an online review and tell them you will email them a link with instructions. You can see the link we email them at http://www.Well-LovedPiano.com/review. At Well-Loved Piano I have this set up as a “canned message” in Gazelle that gets sent as I mark the even completed.
- Re-Educate – Notice our reveiw generation webpage shows them how to give us an online review. It is simple and it is yet another opportunity we take to “educate our clients”. Leave nothing to chance, tell them exactly what you want.
- Educate, educate, educate – Now the stage is set and you are free to take every opportunity you have to remind them that you are interested in meeting likeminded people who, have an interest in music, who might not even own a piano. All they need to know is that you value networking and you value meeting people.
If you do this, people will choose to introduce you and give you their personal networking leads. It doesn’t mean they will be good at organically weaving your story into their conversations, that is a topic for another day. But you will have accomplished a lot. During this time their online review will serve as a 24/7 mega-phone for your business because they become the hero, not you. They will use your story to inspire someone that is a game changer.