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How To Get and Use Referrals
By Ray Silverstein

I know of a sales tool that is fast, free, and powerful. Yet many entrepreneurs are reluctant to use it. What is it? The referral, of course!

Every business relationship has the potential to lead you to other relationships. If a customer buys from you and is happy with what you deliver, you miss a huge opportunity when you fail to ask for referrals.

Referrals create a comfort level that eases the sales process. After all, buyers prefer not to buy cold. If your business is serviced based, this is particularly true. Buyers understand what good service is, but they can't "kick the tires" before they buy. A good referral can make the sale.

Referrals are so effective, one of our PRO members built his business on them. As a young salesman, he would make joint calls with his sale manager. He would frequently consult his watch to make sure they were on schedule. Noticing this, the savvy manager advised his trainee to put a red dot on his watch-and ask for a referral each time he saw that dot. Our PRO member quickly got into the habit of requesting referrals.

Now, how can you get in the habit of cultivating referrals?

Start Prospecting Whom can you ask for a referral? Anyone-a customer, a contact, even another prospect.

When's the best time to ask? Any time! When you start working with a new customer, make referrals part of your front-end agreement. Get new customers to agree to provide four or five referrals once you've proven yourself. Then, knock yourself out.

Whenever a customer says something positive about your company, follow up with a thank you-and a request for referrals. Periodically asking customers for referrals doesn't reflect negatively on you. Quite the opposite! After all, referrals only happen when people are happy with your company.

Exceed Customer Expectations
The best way to get referrals is to do a great job-to exceed your customers' expectations. But in order to do that, you must first know what those expectations are.

Find out what "great service" means to your customers. Ask them why they do business with you. Periodically, ask for feedback-informally, in a phone call, and formally, through satisfaction surveys. This is valuable for all kinds of reasons.

Go one step further: encourage your customers to complain! Complaints, no matter how trite, give you the opportunity to solve a problem and be a hero, while obtaining valuable insights that can help you improve your products and services.

Form Referral Alliances
Build relationships with others who can provide you with referrals. Of course, you must be in a position to return the favor.

As you do this, you will build a network of mutually supportive contacts. Once you've got a network, work it! Don't just provide your contacts with referrals-help them solve their business problems. Be a good listener, a good friend, a valuable resource.

Invest in and nurture these relationship. Find ways to stay in touch; it pays off.

Describe Your Ideal Prospect
Don't take for granted that other people know what you're looking for. Tell your customers and contacts as specifically as possible what your perfect prospect looks like. You don't want cold, useless leads.you want hot, enthusiastic referrals!

Be Prepared at Networking Events
Got a networking opportunity on your calendar? Don't just wing it-plan it! Rehearse for it.

For example, you know someone will ask "how are you?" or "what's new?" Have a sparkling answer ready. Be prepared to talk about a new source you've found, an exciting new client, or some other success. Be enthusiastic and interesting. Sound like a winner.

In addition, create goals for each event you attend. For example:
-"I plan to speak meaningfully with at least three new people."
-"I'm going to introduce myself to the speaker."
-"I will introduce at least two people to each other."

Before the event, identify what kind of people you want to meet and what information you'd like to learn. And when you meet someone you'd like to connect with, ask permission then and there if you may call him for an appointment.

Referrals are a fantastic way to grow your business. The more dedicated you are in going after them, the more successful you will be.



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