To ask or not to ask?
Two schools of thought here. One says never ask for repeats or referrals. If your customers were pleased enough, they’d do it for you without being asked. To ask for them may even look immature, weak or annoying. If you concur, good for you. Stop reading now, because I’m not going to try to change your mind.
I subscribe to the other approach, which says always ask because you always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. If you concur with me, then hang on for a fast ride.
Everything is earned!
Not too hard to make the first sale with a customer. What’s much harder is proving your value and living up to your brand promise enough to make the second, third or fourth sale. So, winning the second sale begins with nailing the first one:
- Ask good questions and listen to what you hear.
- Summarize what you think customers want so they know you listened and understood.
- Be sure you can do what they want at a competitive, still make a fair profit and enjoy the process.
- Under promise and over deliver.
- Always thank them for the business at the point of sale and at the point of delivery if different.
- Follow up on satisfaction.
- Keep in touch … unless they ask you not to.
If you asked enough good questions up front, you should have a good sense for their needs going forward. In a separate email or phone call, ask when you can discuss other needs.
It’s usually with the same decision-maker/contact, but might involve:
- Same product or service with a different end-user.
- Different product or service with the same end-user.
- Or, different product or service with a different end-user.
If you learned enough from your initial conversations, suggest some next steps to consider. Be patient, follow up when they ask you to and think, “Yes” until you hear, “No.” But don’t confuse “No” with “Not now … not ever … never!’
Depending on the size of the organization, there might be other departments, divisions, locations or even subsidiaries that would benefit from your products or services. You won’t know until you ask.
If Bob, your current customer, gives you the name of colleague Sarah in a “cool” lead, you can certainly contact Sarah and follow up. “Bob gave me your name … ‘should be good enough for a few minutes of her attention. The higher Bob’s position is in the organization, the more time and professional courtesy you might get from Sarah.
“Cool” leads or pass-offs can be very useful, but “warm” leads or three-way connections are usually better. In this case, Bob offers, or you ask him, to contact Sarah on your behalf, describe your relationship, his satisfaction with you work and connect you with her. This connection can be done in person, by phone or even with an email.
In both cases, you now have two people you need to turn into raving fans, not just one.
Bob has some skin in the game, so if things don’t go well with Sarah, that could backfire and impact your future relationship with him.
Potentially even more valuable can be referrals to professional colleagues in other organizations. If Bob works in a small company, the internal potential may be limited or non-existent. But, if Bob is well-connected in the local industry or community, he could refer you to lots of colleagues and become a strong extension of your marketing effort. Nice work if you can get it.
The same “cool” vs. “warm” lead concept applies. You can always start by asking for a “warm” lead and settle for a “cool” one if you need to.
A key tactic for a successful Referral Strategy is the magnitude of your gratitude. In the above example:
- Start by thanking Bob for the initial business.
- An email is good, a phone call better and a hand-written note the best. Why not do all three? Remember to sit on the ‘ask’ for the next conversation.
- If Bob does offer you a referral to Sarah, thank him for his help and support.
- After contacting Sarah, thank her for her time, even if nothing comes from it.
- If Sarah does buy something, thank Bob for the lead when you thank her for the initial business.
- Then, ask Sarah for repeat business as well as internal or external referrals.
Sounds like a lot of time spent expressing gratitude doesn’t it. Absolutely. But, since most people don’t bother, anything you do will clearly and positively differentiate you from the pack of ungrateful amateurs you compete against.
Best of luck mastering the art of Marketing Repeats and Referrals and do share your success stories.
Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com,
440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.