Some of the best things in life come to us on a recommendation. Like the book you pick up after hearing your colleagues share positive feedback about it. Or the other half you end up marrying after a friend sets you up on a blind date because ‘you’re just perfect for each other’.
Recommendations (or referrals as we often call them in the business world) are incredibly powerful, so much so that they’re an integral aspect of your business.
Research into the areas tells us that as much as 72% of all new business is generated by word of mouth and referrals.
That’s insane, right?
Well brace yourselves because further data indicates that 84% of people view a recommendation from a friend as the most trusted form of advertising.
Most savvy marketers are well aware of the huge benefit of word of mouth for their business, but a lot of the time those referrals just aren’t coming in…. Your clients are all happy with your work, you get the job done on time, and to a high standard, and you’re even friends with a lot of your customers. So where are all those referrals?
As with most things in life, your clients need a little encouragement if they’re going to recommend you…
How To Encourage Your Clients To Recommend You
Let’s face it, we’re all super-busy people. Most of the time we’re far too caught up in our own stuff to really stop and think about how great the guy delivering our Amazon packages is, or how indispensable our VA has become. If these people suddenly vanished from our lives, work would likely grind to a screeching halt, but we don’t generally think about it until it happens.
The sad truth is that most of the time we only think to comment on the performance of people who seriously help us out when they do something wrong.
If we’re unhappy we complain, yet if we’re happy, we don’t often think to say thank you, let alone go to the trouble of recommending them.
Similarly, if someone directly asks us who handles X, Y and Z in our business, we’ll happily tell them, but it doesn’t generally occur to us to call a friend and say, “Hey, you know that thing you’re struggling with? I know just the person to fix the problem.”
There’s so much going on in life, we really just don’t think about these things. The same is true for your clients.
If you do something to disappoint them you’re 99.9% definitely going to hear about it, but if they find you indispensable and can’t cope without you, the odds are they’ll never think to mention the good stuff to you, let alone anyone else, without a bit of a nudge.
Here’s a few tips to help you get started with nudging those positive reviews out into the public arena.
7 Easy Referral Strategies
#1 Have Impeccable Customer Service
The most straightforward way to encourage clients to recommend you is to simply ensure your service is impeccable.
The modern world has become accustomed to a certain standard of care. People no longer view brands who go above and beyond as the exception, but the rule.
We live in a culture trained by BOGOF offers and free incentives, so much so that we now believe we are entitled to a lot more, over and above what is generally provided.
This not only goes for the value that you provide your clients in your products, services, and marketing, but also in your customer care.
The goal posts where ‘good’ customer care is concerned have shifted and you really need to step up your game to impress people.
What you’re looking to achieve is buzz around your business. You want to get your clients talking about you, sharing their experiences, and telling other people stories about how you were there right when they needed you, and went above and beyond in order to give them exactly what they needed. That kind of perception of your business doesn’t happen as a result of occasional acts of extraordinary customer care, but develops through routinely doing attention-worthy things for your clients. Things that lend themselves to stories about how awesome you are!
There are a few ways to do this, here are just a few:
Respond Promptly To Every Piece Of Correspondence
If you’re not going to be checking your email at least once a day, and replying to everything that requires it immediately upon reading it, setup an autoresponder that notifies people of a realistic amount of time they will need to wait for a response. If you’re going on holiday let them know, if there are certain days of the week you take off let them know you’ll get back to them on X day when you’re back in the office. And if you have a backlog of work and email and know it’s going to be a couple of days before you make it down the list to people, tell them.
A simple ‘I’m not in the office right now but will get back to you ***’ or ‘I’m super busy at the moment but aim to get back to you within ** hours – please bear with me!’ will ensure people get a swift reply, even when you can’t do it personally (just make sure you get back to them with the time frame specified!).
When you sign a new client send them a hand-written note welcoming them aboard and telling them how much you’re looking forward to working with them.
When a contract comes to an end send your clients a farewell gift – something related to what you do but helpful, interesting, and kind of cool! Pop another handwritten note in with it to remind them it’s not the first time they’ve received something unexpected and personal from you.
If you have a new product coming out that is small and relatively inexpensive, or lends itself to free samples, make sure your existing and past clients all get a free sample. This works really well with new product lines like soaps, candles, and other small items, but it can still be done for services and digital products – if you’re releasing a book send them the kindle version, if you’ve got a new SaaS (software as a service) option give them a free trial. It may encourage them to buy from you again, and they are very likely to show off their free stuff to their friends, family and colleagues.
#2 Build Your Email List
Building your email list so you can stay in regular contact with all your clients and prospects is generally a really important aspect of online marketing. But it’s also a really great way to encourage referrals as it keeps you front-of-mind. You don’t need to email your list asking them to refer you all the time, simply sending out high-quality content on a regular basis will reinforce their positive perception of you and ensure that, in the event someone asks them for a pro in your wheelhouse, they immediately think of you.
Another great way to use email to encourage referrals is to work a call to action into the signature on your email account. A simple direction to ‘Forward This To A Friend’ can prompt people to send your email address to someone who may be in need of your services.
#3 Make Referrals Super-Easy
Your clients’ time is as precious as your own. Show them you respect that time by making it nice and easy for them to refer you. There are a few ways to do this, including:
- Include the direct links to your review page or feedback form in an email to them.
- Add review sections on the products/services on your website.
- Installing a ‘Recommend-A-Friend’ function on your site.
- Writing an email script for them to use to send out to their list, or email to individuals – script the whole thing from start to finish so all they need to do is add their branding and personal flare.
- Share functions on all your online content (make sure it’s mobile-friendly!).
- Send an email following a purchase encouraging the customer to review the product.
#4 Incentives And Affiliate Programs
A lot of businesses create great success through incentives and affiliate programs. The premise is really simple: whenever a client refers you and it leads to a sale, they get a reward.
This can be incentive based, like a discount on your services, or a system of points/tokens they can collect which will eventually add up to enough to buy something (like the stamp you get every time you buy a coffee in Starbucks – collect enough stamps and you get a free coffee).
You can setup a rewards system online, or you can simply offer a free reward, like a voucher, or a fixed fee for every referral you receive.
The other popular option is to have an affiliate system that gives a percentage of your sale, or a fixed fee, to the person who made the referral. For example, in the online business world you’ve almost certainly experienced the veritable tsunami of emails, adverts and incentives recommending Marie Forleo’s B School every year.
I don’t know about you, but once a year, every year, my inbox is full of emails waxing lyrical about the amazing benefits of B School, and offering me a chance to get a product, service, or course from the person emailing me at a huge discount, or completely free, if I sign up for B School.
This may seem really counter-productive, people using their lists to promote someone else’s course, but Marie’s affiliate program is incredibly powerful. Not only do affiliates earn a lot of money for every person who signs up on their recommendation (we’re talking hundreds, thousands, and sometimes millions of dollars depending on how many people buy on their recommendation!), they get new clients themselves in the form of people who were on the fence about working with them, but can’t resist the opportunity to get B School and whatever the referrer’s offer is for a bargain.
Affiliate programs can really benefit your business as well as the businesses of the people referring you, and they provide a great incentive for people to genuinely put some effort into recommending you, as they earn passive income doing it!
#5 Be Direct: Ask
With 83% of satisfied clients happy to recommend you, and only 29% actually doing it, the biggest block preventing them sharing their positive impression of you is that you haven’t suggested it.
Oddly enough one of the best ways to encourage referrals is to simply ask.
If you’ve gone above and beyond to help them it’s neither awkward nor pushy to ask them to recommend you. You might ask for a testimonial, or send them a link to an appropriate place to review your business.
If you see them in person you could politely ask if they know anyone who might need your services, and a quick line at the bottom of your invoices reading, ‘Know someone who needs me? Let them know where I am!’ will go a long way.
Ask for a referral, tell them exactly how they can make one, and don’t wait until you’ve finished working with them to do it.
There’s a huge misconception that you need to wait until a project is finished to ask for a referral, but projects can go on a long time. More than that, once you’ve finished working with someone they’re no longer in the middle of it and keenly aware of the details of how great you are.
Just ask – and don’t wait to do it!
#6 Focus On And Showcase Your Best Clients
When you’re asking for referrals it’s a good idea to be selective about it. You don’t need to ask every single person you’ve ever worked with. Instead, pick the best of the best. Choose the clients you know adore you, the ones you did an unbelievably brilliant job for, the people who have already told you how happy they are with you, and the ones who buy from you repeatedly and without hesitation.
It’s easy to get so caught up in the referrals game that we forget to remember the possibility of negative feedback.
Just because you ask someone to recommend you doesn’t mean they’re going to have nice things to say.
Every time you send a link to your Google Business page asking someone to write you a quick review (and you should totally do that), check yourself – are you sending it to a client who is going to have positive things to say?
This is not to say you should prevent people from leaving negative feedback if they feel the urge. For the sake of authenticity you really can’t censor feedback. But there’s a difference between not preventing something and actively encouraging it!
When you do get glowing reviews and seriously happy clients make a big deal out of them!
Turn them into case studies, blog about them, and create PDF downloads that give a detailed view of the project you worked on together, the results your client achieved, and quote them praising your work.
#7 Say Thank You
Finally, make sure you say thank you to the people who do refer you. They are helping you build your business so a quick phone call, email, postcard, or handwritten note is the least you can do. Aside from anything else, it will make them feel good about referring you, increasing the likelihood they will do it again!
How To Handle Negative Reviews And Referrals
Before you start nudging your clients into giving you glowing recommendations, a brief word of caution: when you take direct action to encourage people to recommend you, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility that some clients will do the exact opposite.
Often this isn’t anything to do with you.
They may be having a bad day when you ask. Other things could be going wrong in life and a small mistake on your part tips them over the edge, causing them to vent all their frustration at you and your business.
At other times people will have legitimate concerns and issues and, rather than dealing with them privately, the fact you’ve opened up a forum for referrals means you will most likely be faced with them publicly.
So before you do anything else ask yourself, are you really prepared to deal with negative reviews of your business, as well as positive ones?
How confident are you in the quality of service you provide? If you know for a fact you have a few disgruntled clients address the root cause of any issues before you start seeking recommendations. See if you can’t nurture those client relationships and get them back on track first.
Beyond that, if you ever do get a negative review or referral, there’s a piece of advice an author friend of mine once gave me that really stuck: don’t feed the trolls.
Whether a complaint is legitimate or completely unfair engaging with the client publically in any way is not going to go well for you. My friend told me a few horror stories about authors who ruined their careers by responding to a negative book review, and the same holds true in business.
It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s going to reflect badly on you in some way. If you contradict your unhappy client and point out everything is either their fault, or untrue, you look like you can’t take criticism or, worse still, that you’re a bully. If you apologise and offer compensation you’re admitting it’s true and, worse still, opening yourself up to a flurry of complaints from people looking to get free stuff.
Business reviews are even trickier to handle than book reviews as you will almost always know who has left a review or made a negative comment and have a means of contacting them.
Resist the urge to contact them privately and ask them about the review. The internet is not a private place, your email may well get shared publicly and you will have the same problem.
Seriously, don’t feed the trolls!
Encouraging clients to recommend you can feel quite daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. As long as your clients are happy with the work you’re doing, it should never be an issue, and they will be more than happy to tell people about your business.
For a little extra help making sure clients are 100% satisfied, download my FREE Client ROI checklist now.
Strategic Optimisation + Growth consultant for lean start-ups and change-making entrepreneurs enabling them to grow their business in a sustainable and profitable way. My super-powers are business optimisation, CX, SEO, and leveraging data insights for business growth. #fuelledbycoffee