Why Conventional Wisdom About Referrals is Dead Wrong & What to do About It

Many coaches and consultants believe that people will refer them business based on the magnificent work that they’ve done for them in the past. But, as it turns out… in these days of insanely busy clients and prospects, that no longer holds true.

Waiting and hoping for referrals is not a strategy… But here are some tactics that you can implement right away to significantly increase the number of referrals you receive. And that means more money in your pocket!

Let me explain…

You’ll almost always get more referrals if you understand why clients and contacts give you referrals in the first place.

A few months ago, I met the CFO of a garden supply company at a neighborhood social function. Towards the end of our conversation, he told me they were having problems with their inventory tracking software. My first thought was… Who do I know that can help him? Of course, I didn’t mind helping the software consultant I knew, but the main reason for the referral was to help the CFO… not the consultant.

This distinction is important because it reflects a shift in attitude from one that is about you to one that is about how you can help others. When you help others without the expectation of a specific return, it will often come back to you in spades. (People who give referrals will almost always get them in return.)

So how can you as a coach and consultant take advantage of this?

Potential referral sources (your network and contacts) must completely understand how you benefit clients. Many of them simply know that you are a coach or consultant, but don’t really understand what you do, much less able to explain it to someone else. Even your past clients’ knowledge of your services may be limited to a very small part of your business.

The solution? You must constantly educate potential sources of referrals…

You can do this by sharing as many transformational success stories you have been able to bring about for your clients. Even though you will NEVER tie a specific story to any specific client without permission, the referral source will get the idea that you get positive results for clients. Consistently use these stories in your speaking and writing as well as in one-on-one conversations when appropriate. This sort of ongoing educational effort is as important as any of your other marketing efforts.

You’ll also get more referrals if you don’t let past clients and contacts forget about you. It does no good if our potential referral sources think you walk on water if they don’t remember that fact when presented with an opportunity to refer you business.

Remedy this loss of memory by consistently reminding people that you are still very much active in your business. Do this by picking up the telephone (purely social calls), email (copies of business-related items you thought they will find interesting) or via social media like LinkedIn. Don’t let more than three months go by without them hearing from you.

Earlier this year, a contact who has been staying in touch with me for at least five years got a contract with an organization here in Santa Fe, because he never let me forget he was still very much in business. Without those gentle reminders via email, I may not have remembered him!

What is important here is that you avoid becoming out of touch with our contact base. This is especially true for solo or independent consultants. People are so busy… they forget. Consider using a simple contact management program to systematically keep track of referral sources much like the one you use for prospects.

Back to my story about the garden supply company. I contacted the consultant and told her to contact the CFO and why I was referring them. That was the last I ever heard until weeks later when I saw the CFO at another function. He said that the consultant did call him, but nothing much ever came of it. That would have been nice to have learned that from the consultant!

Avoid that sort of thing by keeping people who give you referrals in the loop as the engagement proceeds (or not). This is critically important. They want to know the outcome of their actions. You want the person who referred you the business to KNOW that they’ve helped the person or company they referred you to… Because It makes THEM look and feel good!

To further foster an environment that encourages more referrals, always thank a referring party three times. First, thank them verbally, both at the time of the referral and later after contact has been made with the prospect. Then thank them in writing. I do not mean email. I mean a snail-mailed handwritten note using blue ink. Do you have any idea how FEW coaches and consultants do this? Not many… it will set you apart!

Jim McCraigh helps his clients build profitable, growing and sustainable business. He is on a mission to help you sell more of your professional services! He has been the owner of Business Growth Strategies, a professional services firm, since 1987