Building referrals: your affordable marketing strategy

by REP09 Oct 2015
We are taught early in our business degrees that we can build a business by being a technical expert, hanging a shingle and waiting for clients to walk through the door. Many professional service providers diligently fulfil their qualifications, maintain their professional development, and serve the customers who trip over their businesses. They do OK. But with well-targeted marketing, you can do better. You can, in fact, build your business around the market that you want to work for, and have them drive your customers to you by referral.
Good referral-based marketing will compel your ideal target audiences to voluntarily pursue your firm’s services. And, if done right, not only will you achieve a growth in revenue from your ideal types of clients but you will also drive them to refer your business to their friends, colleagues and community, creating a self-perpetuating buzz.
Selling trust
To grow an advisory business you have to consider the fact that your business is selling a tangible, yet human, service. You are selling trust. You can’t advertise trust on a billboard, or print it in a magazine. Trust has to be earned in order to grow your clients and expand your revenue.
Picture this. The phone rings on Thursday afternoon with an excited person wanting to meet with you. They have to get a new real estate professional as soon as possible. They got your name from their long-time friend Rob, who says you helped him sort out all his real estate issues and find a great buy far more suited to his risk-tolerance.
I hope you have received a call or two like this in your career. The exciting part of a call like this is that it’s pretty easy to convert the sale. When someone passes on a referral, the prospect is often ready to buy immediately, with a much shorter time-to-sale than average.
The prospect has identified that they have a problem. They have then sought information from a range of potential service providers on the expertise they need. And now they have asked around to see if anyone they respect can refer someone.
Understanding your priority targets
Most small and mid-sized businesses serve one or several easily identifiable local communities or even regional socio-economic categories. Understanding who your top-priority target markets is crucial to being able to target them specifically, and walk them through a structured and logical process that – if delivered with honesty, integrity and energy over its entire life cycle – will be sure to generate word-of-mouth referrals. And when you know who your ideal targets are, it’s easier for you to communicate to your existing satisfied clients who they should refer you to, making them your evangelists.
Building evangelists
There are five stages to building a customer: from no awareness to full-blown evangelist. Get it right and you’ll only have to go through the initial campaigns once or twice to build yourself a base of satisfied customers extolling your virtues by referral. This process takes the client on a journey from their first point of contact with your business, inspiring them to reach out and refer your business time and time again.
1 Raising awareness
When you know exactly who you want to target as your primary clients, it’s easy to broadcast your message to them. You can get involved in industry associations or local community groups, do guest speaking, write articles, advertise, do good PR, attend tradeshows, or run an integrated campaign of activities.
But let’s face it, this step is a hard, often cold part of the sales process, so we only want to do it once or twice. We eventually look to skip the awareness phase by using active referrers to bring ideal clients directly to us.
2 Courting interest
As an ideal target is developing their interest in your business, it is important to “court them” diligently to build their interest into hungry desire. Successful courting requires that you get to know your targets as human beings and be personal, engaging and interested in their success, building trust.
There are a whole host of clever ways to do this. You could use content marketing, hold topical briefings and personal breakfasts, and write regular newsletters or even blogs. Or you could invite people to accompany you to events or fit in some good old personal interaction, remembering that people always buy professional services from people.
This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Rebecca Wilson, founder of Stretch Marketing. It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.

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