Many small businesses suffer from a lack of client referrals, a trend noted particularly in smaller B2B companies, according to marketing communications consultant Jennifer Woodard, who offers a checklist of best practices to boost client loyalty, satisfaction, and subsequently referral business.
Woodard says that the first step toward gaining client referrals is knowing and understanding existing clients: "Truly understanding the challenges your clients are facing, then providing real solutions to their challenges is what will get them to refer others who are facing similar challenges to you."
So what are the best practices that business owners can employ to help increase the chances of referrals? Woodard offers a run-down of the top fifteen qualities that drive referrals. A company worth referring will:
- Provide easy ways for clients to keep in contact;
- Listen to what they have to say;
- Provide useful relevant information that they can use;
- Be easy to do business with;
- Be available when they need them;
- Show consistent performance;
- Ask them questions;
- Speak their language;
- Keep them informed;
- Provide solutions tailor made to their problems;
- Show their expertise and knowledge;
- Demonstrate shared basic core values, common ground, and personal goals;
- Make them feel that they are being taken care of;
- Go the extra mile;
- Treat them as people.
But, Woodard warns, your company's credibility is also a major part of any referral that an existing client makes. Four basic ideas that can help build the right level of credibility include:
- The company web site
This should be well designed and updated on a regular basis. The web site should demonstrate to visitors and clients that you are an expert in meeting their needs. You have to provide reasons for clients and prospects to visit your site and visit it often. Provide content that allows them to become knowledgeable about their problems.
- Write articles
Get published in the type of publications that your clients read. Don't forget to have your articles published in trade magazines, local business magazines and newspapers. Write reports and white papers on industry topics and have them published. Every article, report or white paper should address a topic that is of interest to your target market. Provide valuable information that will fill a need or solve a problem. Include all articles, reports and white papers on your web site. Interestingly, that's exactly what Woodward has done with this article in The Wise Marketer - and it's a very effective approach.
- Provide seminars and speeches
Provide seminars and speeches on topics of interest to clients and prospective clients. Provide transcripts on your web site, along with video and audio recording. Try giving speeches and seminars to associations and civic groups where your clients and prospects are members. Make the seminar informative, but also leaves them with the desire to do business with you. You should also have a way to get contact information so that you can add prospects to your database.
- Try to be a guest on TV or radio
Provide transcripts, video and audio clips of your interviews. Becoming a quest or hosting a television or radio show causes your credibility to jump greatly. It's not always easy, and it may take a great deal of persistence, but the end result is usually worth the effort.
There also are many ways you can build trust with clients and prospective clients alike. Woodard recommends four best practices in this area:
- Offer a monthly e-zine or e-mail newsletter
This will give you 12 chances to show your expertise, let your clients know that you understand their needs and have the solutions to their problems. You can also use the e-zine/newsletter to let clients know of upcoming seminars, workshops and important news concerning your business or investments.
- Keep in touch
Call or visit your clients quarterly to discuss any questions or concerns that they may have.
- Send reprints of articles
Send out copies of articles that you have had published where you are quoted as an expert on subjects of interest to your clients.
- Get to know your clients and prospects
Ask them questions about themselves, lifestyle, motivations and desires. If you read an article on a subject that you know is important to them, send them a link or a clipping.
Finally, Woodard suggests several approaches to obtaining the kind of business referrals you want from your existing clients:
- Ask clients outright for referrals. If you've got something good to offer, and the client is happy with it, there's no reason why they should withhold referrals.
- Include two business cards with all written material sent to clients, with the idea that they can pass one or both to friends and colleagues.
- Add a referral form to your web site, with spaces for clients to enter their friend or colleague's name, e-mail address, and telephone number (and their own name, so you know who handed you a new lead).
- When a client refers a prospect, always send them a thank you note right away, even if it's fairly clear that the referral won't work out for you.
- If a referred prospect becomes a client, send the person who referred them a small token of appreciation. If you know your clients well enough, you will know exactly what to send them that will be truly appreciated. Don't just send a run-of-the-mill promotional item (e.g. a calendar, or a company-branded pen) but rather keep track of the things each individual tells you they are interested in and send them something relevant.
Woodward asserts that, if you can show your clients that you understand their needs, and can serve them effectively, and that they are genuinely respected and appreciated, they will return the favour in the form of loyalty, referrals, and even increased business.