How to get referrals in the age of social media

Everyone bangs on about \’getting referrals\’, and how important reputation is in the age of social media, but they conveniently forget the TWO crucial points:

  • No one wants to give you referrals … they\’re too busy getting on with their life!
  • There’s so much noise and communication out there … clickbait is everywhere, and people have ever lower spans of attention: so it’s very hard to build a reputation without resorting to tricks, offers and quick fixes to get you there.

But: referrals are BY FAR the most powerful way of building a small business.

In fact, the smaller the business, the more valuable the referral … but, even taking this into account, the largest businesses in the world, such as Amazon, Google and Apple have always relied on reputation and referrals as the main foundation of their business.

Research shows that referred customers buy more quickly, buy larger amounts, stay longer and are much less price sensitive – in fact, they are usually your most profitable customers by a large margin.

For example: a wholesaling business we worked with a few years ago found that loyal customers were over 25% more profitable, per order, than new customers, and bought from the business for almost 3 times as long as the average customer.

So, if referrals are so valuable, how do you get them, and what can you do to make a referral system actually work … (Without all the BS and wasted effort and time!!)?

Because the ‘normal’ way of trying to get referrals for businesses is:

  1. Do our best
  2. Hope it’s good enough
  3. Put a referral incentive system in place
  4. Try to make sure everyone sees the incentive (bribe)
  5. Bitch and moan about the poor results
  6. Go back to advertising and marketing for new customers

The first point to make is: if you want to build business through referrals, you need to make this a proper ‘business strategy’ … this won’t happen by accident or luck.

For example: a pub we worked with recently increased turnover by 20X (yes, twenty times!) in under a year, by focusing on reputation and referrals as their main strategy. There’s a long story and case study behind this, so, if you’d like to know more, or perhaps if you run a pub, restaurant or hotel and want to learn what we did, please do contact us.

OK, now you’ve decided to put a strategy in place, rather than relying on luck, what’s the process to make this happen for you?

In ‘Slow Selling’ we suggest there are 4 steps:

  1. Be referrable
  2. Make it easy
  3. Keep improving
  4. Measure and respond

So, now let’s look at each of these steps one by one

  1. Be referrable

As a customer. how many businesses have you gone out of your way to refer to other people? Not many?

But when a business really blows your socks off, you’ve probably shared your experience and urged your friends and acquaintances to try them?

(And, with social media, this can be a massive boost for that business).

What’s the link between these two pieces of common sense?

Of course, it’s the fact that, in order to get people to want to refer you (and to build a reputation for the right reasons), you have to set out to achieve this from the outset: you can’t get people to refer you by offering random bribes … it just doesn’t work!

In order to grow your business through consistent referrals, you need to be unquestioningly referrable. Period.

So, the action point here is: instead of trying more and more ‘quick fix’ ideas to get the odd referral, make a decision instead to put systems and processes in place, step by step, to ‘be referrable’ first … then, and only then, when you’ve achieved this, should you start to put referral systems in place to make it happen.

(And, of course, this is exactly what the ‘Slow Selling’ systems will help you do … because it’s easy to state this piece of blindingly obvious common sense, but MUCH harder to do: please see all our other blogs and material for systems and tools to actually do this!).

  • Make it easy.

Once you feel your business is ‘genuinely referrable’, the next step is to make it easy for people to refer you.

Remember: they\’re also busy and overwhelmed, just like you!

We normally suggest that the best place to start is by gathering feedback, properly and professionally, and then, when you KNOW you’ve got it right (from the feedback) to put a simple, step by step referral system in place that makes it easy for them.

I’m not going to suggest any form of ‘universal’ system here, because it’s entirely dependent on your business model and market (as is your feedback system): what works with one business will probably not work with another.

The key is to (have the right systems in place first to ensure you’re consistently referrable) and then develop a referral system, in partnership with your feedback system, step by step.

You need to ask the right people, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons (and this is a whole subject in itself).

For example: a small professional services business we worked with a while ago was struggling to grow through the ‘normal’ routes of advertising and networking.

So we started by helping them become consistently unquestioningly referrable through employing the ‘Slow Selling’ systems: this wasn’t very hard, as they were already well on the journey to achieving this.

Then we put in place a step by step, simple, affordable and sustainable customer feedback system in place, and, when this was working properly, we started to develop a step by step referral and reputation system.

Through this ONE system, their business was able to grow at about 30% per year, with very little cost and aggro, in a sustainable and controlled way, and with no wasted time and money!

AND … the customers loved the system!

Now you’re moving in the right direction, the next thing is to:

  • Keep improving

Which is good news, because you’ll already have the information you need to do this from your feedback system.

As Terry Leahy of Tesco famously said:

“The customer gives the leadership of the business the plain and simple truth about the business … if you listen really closely, they’ll not only tell you what’s wrong – they actually tell you what you need to do, and it’s all free advice. Then what you have to do is believe them and act on it. I really want to labour this point.”

Again, the question is: so how do we do this?

And the best answer we can suggest, as taught by ‘Slow Selling’ is … inch by inch: we suggest you put simple, short, high impact step by step weekly and monthly processes in place to keep listening, reflecting and identifying ‘extra inches’ to improve your business.

This is all covered in detail in ‘Slow Selling’ under the 3rd principle: ‘Go the extra inch’

A starter business might just use a weekly compass plan, a larger, growing business might need team plans, win/win agreements and ‘go the extra inch systems’ – it all depends on what situation you’re in.

So, now you’re being consistently referrable, you’re making it easy and you’re continually improving, surely that’s all that’s needed, isn’t it?

Well, we suggest that you also need to have a:

  • Measure and Respond


Why is this so important?

Well, pride comes before a fall: if you have all the above properly in place, you’ll probably be doing rather well … and if you want to keep on track and avoid the trap of believing that what’s going well today will last forever, you need to have measures to keep you on track and you need responses to those measures.

A great example of getting it wrong can be seen in the example of Nortel:

In 2000, it was the 9th most valuable  corporation in the world with a market cap of $283 billion. A decade later, it was bankrupt and ceasing operations.

There were three major factors that caused the failure. When Nortel was a market leader in the ’70s, it developed an arrogant culture, which led to poor financial discipline. Then in the ’90s, it focused so intensely on growth that it broke its ability to innovate and read the market. And after the tech bubble popped, it turned inward and cut costs to the point where it alienated customers.

As James Clear states in his bestselling book, ‘Atomic Habits’: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

The key is to measure what matters to keeping you referrable:

  • Are you doing the ‘right things’ and
  • Are you doing them in the right way?

Of course, what the ‘right things’ are will change over time: what was amazing yesterday is probably commonplace today: so you need to keep an eye on this and keep responding – moving your offer forward, little by little (as we’ve previously discussed) to keep ahead of the herd.

And what the ‘right way’ is will change according to what situation your customer is in, and what your people are thinking or doing. The principles of the customers’ REAL needs never change – as we discuss in the 2nd principle of ‘Slow Selling’ – but how they apply to the situation will always depend on the situation!

So, there you have it: 4 common sense steps on how to get more referrals in the age of social media, without all the hassle and BS.

And when you’ve got all that right, we also advise that it’s a great idea to have a ‘blow their socks off’ thankyou system: a system to respond to leads and referrals (so the referrer knows that you’re following up), and ‘wow’ thank you for the customer to show you appreciate the fact that they went out of their way and put their own reputation on the line for your benefit.

Now I hope you would agree that this is all just common sense – but it sure as hell isn’t common practice … so, just by starting to develop a system along these lines, little by little, step by step, you’re sure to wow the customer, raise yourself head and shoulders above the crowd, and start to really get some referrals that will make all the difference.

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for leaders and managers in independent businesses.

It is a set of principles to help you slow down, set up systems for long term success, and use these to grow sales and profits through reputation, attraction, recommendation and referral.

To find out more, please click here

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