Turning Clients Into Promoters

Whatever your business, referrals are the most cost-effective way to gain new clients. They are also the most reliable source of advertising – especially in the long-run. You can run all the media campaigns you want, but if no one is recommending your business, those new clients are going to be few and far between. After all, 92% of people base their purchasing decisions at least partly on the opinions of their family and friends. The success of your business will rely on how well you can win the support of the clients you already have.
Before you can begin to ask customers for referrals, though, you need to build trust with them. Note that we said “build trust” and not “win trust”. It is not a quick, overnight process that can be done in one encounter. Look at it this way: a customer who stops by a cafe and has a nice sandwich might mention it a time or two. A customer who has a nice sandwich at that café every few days will begin bringing friends by to share the experience.
Building trust takes demonstrating competence over time. Show your clients what you have to offer by working hard on their project, and be sure you either have or can find the solution to any issues they have. A major reason clients cite for switching companies is a perceived lack of knowledge by the old company’s staff, so never leave a question unanswered if you can help it. Don’t only pay attention to high-value customers, either. Treat everyone like they may be the person who brings you your next big client- because they may well be.
Once you have trust, timing is the next key to gaining referrals. Make sure you’re asking for a reference at the right moment. Is your clients rushing to meet someone? Let them head out. You can always call with a follow-up the next day and work in a referral request. Have you won some extra gain on a client’s behalf? Use the achievement to hand out a few referral cards.
If you’ve just made a mistake on your client’s project, it’s not the best time to go looking for favors. You can’t expect a client to send you referrals when you couldn’t handle their needs. The situation can still be saved, though. Take the time to fix whatever went awry and offer some extra services in apology. When the client has had a few more positive experiences with you, you can make your pitch.
A benefit of building trust first is that happy clients might send business your way before you even ask- but if not, don’t be shy. Ask them to give your card to friends who might be interested, and be gracious if they aren’t comfortable doing so. Handling a rejection cheerfully could convince your client to refer people after all.
Don’t overlook the easiest path to success. Work on satisfying your customers, pick the right moment to ask, and the referrals will roll in.

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