You have a strategy for reaching prospective clients. What about for reaching your referral sources? For many B2B professionals, referral sources (or “centers of influence”) are often just as important as your clients. They help fuel your business’ economic engine and bring you some of your most desirable clients. Even if you have a loyal referral network in place, don’t underestimate the power of a little planning. Think of your referral relationships as a segment of your larger target audience. Here’s how to develop a sound strategy for not only staying top-of-mind with your referral sources, but for showing them some love in return.
TARGET AUDIENCE, PART 1: IDENTIFY YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS
If you can’t describe your ideal client, how can you expect others to refer them to you? Ask yourself what kind of challenges your clients face. Make a list of some of the best client engagements to use as examples. Create a list of “trigger phrases” that you have heard clients and prospects actually say. Understanding these stories and pain points is information that will help your referral sources help you.
TARGET AUDIENCE, PART 2: IDENTIFY YOUR IDEAL REFERRAL SOURCES
Like any marketing plan, the first step to building a referral marketing program is to identify your ideal referral sources. Think about who it is that your client is communicating with before coming to you. Their Attorney? Banker? Realtor? General Contractor? These are the businesses within your industry who serve the same clients—meet your most powerful referral sources. Don’t forget about trade associations. Quality membership associations that welcome your involvement present another avenue for meeting new referral sources.
Satisfied clients may also be potential referral sources. If they are raving about your work, then they’re in a position to promote your services within their network.
COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY: EDUCATE YOUR REFERRAL SOURCES
Never assume that your potential referral sources intuitively know who to refer to you or how to refer them. New referral sources might be willing to help you, but you need to take the laboring oar and educate them on your goals. This is partly a business development effort, where relationship building is key. Request a meeting, coffee or lunch and simply describe what you’re trying accomplish and who you want to reach. This could be as simple as letting them know you have capacity for new clients, or that you’re trying to break into a new industry. Provide them with helpful (and easy to share) materials that demonstrate your expertise and/or services.
NURTURING STRATEGY: PROVIDE VALUE
Strong long-term relationships are a two-way street. Referral marketing isn’t just about getting new leads for you—it is equally important for you to find ways to help them, too. Just like you asked them to listen to your objectives, take the time to ask them how you can help support theirs. They may benefit from introductions within your industry group. Or perhaps you can provide training to their employees or clients at a discounted rate (or gratis). You could also team up to host a co-branded seminar with your referral partner, helping them promote their expertise to your audience. This can provide a powerful boost to their reputation in the industry.
TACTICS FOR STAYING IN TOUCH
Part of building long-term relationships is simply keeping in contact. Follow up with a handwritten “thank you” note after they send you a new referral (whether the lead converts or not). Schedule consistent contact with your referral sources, either through an email nurturing program, e-newsletters, traditional newsletters or personal emails or notes. If possible, meet your referral source in-person from time to time.
One easy way to stay in contact is to give them a “shout out” on social media by recognizing something they accomplished or promoting the quality of their services.
Strong referral relationships can have a huge ROI. They’re helping your business succeed and deserve your care and attention. If a referral source is particularly important to you, you might invite them to a special event every year—just to celebrate the relationship.
Take a long-term approach that focuses on creating real referral relationships with genuine give and take. Don’t forget to treat this segment of your audience like any other: with the focus and dedication to not only earn their support, but the commitment to nurture your prized referral relationships for the long-term.
Learn more about building an integrated strategy to reach your audience.