5 Obvious Referral Opportunities that People Miss

Last Updated May 24, 2011 4:55 PM EDT

There's no better way to make a sale than a happy customer spreading the word to her friends and colleagues. But most people treat referrals like "happy accidents," rather than strategically cultivating them. Even if clients love you, it's not often going to be top of mind for them to suggest your product or services. That's why you need to remind them. Most people let their chance to "make the ask" fly by because they don't recognize the opening. Here are five ways to spot them.

1. When a client praises your work: When someone says you've done a great job, do you..blush? Mutter, "it was nothing"? Or say, "Thanks, Bob - it's a pleasure working with you, and I'm so glad you've found it helpful. If you happen to know of anyone in a similar situation that you think could benefit from this kind of help, I'd really appreciate it if you'd be willing to introduce us."

I think you know what to do.

2. When you hit a project milestone: You don't want to start badgering clients for names before the ink is dry on your first contract. But you also don't have to wait until the end of your engagement. When you hit a project milestone - the completion of Phase 1, the training of all the headquarters staff but not the field staff, etc. - you've amply demonstrated your ability to deliver. Time to start asking, or at least planting the seed.

3. When you see an opportunity: You're leaving money on the table if you insist on scripting out every last detail of your referral asks - because opportunity will inevitably appear at unexpected moments. If the VP for Asian Operations is on site for a week, or you discover your client is on the board of a major industry group, don't be afraid to seize the moment and make a particular request: Can you introduce me to so-and-so?

4. At the end of your assignment: This is the obvious place for people to ask for referrals - but even so, many professionals, caught up with trying to re-up their contracts, forget to inquire about other opportunities their buyers may be aware of, either inside or outside the organization.

5. When you follow up: Even if your assignment with a client is over, there's no excuse for dropping off the face of the earth. Stay in touch regularly with "light touches" (such as monthly e-newsletters) and periodically give them a call to check in. Your outreach may well remind them of a pressing need - or someone else they'd love to introduce you to.

How do you get referrals? What do you think is the best time to ask? What language do you use?

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Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, matt hutchinson
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