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Don’t make this same mistake in asking for referrals

I received this in my email today:

Hi Curtis,

We hope you are doing well. We have not received any project from you for long time. Please send us your project. Also we would highly appreciate if you can recommend our service to your friends and colleagues.

Kind regards,
<name removed>

Aaargh!  I know that the author’s command of English is getting in the way here, but looking beyond that, there are a couple of things wrong here:

  1. The author hasn’t spoken with me in a long time, and just now is reconnecting, perhaps when business is down.
  2. Without regards to what my business is doing, he asks for a project.  Do I have a project for him?  He doesn’t have a clue.  He’s just trolling, hoping that I might
  3. Oh, by the way, recommend me to all your friends.

Does this remind you of the multi-level marketing folks?  They don’t care about the relationship, all they want are your friends.

At the core of my problem with this request is the fact that I stopped using this vendor because I wasn’t satisfied with their work. Consequently, his well-wishes fall on deaf ears, the request for new work is flatly denied, and the admonition to recommend him to all my friends is insulting.

Contrast this with another call that I received last week.  I interviewed this fellow for about an hour on behalf of one of my clients and I have spoken with him at a couple of events, but we’ve never done business.

“Curtis, what are you seeing happening with your clients during these tough times?”

“Every deal is taking longer to close.  People are afraid of buying.”

“Yeah, I’m seeing the same thing.  Lately I’ve been successful in closing a couple with something I just learned.  Are you interested in hearing what I did?”

“Of course!”

He proceeded to tell me what he had found that seemed to be working, and helped me see how it might work for me.  Only after helping me did he then ask to see if I would be interested in looking into each of our client lists to see if there might be names he could share with me and vice versa to help us complement each other.    By that time, I was more than happy to do so.

To make a referral program work, you must have three core elements in place:

  1. You must have delivered stellar results.  Unless you’re dealing with completely apathetic or immoral people, nobody will make a recommendation unless they’re completely and totally ecstatic about the product/service you delivered (or unless there isn’t another choice in the marketplace and you are forced to settle for the least of two evils).  Make sure that you avoid those who’ve had a miserable experience, lest they be reminded of the bad experience and tell others about it.
  2. You must have a relationship.  Without a relationship of some sort, the only way someone might consider recommending you is if you paid them to do so, which sometimes happens (think, “Win a free vacation if you pimp your friends!”).  Right now, many businesses are hurting and the best thing to do is to revisit past clients to re-establish the relationships so that then and only then can you ask for referrals.
  3. You must articulate what makes a good referral for you

In a down economy like this, it makes perfect sense to go back to your customers, vendors, prospects, friends, and relatives and solicit referrals.  When you do so, ensure that you focus on rebuilding the relationship first.  Even if it takes another week, month, or more.  Offer to do or share something that the recipient values.  Once you’ve reestablished the relationship, then and only then can you ask for the referral.  Make it easy for them by being exceedingly clear about what you’re looking for.  Ask if they can think of 2-3 names that they think might get the same value out of your services.  And make sure you say thank you.  Rewarding those who provide referrals in an appropriate way is the best way to make sure they give you more names the next time.