Networking and referrals continue to be the primary marketing strategy for many community-based small businesses (especially those with limited budgets). In contrast, many technology-oriented small businesses rely more upon on-line forums, social networking sites, user groups, etc. to reach potential customers. I sometimes wonder if more old-fashioned ‘schmoozing’ skills can help these companies get more customers–especially here in Silicon Valley?
First, we need to remember that networking and referrals are really two different things:
- Networking is the act of putting yourself in an environment to meet and interact with others.
- Referrals happen when someone introduces you to a third party who might benefit from what you have to offer.
I guess it’s a little like dating. You go to a dance to socialize with others (i.e. networking) and hope to get introduced to someone with similar interests (i.e. a referral).Getting a referral from someone is very special. They are sharing their credibility by referring you to someone you may not even know. They are essentially validating that you are real, credible and can do what you say you can do. This short-circuits the sales cycle considerably. While some referrals are nothing more than warm leads others can be considerably hotter!
So how can we all do a better job of getting referrals?
- The first step is to get out there and show up where everyone else in your industry goes. Sure there are a lot of referrals made using emails and over-the-phone but many more are made during face-to-face meetings.
- The second step is to give more referrals! The old adage that ‘givers gain’ is so appropriate. Go out of your way to refer your customers, partners and associates to others who could benefit from their services. After awhile you’ll notice them reciprocating and everyone wins.
- The third step is to simply ask for them. It is amazing how many business owners shy away from ever reminding their satisfied customers that their referrals would be much appreciated. I would also take things further and make referrals a strategic goal instead of a casual thing that either happens or it doesn’t.
Certainly referrals should not be your only marketing strategy to get more clients but it sure seems like every other strategy takes more time, costs more money and rarely gets the results that a dedicated networking/referrals strategy does.
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