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Maureen Stephenson: Grab the low-hanging fruit on the sales branch

Know The Score

Posted: April 3, 2009 7:19 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2009 4:30 a.m.
I like to call "referrals" the low-hanging fruit on the tree of sales because they are a reward for a job well done.

Everyone talks about referrals, but very few entrepreneurs pursue them. They are the byproducts of your excellent customer services.

As a professional you have earned the right to ask for and receive referrals from your current customers. Earning referral business is a great way to grow your business in times like these, and its costs little more than your time and effort.

There are two types of referrals: Client to client and client to co-worker. Both offer a vast field of untapped opportunities.

Don't become fearful that it may seem pushy to ask for referrals from your clients; just remember you've earned the right to ask for them.

Many business people fail to recognize that even "referral" sales contacts need a "game plan," just like telephone sales or any other kind of marketing, and that's where their success falls down. Let's take a look at these plans.

The old concept of "ready, aim, fire" should not be used in this situation. You get one or maybe two chances to do this the right way, so be prepared.

It's best to approach this topic after your client has had a satisfactory and successful experience with your service or product. Keep in mind that your client is busy, too, so pursue referrals after the close of their busiest times - and be professional.

You're pitching your client to give you a referral, so you need to show that you've earned it. You must present the hard work and excellent customer service you've given the client to him/her as a reminder, and he/she should want to refer you to others.

Your initial client contact should be a lunch meeting or a conference call to do an overall status check. At this time you need to present something tangible like customer service reports, product breakdowns, returns or project deadline. You need to get the client thinking about how pleased he or she has been with your work.

Make sure your client is a satisfied one and happy with your services, then structure your presentation by these three things:
1. You and the client agreed upon "X."
2. You delivered "X."
3. The client is happy with "X."

We said earlier that there are two types of referrals: client to client and client to co-worker. The client-to-client referral allows you the leeway to take care of the personal interest of your existing customer.

This type of referral is typically someone outside your client's company, perhaps an associate in the same field but employed elsewhere.

It's okay to offer some sort of reward to your existing customer for a lucrative referral. Conversely, you can often get the referral simply because your customer respects you and your work.

Upon making contact with the new referral you should immediately let them know that you have a successful relationship with the mutual contact and, based on that past success, the contact suggested that you give them a call.

It has to be clear that you're calling to earn business based on your previous achievements. They will thank you for not wasting their time with a bunch of meaningless chit-chat.

Once you've established a rapport with the new client, it's up to you to keep the relationship alive and thriving. A referral simply allows you to get your foot in the door; the rest is up to you.

Client to co-worker referrals are not that much different, but they require a little more hand-holding. You can't offer up a bonus incentive because it could be construed as a "conflict of interest."

Your goal is to have your client champion you into other departments of his/her company based on the added value you would
bring to the table.

Use the same concept as we outlined above, and based on your proven track record with your current client you're offering your services to other facets of the company.

Lastly, always remember to thank your client for any successful referrals. It's just common courtesy to do this, regardless of the outcome. Otherwise you'll quickly lose credibility with your current customers.

Maureen Stephenson is a local author and owner of Santa Clarita-based REMS Publishing & Publicity. Her column represents her own views and  not necessarily those of The Signal.


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