How to Make Your Business More Referable

“How can I make my business more referable?” I get asked this question all the time but the question people should be asking is “who do people refer?” Having the answer to that question will better prepare you to take advantage of this powerful marketing tactic.

Having been in this business for decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that people make referral decisions the same way they make purchasing decisions. They decide something is the right price and fits their needs (which is the logical part), and then, they determine they will have more life, impress their friends, boost their confidence, and so on (the emotional part).

Here’s the thing – emotion typically comes first.

In order to increase your odds of getting referred, you need to tap into this emotion/logic formula. People have to believe you can help them and that you will deliver what is promised (logic), but, they must also feel good about helping you, trust that their referral will be treated well, and genuinely like the experience they have with your business (emotion.) The businesses that get the most referrals solve their customer’s problems while also providing a fun or unique experience.

If you are not getting referrals naturally, take a deep look at the previously mentioned formula and how it applies to your customers.

Now, let’s say you run a more serious business, like a law practice, that doesn’t typically have anything fun about it. In this situation, I’d think of ways that your business can make a genuine emotional connection with your clients and make that one of core elements of your business.

I have a lot of opinions on this topic, so below are a few tips I’d recommend implementing to boost the odds of your business getting referrals.

Tips to make your business more referable

Create a referral engine

No, this is not a shameless plug for my book. Creating a referral engine is absolutely essential if you want to bring in consistent referrals for your business. The key to getting more referrals from your existing clients is to create and focus on a referral process that you operate on a consistent basis. Once the process is in place, it will be easier for your customers to refer your business.

I usually suggest that every business build multiple referral programs and offers in each of the following four types.

Direct referrals

With a direct referral program, you simply state to your existing clients an offer for the act of creating a referral that turns into a client. “Refer a friend to our marketing firm and we’ll give you a free website review” is an example of how to use this approach. It’s motivating and describes what the business does.

Implied referrals

This type of referral is terribly underutilized. In an implied referral program you want to do things that make it very obvious you are doing work for someone, without necessarily asking for a referral. This sets up a situation where a friend or neighbor might simply ask you to refer the person running an implied referral program.

Tangible referrals

With a tangible referral, you put something in the hands of your customer that has real value and that they can give to a referral source. The thing we like about this tactic is that you can run it three or four times a year as a low cost, low exposure way to keep referrals top of mind.

Community referrals

There are so many community organizations that need and deserve your support. When you partner with a non-profit player and support their mission, events, and needs you can also offer promotional support by running the occasional promotion that benefits your partner. “When you buy this week or sign a contract this week, 10% of the proceeds go to benefit our community partner” is an example of how this would work.

You can build one program and then simply keep adding to it until you have referrals coming from numerous sources while promoting how referable your business is.

Show your personality and rock the customer experience

People don’t generally remember businesses, they remember other people. Having a personality is essential for getting referrals. When you can develop personal connections with your business, you give them a reason to remember and recommend you to others. Make their experience with your business one that they will never forget.

Target your influential customers and related businesses

Seek referrals first from your most influential customers. Note, these people may not actually be your best customers, but they are the people whose opinions carry the most weight with others.

I’m a huge advocate for building up a strategic partner network for your business, and it’s important to use these partners to boost your referrals. These businesses should provide complementary services to your own.

Build relationships

Building off the importance of strategic partnerships, it’s imperative that you focus on your relationships in an effort to boost referrals. This takes time, but it’s a must because many of your most influential customers won’t provide referrals until you gain their trust.

Offer incentives

Incentives can be tricky. For example, I wouldn’t recommend money offerings alone for referrals as they are poor motivators. Don’t be afraid to test offers to find out what works best. Sometimes trial and error gets you to the best solutions.

I personally believe is far better to work on making your business more likable before you offer any kind of incentive for referrals, but incentives are good to keep in the back of your mind when needed.

Make it easy for people to refer you

Make the ask. What do you have to lose? When you go in for the ask, be sure to do it at the right moment, and that moment is when your customer is likely to be happiest of all, and that is the moment right after they buy something. Use a post-purchase survey online or encourage your customer to write a review. The more you can do to get someone to recommend your business right after purchase, the more referrals you can generate.

Be sure to create tools, education, and follow-up systems as well to rock the referral marketing world.

What makes things catch on?

In Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he explains there are six essential factors that make things catch on. These include:

  • Social currency: We share things that make us look good or help us compare favorably to others.
  • Triggers: Ideas that are easy to remember spread. Viral ideas attach themselves to top-of-the-mind stories, occurrences or environments.
  • Emotion: Emotions move us in irrational ways. This means that when we care, we share.
  • Public: People tend to follow others, but only when they can see what those others are doing.
  • Practical: Humans love giving out advice and tips, but especially if they offer practical value.
  • Stories: People do not just share information, they tell stories.

Take a look at the factors above and see how you may be able to apply them to your business (you don’t need to address all of them to be effective, but strive for at least a few.

Wha have you implemented in your business to increase referrals?


How to Make Your Business More Referable

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