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How To Get “Word-Of-Mouth” Referrals In 5 Easy Steps

April 28, 2014

If I could have only one way of advertising my business, I’d pick word-of-mouth referrals. Referrals are absolutely the best way of cutting through the noise of a competitive market, because referrals come from a trusted source, a friend, who does all the work of qualifying you as well as prospective customers.

But how do you get more world-of-mouth referrals?

Ask. That’s the simple answer.

Referrals, like sales, don’t just happen. They’re a two-way street and, If you want either on a regular basis, you have to do first do some work on your end.

How To Get More Referrals

There is a real estate agent I’ve worked with a few times and almost all of her business is by referral. What she’s doing isn’s specific to the real estate industry and it’s something you can easily copy and use within your business, so I’m going to show you exactly how she does it.

NOTE: The purpose of the “marketing lessons” section of this blog isn’t to advertise people I know. Because of this, I’ve removed her name from the example material I’m posting below. But with that said, if you need a great real estate agent in Nashville, contact me via Twitter and I’ll be happy to get you in touch with her.

The “Word-Of-Mouth” Foundation – Start Here

Before we get to the specifics on what you must to to encourage word-of-mouth referrals, let’s spend a moment looking at the foundation needed to make them happen. Without this foundation, even if you follow my five suggested steps for encouraging referrals, you won’t get anywhere.

1. Don’t Suck – This should be obvious, but with all the mediocre products and services that exist today, it’s obviously not.

What does this mean? At the very least, you need to have a solid foundation from which to build upon.

I could go deeper here, but if you don’t already know what “don’t suck” means, I’m not sure I can help you…

2. Be Honest – Did you ever see the episode of The Simpsons when Marge took a job as a real estate agent?

Marge realestate

Lionel Hutz: I’ve been getting a lot of calls about you, Marge. People just love your no-pressure approach.

Marge: Well, you know what we say: the right house for the right person.

Lionel Hutz: I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The right house is the house that’s for sale. And the right person is anyone.

Marge: But all I did was tell the truth.

Lionel Hutz: Of course you did. But there’s “the truth” (shakes head) and “the truth.” (smiles wide).

And what does “the truth” sound like?

Marge: It’s awfully small.

Lionel Hutz: I’d say it’s awfully “cozy.”

Marge: That’s dilapidated.

Lionel Hutz: Rustic.

Marge: That house is on fire!

Lionel Hutz: “Motivated seller!”

From my experience, most real estate transactions are like this. And a lot of business is like this.

If you can do something different, something honest, you’ll be ahead of the pack.

What does “honest” look like? As we say in the South, “Don’t piss on somebody’s leg and call it rain.”

People aren’t idiots.

3. Make It Easy – If you’re moving there are a hundred little details you have to take care of.

The last house I sold, the people who wanted it had to sell two houses before they could buy it. That’s a lot of juggling.

And before that, I had to fix a few things, like painting, plumbing, and electric wiring.

Then I had to get all my stuff out so that the new owner’s would have room to bring in their stuff. But I didn’t have a new house yet, so I had to find a place to temporarily store my stuff. Or sell it off.

All of this — getting stuff out, getting contractors to fix things, getting financing worked out, and almost every other part of the process was done by my agent. It was as close to painless as it could have been.

This is the level of service you need to provide if you want people talking to their friends about what you do — you have to give them something worth talking about.

4. Make It Personal – As far as purchases go, I can’t think of something more personal than a house. This is especially true for me, as I do most of my work from home and have considerable and very specific space needs. In addition, I had the usual things most everyone cares about — I wanted a specific location and I wanted a specific price.

Sure, when it comes down to it, all housing clients need is a “roof” just like the only things we need to survive are bread, water, and oxygen.

But if you want word-of-mouth referrals, you have to get people more than just the basics… You have to provide a superior product backed by superior custom service.

How To Get “Word-Of-Mouth” Referrals In 5 Easy Steps

I recently got a letter in the mail from this agent, checking in and also reminding me that her business is based on referrals.

Here’s the analysis…

1. Don’t Assume – I’ve been in my new house a few months and had such a great experience with this agent that I’ve already sent a few people her way. Still, by sending this letter, she didn’t assume referrals would just keep coming or that I understood how important they are to her business. She was very clear in her needs and let me know.

You need to do the same thing — with your blog, with your sales copy, with your conversations. Never assume people know your purpose.

2. Make The Relationship Ongoing – The letter was part of an ongoing commitment by this agent to keep our relationship moving forward. For the past several months, I’ve also received a “Fruit of the Month” shipment.

Relationships aren’t a one-time thing. Well, maybe some relationships are. But your business is no one-night stand that runs its course within a few hours, so stop treating it as such.

I recently was interviewed by Dave Delaney on his New Business Networking podcast and talked more about how to build ongoing relationships. Listen to it here.

3. Make Things Fun – The letter contained a lottery ticket. This is very similar to the “hipster church” that put Easter eggs in my yard in that it keeps a serious marketing message fun.

Real estate agent3

Most “marketing” is boring. Want examples? Check out the Hall of Shame.

4. Reciprocity – Taking something else from the “hipster church” playbook, by giving away something of value, this letter also does a great job of encouraging reciprocity, which is this case is giving a referral.

And had I won something, it would have done a really good job!

Real estate agent4

4. Ask – Don’t assume people know what you want. If you want referrals (or anything else), you need to ask…

Real estate agent1

5. Keep It Personal – As mentioned above, I work from home and have very specific needs because of this. One of those needs was that my girlfriend, fiancé, or wife (her title depends on when you read this), who also works from home, and I would have enough space where we could both live and work together in the same location without issue.

This agent took time to learn our needs and knew about our upcoming marriage, which is why she included this personal note…

Real estate agent2

How well do you know your customers?

People do business with people, not nameless, faceless corporations. Keep things personal!

Final Thoughts

Referrals are out there. They’re extremely valuable, even though they’re free of charge. If you’re willing to invest the time, you’ll have more than you need.

Good luck!

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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