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Help for 'Hard to Refer' Businesses

Copyright (c) 2007-2021

Recently, I was talking with a business owner who was struggling with getting more client referrals.

"My clients love me," she said, "When we're together, they rave about how much I've done for them but they never refer anyone to me."

"Do you ask them for referrals?" I asked her.

"I've started to," she said. "In fact, not long ago I asked one of my best clients...someone who got fantastic results from his work with me. He told me he'd like to send me referrals but he couldn't think of anyone who needed my services and how he would mention me if he met someone who *could* use my services."

The business owner I was speaking with is a personal and professional coach who works with successful entrepreneurs, executives, and civic leaders.

I was, frankly, surprised that she was having problems with referrals because her clients were highly influential people with lots of contacts and connections. You'd think they would be sending droves of referrals her way. But no.

As we talked, we discovered the problem: this coach often helped people with sensitive issues. Issues they didn't want others to know about because they felt it would undermine their professional image. And the more successful her clients were, the more sensitive they were about revealing that they worked with her.

Other occupations that run into this problem are medical specialists, holistic health practitioners, psychologists, social workers, addiction treatment facilities, and so on. Basically, if you're helping someone with a problem that they feel ashamed of having, you may having difficulties getting referrals from your clients and patients.

That's too bad because it means there are a lot of people out there who are suffering in silence and need your help.

Question: How Can "Hard to Refer" Businesses Get More Customer Referrals?

Knowing that customer and client referrals are the most effective form of marketing for small businesses, how can you encourage your customers and clients to send you referrals when you've worked together on a sensitive problem?

Answer: Focus on measurable results and outcomes rather than the problems.

No matter how sensitive the problem, it shows up in real, noticeable ways in your client's life. When you help them with their problem, the symptoms go away and the successes show up. This gives your customers and clients a way to talk about your services without revealing sensitive information.

Example: Holistic Health Services

A holistic health practitioner I know who successfully helped a client suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are embarrassing and debilitating. You have to go to the bathroom a lot, your stomach hurts, you often feel nauseous and you are restricted to a bland diet.

The client was in a fast-pace, high-pressure work environment where health issues were be viewed as a sign of being "unfit" for the job. For this reason, he tried very hard to hide his symptoms so they wouldn't interfere with his work performance.

Even so, he felt exhausted trying to keep up with his coworkers. No matter how hard he tried, there were signs that he was struggling.

  • He took more sick days than his peers

  • He wasn't giving customers his full attention because he was too tired.

  • He didn't socialize after hours with his coworkers as much as was expected.

  • He was limited to the restaurants he could take clients to because of his restricted diet

    Now let's look at the specific, measurable consequences of the symptoms I just described.

  • He had limited time to spend building client relationships. As a result he didn't bring in as much new business as his peers.

  • Not only was his time limited but the quality of time spent was less than optimal. When you are tired and suffering from chronic pain it's hard to ask good questions, uncover additional opportunities for helping clients, solving potentially expensive problems, and so on.

  • Because he didn't socialize after hours with co-workers as much as expected, he wasn't perceived by others as a "team player." As a result, he didn't get as much support from his peers--the kind of support that can make or break someone in his field.

    No matter what type of profession you're in; no matter how sensitive the issue; you can talk to your clients to surface the following:

  • The pain

  • The symptoms that others see

  • The quantifiable results of the symptoms: both seen and unseen.

    Try This with Your Customers

    Returning to the original question, how do you use this information to encourage your clients to send you referrals?

    You want to have a conversation with your client when they are sharing a success with you. In this conversation, you want to return briefly to the pain and symptoms. It's important that your client articulate the pain and symptoms in their own words. Do not paraphrase for them. People tend to quickly forget pain and discomfort and you need them to remember what it was like.

    After your customer acknowledges the reason they hired you in the first place, you want to talk about their current successes. In particular, you want to tie their successes to the work you did. There are two types of successes to look for:

  • Making the pain go away. In some cases, it's enough that you either lessened the pain or made it go away entirely. Going back to the practitioner example, relief from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, alone, is an enormous service.

  • What the client can now accomplish because they're symptom free. Let's say the client with IBS is now not only symptom free but because he's eating better and getting more exercise, he has a lot more energy and focus. With the energy and focus he is now flourishing at work. He's signed on two new clients and got a huge end of year bonus.

    Now your client has several ways to identify prospective clients for you and can refer people to you without having to bare their soul and feel so vulnerable.

    1. They can talk about you when they talk about their successes.

    2. They can talk about you when others talk about the negative consequences of the problem you help people with.

    For example, let's say the client who was helped by the holistic practitioner is having lunch with a colleague who complains about being tired and stressed out.

    Without any need to recite his symptoms and difficulties, he can easily, naturally say something like "I was feeling like you about six months ago and began to work with a someone who helped me make some small changes in my eating habits and exercise routine. She really helped and I have a lot more energy and the stress isn't getting to me anymore."

    Bottom Line

    If you offer a product or service that your customers are afraid to admit using, use these strategies to help them send you referrals.

  • Focus on observable, measurable symptoms caused by the problem.

  • Talk with your client about the symptoms that are now gone because you've helped them with the problem.

  • Talk with your client about the observable, measurable successes they're now enjoying

  • Tell clients with whom you've had success that a good referral for you is someone who either has the symptoms and complains about them or mentions someone that they know who has the symptoms.


    About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
    Judy Murdoch helps small business owners create low-cost, effective marketing campaigns using word-of-mouth referrals, guerrilla marketing activities, and selected strategic alliances. To download a free copy of the workbook, "Where Does it Hurt? Marketing Solutions to the problems that Drive Your Customers Crazy!" go to http://www.judymurdoch.com/workbook.htm
    You can contact Judy at 303-475-2015 or judy@judymurdoch.com

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