Lead Generator # 16 – Referrals & Testimonials…

No doubt about it, referrals are a leading source of leads for established consultants. But how do you get leads and testimonials when just starting out? Simple… ask for them!

Yes, I know that asking for something scares a lot of people. What if they reject you? Don’t worry — most people won’t. If they know you and like you (and your work), they will be happy to help.  Who doesn’t like passing along a favorite doctor, accountant, mechanic, or even a restaurant?

And if they do turn you down? So what – just move on. Incidentally, this often happens if you deal with sensitive issues. But you still may be able to get a passive referral.

The secret is to make it as easy as possible for others to help you. In this post we’ll look at several avenues — active referrals, testimonials, passive referrals, and references.

Active referrals –  You’ve just finished a project for a client, and they are pleased. This is the ideal time to simply ask “Do you know anybody else that might benefit from my services?  If so, can you share their name?”

Next, follow up with a short letter to the referral. I prefer this to an e-mail (which can end up in the spam folder anyway) or a phone call (which can be intrusive.) Mention the referral source, briefly introduce yourself, and include your brochure and business card. Invite them to visit your web site.

You don’t have a brochure? See my post on collateral. A simple three fold brochure is ideal — keep it simple. You don’t have a web site? Well, what are you waiting for?

About a week later, follow up with a brief phone call to verify receipt. Don’t push. If you have a newsletter, ask if you can add them to your mail list (the polite thing to do.)

This may not lead to immediate business (and probably won’t), but it does plant a seed for future business. And it only takes a few minutes, and the courage to simply ask.

Once in a while, though, you’ll get some immediate work. So keep at it — particularly if you are just starting out.

Testimonials – This is a variation on referrals that can be very effective. In this case, you ask if your client would be willing to endorse you on your web site.

You need to do the leg work. Write up a two or three paragraph summary of the project, and what was accomplished. Be specific. Did you solve a vexing problem? Did you increase sales or reduce costs?

Make it simple for the client – don’t ask them to write the summary – it will likely never happen. But do have the client review and approve the testimonial prior to publication. No embarrassments that way. Ask for a personal comment or two.

In some cases, the client may be uneasy with a live testimonial (complete with their name & company.) The fact that they have used a consultant may be sensitive. We run into this in our engineering practice, and often sign nondisclosure agreements promising to keep the consultation private.

The alternate is a anonymous testimonial. You write this, but keep it general so nobody can identify the client. However, try first for a live testimonial — much more effective.

Passive Referrals – Similar to active clients, these are non-clients who can still refer business. These include friends, business/professional colleagues, vendors, and more.

If you haven’t done so, you need to develop your networks. It is important to keep  in touch with these contacts. We’ve found our newsletter to be very effective.

We also spend time with the vendors at conferences, and support them whenever we can. Sales people are an excellent source of leads, as they are in the marketplace every day.

Should you pay for referrals? It depends (see my recent post on Referral Fees.) To avoid conflicts of interest, we do not pay (nor accept) referral fees from clients or colleagues.

We do pay fees to bona-fide sales/marketing companies. These include a manufacturer’s rep (we are on their line card) and with training firm (we are in their catalog.)  All other referrals are exchanged on a courtesy basis.

Incidentally, most of our engineering business now comes from passive referrals, along with former clients and students. But we’ve been at this full time for over 25 years – one of the few benefits of getting older 🙂

References – The  most generic, a list of references can be effective. But if you are just starting out, you may not much of a list. As your business develops, however, you’ll want to include a list of references.

Many consultants include a list of client names (thinking the more names, the more impressive.) If you do this, make sure you have everybody’s permission first. Many companies are very sensitive about their names appearing in your marketing materials. You don’t want to hear from anybody’s legal department.

My recommendation – don’t use client names. Instead, use a project list. Most prospective clients don’t really care who you have worked for — they care what you can do for them — and what you have done in the past.

A project list does this, and protects client confidentiality. It also sends a subtle message that new clients will be treated the same way. Here is our project list.

What if somebody wants a live reference? We will provide them, but only after first contacting the prospective reference. To keep it simple, we usually provide two names.

When starting out, you may need to have some names ready to go. After all, you are still an unknown. This will diminish as you become established.

In closing, referrals and testimonials are very effective… and should be an integral part of marketing  your practice and generating new leads. Keep at it, as referrals become even more effective over time!

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