On November 20, 2015, I sent an email to a colleague I’ll call Dawn.
It read: “I just highly recommended you and passed your name on to a terrific client who is looking for the kind of services you provide. I hope it works out.”
On January 3, 2016, some six weeks later, I received this response.
“It’s great to hear from you! I apologize for the delayed response. If your client is still looking I have someone on my team who can help.”
Frankly, six weeks later, I didn’t remember which client asked for the referral. More importantly, six weeks later, why would I ever recommend business to her again when my referral was never even acknowledged. Additionally, Dawn’s belated response made me realize I had never followed up with the client which could have made me look bad.
If you’ve been in business long enough, then you know how important referrals are. They are a free way to market your services. Satisfied customers and others who think highly of your reputation are the best sales people you could ever ask for. People are more likely to hire a firm based on recommendations from a trusted source than any other means. Even if a new client finds you on social media, they’ll typically check you out through a mutual connection before considering your services.
The hallmark of building a successful business is continually delivering great value to all of your clients so they talk about you. In our business, if you make a difference for one person at one company, that person will recommend you to someone else who will recommend you to someone else. Before you know it, not only are you the go-to person at that company, but you may find yourself working with hundreds of people at that business and possibly across the industry.
When you provide poor service or fail to acknowledge the kindness of others, people also talk. In fact, they talk more when they’re angry or unhappy. It doesn’t take very long for their negative opinion of you to spread. Combine that with social media and on line review sites, complaints can put you out of business.
It’s also important to understand that referrals spark more referrals. Just yesterday, I received a call from the head of communications at a global company. The conversation went something like this:
“Hi Karen. I received your name from Sallie Smith who speaks very highly of you. We’re looking for a communications firm to work with our sales team and hope you are available.”
Thanks to Sallie, they were sold on our company before we even spoke.
Here’s what you might find even more interesting. I recalled Sallie’s name but wasn’t exactly sure who she was so I looked her up on LinkedIn and discovered I had never worked with her, but worked with her colleagues about six years ago when she was climbing the ladder at a different company. Since then, she’s moved twice and both times, we were brought in to those companies though I never realized she was the connection.
So, I sent her an email thanking her for thinking of us. Her response?
“It’s my pleasure. You are always at the top of my list.”
That’s a good list to be on. Sallie heads global corporate communications for a company that has more than 12,000 employees worldwide.
While it would be nice to send people who refer you a token or handwritten note, it’s not required and most professionals aren’t recommending you in hopes of getting a gift. If others are happy with your work, you just made the person who referred you look good. Sometimes, people who don’t even know you continually recommend you because they’ve heard good things and you’re the only person they know who does what you do.
That is partly the case with Dawn, who I referenced at the top of this article. I don’t know many people who do what she does but I’ve known her for nearly 25 years and she has a good reputation. So when I’m asked if I know someone who does what she does, her name was always at the top of my list. My referrals have turned into some of her clients.
As I think about Dawn, I recall that over the years, she has occasionally contacted me for advice and asked for introductions to people I know. I was happy to oblige.
Even if she didn’t want the business, she should have immediately followed up with a brief e-mail or phone call acknowledging my referral and appreciating any time or effort I put forth on her behalf.
The next time someone you know or don’t know sings your praises, treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you want them to continue saying good things about your services.
I wish Dawn well; however, I’ll never refer her again. One less referral might be trivial to her, but it is significant to me. I’d rather risk not being able to help someone than being embarrassed by providing a referral that I can’t follow up on.