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Referrals: Getting Good Business By Doing Good Business

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This entry was posted on 6/18/2006 1:35 AM and is filed under Business,Success,Sales.

Whether you're a conventional sales person, a professional – such as a dentist or lawyer or doctor – or a business owner, you've got to have clients to stay in business. There are several ways to do this: either continue to find new customers, keep all of the customers you've ever had, get old clients to return, or get customers to send in referrals.

In this essay, we'll focus on getting old clients to come back and referrals. How do you get them? How do you ask for them? How do people choose to come back? How can you get people back when they don't want to come back?

I recently did a keynote at a Dentist's Conference. The dentists were very uncomfortable asking for business, assuming that if they gave great care, had good patient relations, and had a wonderful office, the patients would know they were supposed to come back. Except 50% or more didn't return. I suggested the following action: call the patient and say:

“Hi Mr. Jones. Dr. Smith here. I just realized that the last time we saw you was 8 months ago. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about coming back for additional care? I'd love to take care of your dental hygiene with you, and wonder what you'd need to see from me to feel comfortable coming back for follow up?”


Facilitative Questions like this will help clients who have bought your product at least once to decide to come back again. But, how do you get folks to bring in their friends, short of asking them point blank: "Would you refer your friends for me please?"

Obviously, whether or not to use you, or choose your product, is a decision the person or company has to make. How do they choose to go out of their way to tell their friends or colleagues about you?

Here are some ideas:

If you own a company, your product and your service will bias further business opportunities. Get to know how customers perceive your product and service (and the service is even more important than the product). In some way connect and ask if you've given them what they deserve, and ask what they need to consider in order to recommend that their friends to do business with you:

* send a questionnaire;

* call the client to make sure they are happy;

* send an email;

* offer a gift – 10% off next purchase, etc.

Whatever it is, make sure it's easy for them to administer. There have been many gifts I've been offered if I make a referral but the gift is too difficult to get to – either it's technology that I have a difficult time downloading, or something I have to send away for. Too hard.


The other thing you can do is use a Facilitative Question that helps the client – or patient – decide to take an action:

“I hope you enjoyed the support/product/care you got from us. I'm also hoping that we made you happy enough to tell your friends about us, so that maybe we can offer your friends and colleagues the same level of care that we offered you. What would you need to see from me to know we could support folks you know, and make it comfortable for you to refer us?”

For some reason, we all assume that if we do good work, we'll be referred. But sometimes, people just plain forget. And sometimes, we've left something undone that makes it difficult to fix because we don't know we've done anything.

People who come back on their own return because you're giving them what they want in a way that they want it. If they don't like what they got from you, they won't come back – and, most likely won't offer you the reason unless you ask specifically (most people either don't want to bother when they've gotten back service, or would be willing to tell you if you specifically asked).

I was doing some phone coaching with a long-standing client once. I listened while he had a delightful conversation with an old client whom he hadn't done business with for a while. They spoke about social things – their vacations, their families, their jobs. It was obvious that no business was mentioned: it was, in his terms, a ‘relationship call'. I wrote a Facilitative Question down on the paper in front of him, and my client – as per arrangement - repeated it to his client:

“I've noticed that your patterns went from giving us regular orders to giving us no business at all. What has stopped you from doing business with us recently?”

The client gave a surprising answer:

“Last time we did business, you left us with an implementation problem that you didn't fix. We asked you 3 times to come back in and fix it, and you claimed it wasn't your problem, but that we had created the problem internally. So we hired a consultant who fixed the problem for us and it cost us $8,000. After that we had to take your name off of our preferred vendor list and we aren't allowed to use you again. But since I've always liked you, I've been willing to have these social conversations with you.”

My client went white. He was stuck – his client had tried to discuss the problem, and the response was inadequate. Asking him for more business, or a referral, was not appropriate.

For those of you who are curious, we did solve the problem by using a Facilitative Question and an apology:

“My goodness! What a mess I left you in. I'm so, so sorry and sad, and we deserve not to do business with you anymore. And I'm angry with myself that I didn't even ask until now. What would you need to see from me to be willing to let us to make it up to you somehow? I would like to get to the point in which we could find a way to work together again, if that would ever be possible, but certainly not until you are in a position to trust us again. How can I go forward now in order to right that wrong?”


The biggest problem with asking for referrals is our egos. We want to be able to say, “Look at ME! Did I give you a great product/service, or WHAT? Don't you think you should have your buddies give me some business now?”

But of course we can't do that. So we follow the business route: send out questionnaires, get evaluations, offer promos. But I'm a big believer in calling clients specifically to request referrals, and to use that time to get some unexpected feedback on how you're really doing.

Here are a couple of questions you might ask clients:

* “How did you experience our overall service? How could it have been improved?”

* “What would you have needed to see from me/us to be willing to pass on our names to others?”

By using Facilitative Questions, you can not only help your clients decide how to refer you, but help them decide how to help you be even better than you already are. We can always be better, but we need our clients to tell us how.

Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of NYTimes Best seller Selling with Integrity. She speaks, teaches and consults globally around her elegant, doable sales model, Buying Facilitation.

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