When I started my first business, I knew I wanted referrals to play a key part in my overall growth strategy. The only problem was I didn’t know exactly what I needed to do to accomplish that goal. So I joined some business associations, started networking more, and did everything I could to generate word-of-mouth marketing. I began to realize that I wasn’t the only one trying to get more sales through referrals. A lot of other business professionals were attempting to do the same thing.
It also occurred to me that the people I knew were different from the people the next person knew, who were different from the next person’s contacts, and so on. I might get a few referrals from my own network, but I could probably get a few more referrals from the other person’s network, and the ones beyond that, almost without limit.
Then I thought, “What if I became the hub?” If all the other people out there were trying to do the same thing I was, perhaps I could position myself as a type of gatekeeper between other people’s networks. If someone wanted to buy a new home and needed a real estate agent but didn’t have one in their own network, they would come to me and see whom I knew.
I composed a letter that I sent out to my client and prospect list several times a year. Today you could send out a quick email to your database. However, I recommend that you send a hard copy in the mail at least once a year so you stand out from everybody else who is emailing your clients. This is a sample of my letter:
I really believe in the process of referrals, so part of the service I provide is to be sure to refer my clients and associates to other qualified businesspeople in the community.
Attached is a list of areas in which I know very credible, ethical, and outstanding professionals. If you’re looking for a professional in a specific area I’ve listed, please feel free to contact me. I will be glad to put you in touch with the people I know who provide these services.
Dr. Ivan Misner
It is important to note that in this letter that I just listed professions (areas of expertise); I didn’t list names and phone numbers. I wanted my clients to contact me so I could personally put the referral and the contact together, so I could build business relationships through being the go-to guy. I didn’t want to become a glorified phone directory. I wanted to become known as an effective networker, and that would only happen if I made the connections myself.
The result was that others would ask someone on my client list, “Whom do you know who does XYZ?” If they didn’t know anyone, then they would send that person to me.
How Did It Help My Business?
- It encouraged me to continue building and deepening my relationships with others, even if I didn’t think they could help me right away. Our natural tendency is to nurture relationships with those we feel can help us the most. Yet the fact is, we never know who another person knows, so we should take every opportunity to build relationships with the people we meet. Bob Smith might not be a good referral partner for me, but he could be ideal for Jane Doe, another person I know.
- Becoming a gatekeeper had a positive effect on my credibility. I wanted to be the go-to guy in the business community–the person others came to if they needed a referral for anything. This meant that I would be deepening relationships with people I might not otherwise have gotten to know. Since people do business with people they like and trust, who do you think got their referrals when they needed someone with my products and services? . . . Yep, me!
I mailed the letter four times in the first year. I didn’t get a single reply until the third time. After that, the floodgates opened and I got responses every time I sent it. I gradually cultivated a reputation as a gatekeeper by doing this and I no longer had to send out my letter several times a year. People came to see me because they heard I knew a great number of businesspeople in the community.
It is hard to understate the importance of becoming a gatekeeper for anyone seeking to grow a business with word-of-mouth marketing. It’s a strategy that gets people to contact you for a referral, and it also opens a dialogue with people about what your business is all about and how you can help them. This leads to more business with existing clients as well as new business with prospects.
When you’re networking, make an effort to build relationships with people who may be good referral partners for others in your network, and try to connect them with each other. A gatekeeper holds the keys to help others AND grow their own business. I believe that if you do this consistently, you’ll get more referrals in the long run.