I took a class on building a referral system a few years ago and had a major epiphany: Referrals are not supposed to be a surprise! They are not something you hope for. Referrals are not some magical benefit that falls from the sky – at least they are not supposed to be.

If you had a magical marketing tool that mean possibly hundreds of free sales people evangelizing your company, product and or service — you don’t just leave that up to chance do you?

Of course you don’t. You treat it as a customer generating process that will consistently yield all the wonderful, ideal customers you could ever want.

So where do you begin?

  1. Decide to treat referrals like a systemic process that you follow every day.
  2. Develop a Referral Guideline – it’s basically a selling sheet for your company that you share with the people who refer you.
  3. Set goals around the system.
  4. Work it every day.

Developing Your Referral Guideline

The referral guideline is a 1-page sales sheet on who you are, what you do, the kinds of clients you serve. It’s easy to read and easy enough to understand so that when you review this with your referrers they get it.

There are 3 basic sections to a referral guideline:

  1. What sets you apart. In this section you give us your Unique Selling Proposition. Tell the referrer in as few words as possible what you do and what sets you apart from others that do similar things.
  2. Your Ideal Customer. This is a descriptive profile. It needs to be clear and vivid enough so that I would recognize your prospect in less than 30 seconds. “Men over 40 who wear glasses” for example.
  3. Referral Triggers. Things that a potential referral might say that would make me think of you. “I’m going to get new glasses”
  4. How to refer me. Educate and train your referrers on what to ask or what to say to potential clients.”Those are terrific glasses – where did you get them?”
  5. Thank your referrer. Some people have a referral fee, some people simply refer because it’s a service they provide. Be clear on where you stand – but be sure to have the conversation of how your referrer wants to be thanked.

Building referrals is just as important now as if was in the past. In fact, I think it’s much easier and more cost effective now to develop and build those relationships than it had been in the past. What I think is more difficult is keeping those referral conversations alive and focused.

Social media tools make it infinitely easier to find and connect with people, but because so many social media tools use a timeline format you can see and start a conversation one minute and forget about it the next simply because the screen has been refreshed with new conversations and posts. This makes it difficult to move referral and opportunity conversations forward.

Here’s my killer time-saving and stress-reducing recipe for cooking up new business using a social media based referral strategy.

Total Time: About 2 hours to create social media accounts and generate list and about an hour per day managing your system

Yield: Profitable New Opportunities and Customers

Difficulty: Easy Peasy if you stay with it

Ingredients:

  • No more than 3 specific marketing goals
  • Twitter account in your name, brand name or company name
  • Facebook account
  • LinkedIn account
  • Try Nimble.com as a tool to integrate your social media conversations and create action items from those conversations
  • A list of about 200 names, you can create a list or just go down your email address book and pull the people you think can help you get referrals

Directions:

  1. Set your marketing goals and objectives. These goals should look like something like this: Launch a webinar series targeting pet shop owners in March?or Find 5 market research contacts at big box stores who want to use our online survey tool. Setting clearly defined marketing goals will guide your social media networking strategies.
  2. Create a list of 200 referral contacts. Use your email database to create a list of 200 people with whom you want to have referral relationships. Go through that list and label people friends and family then partners and finally influencers. As you are labeling and grouping your contacts, you might get ideas about the ways in which they might be able to help you achieve your goals i.e. Introduce me to the CEO of company X. I’d recommend that you write that next to their name while you are thinking about it, it will save you time later.
  3. Work your LinkedIn Contacts. Go through your list of 200 and find everyone on LinkedIn. If you are not connected to them, connect with them. If they do not have a LinkedIn account, then you will have to manage that relationship via email and face-to-face methods only. As you are doing that, you can send them an email message touching base and asking to schedule a catch-up call to discuss what they’ve been up to and how you can help each other. You can also share what you’ve been up to and what you are looking for they might respond with a connection or introduction on the spot. Another great idea is to leave an endorsement for people as you check their presence on LinkedIn. Leaving an endorsement for them will prompt them to leave one for you and to get in touch with you to catch up. It’s a wonderful surprise and great gift to receive.
  4. Search Twitter for conversations around your goals. Notice what the conversations are and who is having the conversations. Create a Twitter list of the people labeled Networking or maybe even around your goals such as market research? (to use our previous example). Take 15 minutes a day to monitor the conversations on that Twitter list and engage in conversations with those people. Follow their links, re-tweet their content, comment on their links and articles. Of course, don’t forget to search for your list of 200 on Twitter and add them to your Twitter list. This way you are tracking their conversations as well.
  5. Use Facebook to Network with Friends and Family. Many businesses are hip to creating Facebook Fan pages, but your personal page may be more powerful as a networking tool. I recommend posting pictures of what you are up to around your business and sharing with friends and family. A friend of mine is in the promotional items business and often takes pictures of creative T-shirts and other items at trade shows that he things are very effective. It tells us where he is that day and it gives us ideas that we can use for our promotional projects. If you own a restaurant, take a picture of the daily special, if you are making a sales call or want to connect with someone, just ask your friends and family. But don’t oversell on Facebook, it will be perceived as spamming and can backfire.
  6. Check out Nimble.com. My new favorite social media and sales management tool is Nimble.com. It was developed by Jon Ferrera, the CEO of the successful sales CRM tool Goldmine in response to his peeve of having referral and opportunity conversations fall through the cracks. Nimble will integrate your email, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and show all the conversations in one stream or separate streams. What I love about it is that it allows you to see all these conversations in one place and then you can also create an action item for yourself around that conversation. Nimble is basically a social CRM tool that increases the value and ROI of your social media conversations.

Now, you might think all this will take an entire day’s worth of work. Well, I won’t lie to you the set-up probably will. In reality, you can spend a day planning and strategizing your referral system but once it’s done and you’ve focused your efforts, all it will take is about 15 to 30 minutes a day of working your system to keep those relationships and sales opportunities flowing your way.