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#124: A Better Way to Ask For Referrals

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, September 3, 2009
Updated: Thursday, September 3, 2009
I have been relatively unassertive about getting referrals from past clients and I have not been very successful in doing so lately. Are there better and worse ways of asking for referrals and testimonials?

One thing to consider about referrals and testimonials is that they are not really about you as a person or a professional. People who ask for referrals by soliciting in terms of how great they are or how much they did for the organization are less likely to get much of a response from the referral source. It is great for one's ego to have a client say wonderful things about you. Who doesn't like a little praise once in a while? But consider how the recipient of a referral will react when the topic is all about you instead of what you can do for them and their organization.

An effective referral or testimonial (the latter being one tangible form of the former) should be thought of principally in terms of how it will be received by a prospective client rather than what is feels like for you to get it. That is, what will the person getting the referral consider as the benefit to them from your services. That you are competent and ethical is nice but more important is an example of how you brought (and can bring to them) value, performance, cost savings or increased profitability. Don't let your ego get in the way. As a consultant, you were probably one of dozens, if not hundreds of staff and other consultants who contributed to the success of an organization. Spend more time talking about how you were able to work with the staff and executives to help them do their jobs better. Nothing induces a lukewarm testimonial more than a consultant who takes credit for more than his or her share.

Tip: Cultivating a referral or testimonial starts long before you actually ask. At the beginning of an engagement, make a list of the kinds of value you plan to provide and that would induce a prospective client to favor your services. During the engagement, update the list with specific examples of contributions you have made to the client organization. Every so often, check with your client and confirm whether he or she sees this kind of value you are providing. If the client says it is unclear whether you are providing this kind or this much value, go back and make a better case or take this off your list. When it comes time to ask for the referral, the client will be familiar with (and have confirmed) the set of valuable services you have delivered and provide you with an appropriate recommendation.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  consultant role  goodwill  proposals  recommendations  sales 

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Annie Bartlett says...
Posted Friday, September 4, 2009
Excellent points, Mark. As a management and marketing consultant every business person I work with is "shy" about asking for referrals, especially testimonials. They love that I help them with that. I actually do the contacting and ask questions. The questions are designed to solicit value statements from the client point of view. So, once we get beyond background questions, I start asking how my client has helped them.

And I don't wait for my client's clients to write up something. I take notes on our conversation, write up the testimonial, and submit it for their review. Most people are eager to give a testimonial, they just don't want to write it. My client wins because he gets a great testimonial. His client wins because he helped him. And I win because I get to hear great things about my client, which helps me in working with him.

IMC consultants could take a similar approach. And, if you are shy about asking for testimonials, get a third party to it for you.
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