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3 Lessons For Building A Tribe Of Clients Through Referrals

Afraid of asking for referrals? Don’t be. Georgina Smith suggests why asking isn’t the worst idea. 

3 min read

“I don’t feel comfortable asking for referrals.”

I know, I hate it too. It feels so desperate, so pushy when you see “If you liked what we did for you, please tell a friend” written at the bottom of an invoice or client communication.

But let’s consider the upside. Those of you who follow my articles will know that I used to run several dental practices in the UK before coming to South Africa. My team would consistently find that if a patient came to us through a referral, they were three times more likely to be with us two years later than a walk-in patient.

This lesson can just as effectively be applied to any other industry; referred clients are easier to retain than clients from any other source because, at the end of the day, you want a tribe of patients you like, respect and enjoy working with.

Lesson 1: Be targeted

Focus on those clients you like and want to do more business with. They are likely to have friends and associates you will also like, helping you build, as master marketer Seth Godin explains, a tribe of people who say, “People like us come to places like this”.

So how do you specifically target those clients you like? Get personal; it’s about how you make them feel.

For example, “I’ve really enjoyed working with you on this and I’m delighted with the outcome, I hope you are too. If your friends are like you and you think I could help them, I’d be grateful for an introduction”.

This brings humour, can create a secondary talking point of the importance of building a client base of common people, shows how much you value the individual relationship with this client and, importantly, asks only for an introduction, not a sale.

Lesson 2: Everyone in your organisation needs to play the referral game

It’s not just the key individual (dentist in this case) who need to ask for referrals. Everyone the client interacts with must play their part.

For example, following an appointment, the client will hopefully have a pleasant interaction with the front desk staff. In my dental practices we would often see the patient praising the dentist at the front desk for perhaps being very gentle or giving an injection they couldn’t feel. This is the moment when anxiety has gone having been replaced by relief. At this point, my receptionist would quickly jump in with, “I’m so pleased to hear that Mrs Johnson, can I quote you on that?” Here’s the opportunity to build the practice marketing collateral.

If the patient is willing, ask for a Google review right there and then or a video blog recorded efficiently on a smartphone. A quick word of warning on this: once a referral or recommendation has been asked for, it must be noted on your central client monitoring system and others must then leave the client be. There’s nothing worse than everyone pushing the same client for a referral.

TIP: Having a selection of prepared questions, which any staff can ask to help, gets a great outcome. If a video is too much, a handwritten testimonial or recorded voice note also works well.

Lesson 3: Thank those who refer people to you

With most traditional marketing methods, it cost us between R700 – R1,200 to recruit a new patient. However, given our retention rate of referred patients was so much greater, they were worth even more to our business.

But that doesn’t mean paying for referrals; not only does it lack a personal touch, but misses the opportunity to deepen a client relationship.

I advise sending a handwritten note with a ‘talking point’ gift (different for each referral) to the workplace of the person who made the referral. It could be 12 tooth-shaped cupcakes, a box of scents, soaps and bath salts shaped in a toothbrush and toothpaste, or a dressing gown embroidered with something like “From the tooth fairy”. More often than not, it would result in a few more referrals from their place of work once the oooos and aaahhs have subsided.

Care, effort, thought and attention to detail are cornerstones to successfully asking for and getting great referrals.

At the end of the day, it’s not that bad to ask for referrals in an effort to build your tribe. Just find the phrases and practices that make you feel comfortable doing it; invest in saying “thank you”.

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Written by

Georgina Smith

Georgina Smith

Before joining INN8 as Head of Training and Development, Georgina was an entrepreneur in the UK, successfully building and transitioning her businesses into a larger corporate. She has experienced first hand the trials and tribulations of running a small business and all it entails. Throughout her career she has specialised in training and coaching across a range of subjects such as Financial Management, Building Great Teams and Great Customer Journeys for clients such as British Airways, British Telecom, Unilever and Mars.