Has anyone ever said to you, If there's anything I can do to help you with your business, let me know? And was your response Thank you. Now that you mention it, there are a few things I need? Or did you say, Well, thanks, I'll let you know?
If you're like most of us, you aren't prepared to accept help at the moment it's offered. Before you can do so, you have to make the connection between specific items or services you need and the people who can supply them.
Systematic referral marketing helps you do that by determining, as precisely as possible, the types of help you want and need. Some are simple, cheap, and quick; others are complex, costly, and time-consuming. Here are some examples of the ways others can promote you and your business.
1. Display or distribute your literature and products. Your sources can exhibit your marketing materials and products in their offices or homes. If these items are displayed well, such as on a counter or a bulletin board, visitors will ask questions about them or read the information. Some may take your promotional materials and display them in other places, increasing your visibility. They can include your fliers in their mailings or hand them out at meetings they attend. A dry cleaner attaches a coupon from the hair salon next door to each plastic bag he uses to cover his customers' clothing; a grocery store includes other businesses' marketing literature in or on its grocery bags or on the back of the printed receipt.
2. Make an announcement. When attending meetings or speaking to groups, your sources can increase your visibility by announcing an event you are involved in or a sale your business is conducting, or by setting up exhibits of your products or services. They can also invite you to make an announcement yourself.
3. Invite you to attend events. Workshops and seminars are opportunities to increase your skills, knowledge, visibility, and contacts. Members of personal or business groups you don't belong to can invite you to their events and programs, which gives you an opportunity to meet prospective sources and clients. Even better, they could invite you to speak at their event, effectively positioning you as an expert in your field.
4. Endorse your products and services. By telling others what they've gained from using your products or services or by endorsing you in presentations or informal conversations, your network sources can encourage others to use your products or services. If they sing your praises on a CD, MP3, or DVD, so much the better.
5. Nominate you for recognition and awards. Business professionals and community members often are recognized for outstanding service to their profession or community. If you've donated time or materials to a worthy cause, your referral sources can nominate you for service awards. You increase your visibility both by serving and by receiving the award in a public expression of thanks. Your sources can inform others of your recognition by word of mouth or in writing. They can even create an award, such as Vendor of the Month, to honor your achievement.
6. Make initial contact with prospects and referral sources. Instead of just giving you the telephone number and address of an important prospect, a network member can phone or meet the prospect first and tell him about you. When you make contact with the prospect, he will be expecting to hear from you and will know something about you. Better yet, your source can help you build new relationships faster through a personal introduction to that person. Ideally she would provide you with key information about the prospect while also telling the prospect a few things about you, your business, and some of the things you and the prospect have in common.
7. Arrange a meeting on your behalf. When one of your sources tells you about a person you should meet or someone you consider a key contact, she can help you immensely by coordinating a meeting. Ideally, she will not only call the contact and set a specific date, time, and location for the meeting but will also attend the meeting with you.
8. Publish information for you. Network members may be able to get information about you and your business printed in publications they subscribe to and in which they have some input or influence. For example, a referral source who belongs to an association that publishes a newsletter might help you get an article published or persuade the editor to run a story about you. Many companies showcase topic-specific experts in their newsletters; you could become the expert in your field for some of these.
9. Form strategic alliances with you. Of all the kinds of support that a source can offer, this one has the greatest potential for long-term gain for both parties. When you engage in a strategic alliance, you're in essence developing a formal relationship with another business owner that says you will refer him business whenever possible and he will do the same. This works best in businesses that are complementary. For example, a handyman would find advantages in forming an alliance with a real estate agent because they continually encounter people who need home repair work done. Conversely, a handyman probably deals with homeowners who are considering selling their homes after he's finished making repairs. Such strategic alliances can work with a number of other businesses (CPAs and financial advisors, mortgage brokers and real estate agents, hotel salespeople and event planners, and so on). The key is to find the person with the right complementary business and then make it work for both of you.
10. Connect with you through online networks. When people connect with you online, you can notify them about your events or projects, and you can receive the same kind of information from them. They can see your business profile and biographic data and can refer you to people in their networks. Once connected, they can provide recommendations and testimonials for the rest of your network to view.
Called the father of modern networking by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization. His latest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.