Master The Art Of Attracting Referrals To Build Your Ideal Practice
by Bob & Shirley Hanson, Hanson Marketing Group, Inc.
"A creative professional should be able to derive 80 percent or more of all new business from referrals." That belief comes from the late Howard Shenson, specialist in marketing for consulting practices. And in those terms, Roger Prichard of GGX NetSystems is an exceptionally creative computer consultant, for he derives 100 percent of new business from referrals. First let me introduce Roger... Roger Prichard and his wife, Astrid Caruso, of GGX NetSystems custom develop software products and databases for end users. They design, install, and train on PC and network-based applications of Access and Visual Basic in both the Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 environment. They are at 201 Fulton Street, Riverton, NJ 08077, phone: 609-829-3392. Roger’s been happily in business for 16 years -- the last 15 with Astrid as his partner. And he has practiced, tested, and refined his marketing strategy for optimum results. In our wide-ranging interview with Roger I questioned him about every nook and cranny of his business. As I reflected on what he told me, it became clear that marketing his business through referrals grew out of: - who he is, - the nature of his work, - the relationship he creates with a client, and - how he follows up. Marketing is never a separate activity, but it arises from and permeates every aspect of his work. His marketing strategy and his consulting practice are one. In his experience, "One or two persons firms do not last long." I asked, "How are you different?" Roger’s Process For Generating Referrals Makes The Difference To make it easy for you, I arranged what he told me about his marketing method into seven steps in a process to generate referrals. That way you will be able to adapt what he does to your own special situation. 1. Know Your Client’s Business Or Learn About It -- That’s his over-all philosophy of being a computer consultant. He is not a consultant, as he says, "who understands the technical side but has no business sense nor one who understand the business side well and is insecure about technology." Roger is knowledgeable about just-in-time arrivals, shipping needs, accounts receivable, etc. And he is very good technically. 2. Speak Your Client’s Language -- Roger has a slogan, "We talk computers and speak English." He speaks the business language of his clients and is careful not to load up his communications with technical jargon. 3. Solve the Right Problem -- Most often, Roger’s not solving a software or hardware problem. He is answering the question: What’s the business process trying to accomplish? What is it the end user wants to do, for instance, when he or she looks at accounts receivable in a different way? "Focusing on the form of the ultimate product is wrong. Instead, focus on what it’s going to be used for," he said. 4. Question and Listen -- "These are the most important skills," Roger said. When meeting with a prospect for the first time, distinguish yourself by asking questions and listening. What does the prospect really want? What are the real business issues? "Don’t be afraid to ask what might be a dumb question. You need to know basic things about the system that is in place. The only way to find out is to ask. Nobody knows everything." And there’s a corollary, "Never ask the same question twice." Through questioning you are positioning yourself. You are demonstrating the breadth of service you provide and the thought and expertise that contribute to the results you get for your clients. 5. Choose Your Clients Wisely --
Questioning and listening help you with something else. You get an idea of what it’s like to work with that particular organization. "Some problems are insoluble, and the majority of the time you can determine that ahead of time," Roger said. "Killer problems are personality flaws in the organization" "If you have a chemistry fit, you’ll know and they’ll know if you are right for each other. If it’s a near miss, you may decide you can work with each other. The match is so important!" 6. Develop Good Relationships --
He calls this part of the process "sticking close to your client." He is willing to do what it takes to get it done for a client. He does this even if he underbids. If he gets into a mess with something, as he did with the "dBase disaster," he puts in the necessary extra effort, which may mean working nights or week ends to make it right. Another essential element in "sticking close to your client" is educating him or her. "Make sure your clients know what you are up against. Explain the problem and how you will solve it without going into all the details." He shields his clients from the minutia of his work but keeps them "informed so that they don’t get the impression that you are making excuses." 7. Keep in Touch With Your Clients --
Once a project is completed, Roger calls to ask, "How has it worked out? What could we have done better? You had a problem last month with ______. Is that resolved? What is on the horizon?" Roger makes these calls consistently even when his time is fully booked. If business is slow, and this is rare in Roger’s case, you can ask an additional question. You may introduce it with something like this: We are looking for consulting opportunities. And then ask, Do you know of someone who is growing a business or starting a new one and needs help with networks, or databases, or whatever you do? "If I don’t talk to them periodically, they are not going to call me," Roger said. These calls encourage them to think of you, and they demonstrate something equally compelling -- that you care about them. "Happy clients are your best credentials," he said. Those are Roger’s secrets to 16 years of staying power and fulfillment in his work. His clients over the lifetime of doing business with him pay him from $2000 to over $100,000. And today he can say, "I don’t see how my consulting practice could be better! But," he adds, "it would be nice if the software products actually worked." Power Point #1: Stand on the shoulders of a master of referrals You can grow your business by putting Roger’s 7-step process to work for you. Many consultants rely on referrals as their major marketing strategy. Few are as adept at attracting them. Few have built their marketing as seamlessly into their consulting practice as Roger has. Now you have his process at your fingertips. Act on it. You will get more referrals for your consulting services. And it will do something more for you: You will be able, as Roger does, to reject the clients and situations that are not right for you...because you know that just around the corner will be a more appropriate client. Power Point #2: A word of warning: Relying on only one marketing pillar is risky. It can suddenly, inexplicably stop working. That happened to Roger, and it was an alarming experience. We suggest that you test, refine, and put into what we call "maintenance mode" a second or even a third marketing tool. You know it works. It’s ready to go. All you need to do is to put more energy into it when you need it. A good choice, one we recommend, is strategic alliances. By this we mean long-term relationships for your mutual benefit. (It’s not about using a broker or discounting your fees to get a job.) It’s an informal innovative partnership where you and your partner become players on the same team. Power Point #3: For new independent consultants, here’s a way to adapt Roger’s process. You may be just starting out. Or you may get most of your work from brokers and now want to market your own services and get your own clients. With years of experience and success behind him, Roger is in an advantageous position. You can get there, too. Begin with a marketing plan that encompasses the 7-step referral process and 1 or 2 other marketing methods. Try them out and improve them until they become client generators. And build the referral process into your practice. At first you will need to add some extra steps to jump-start referrals. You may be able, for example, to go back to clients in previous jobs and ask them for a written testimonial. If you are good at what you do and create "happy clients," it won’t be long until your phone rings steadily. © by Shirley Hanson. All rights reserved. Shirley Hanson is a writer and Web content developer. Canadian Women’s Business Network site visitors can get her free report "24 Great Questions To Help You Build A Super Successful Web Site" by asking for it at firstname.lastname@example.org Get information about her free zine "A Marketing Energizer for Consultants" at www.hansonmarketing.com/freezine.html