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When I look back at what got me where I am, it’s not the creativity, the research, or even the stellar customer service skills (though they all helped for sure!) The biggest factor in my marketing success has been knowing how to build and utilize referral networks.
A referral network is a group of people that are scattered throughout your niche who can help you drive sales and grow your business. Companies can cash in on the social capital that comes from being in a community with people to find stellar leads.
Whether this network is made up of customers, fellow professionals, or the public at large, referral networks offer an easy way to leverage existing relationships and expand your reach.
Examples of Referral Networks
When you think of a referral network, it might conger images of some extensive club where people meet up to exchange leads and referrals. While that certainly exists, it’s nowhere near the only kind of referral network out there.
No matter where you are on your growth journey as a company, there’s a style of network that you can tap into. Here are a few of my favorites.
Local Business Networks
If you’re a small business that operates within a specific area, you might want to look out for a local business network. This kind of network will have businesses that may or may not be related referring customers to each other.
The biggest connection between members in these networks is their location. They work together to find customers who want to support local and create a thriving ecosystem together.
Many local business networks are informal, but you might find one that has regular meetings, a community bulletin board, or even fun networking events to attend.
Professionals within the same field can have a reputation for being all about competition, but that’s not always the case. A professional organization might form around folks that want to share the love of referrals within their field.
This might consist of networking events and formal meet-ups, but could also be a group of people who look out for one another.
While competition might rear its ugly head, working together with other professionals can actually open up more doors for everyone. You might refer a client to someone because of their specialty or location, and eventually, they’ll send other clients your way too.
People seldom consider directories and review sites a form of referral, but functionally they tick all the boxes! Yelp, Trip Advisor, and even Google Reviews can be excellent places to generate leads.
Encourage your customers to leave a positive review on one of these sites after a positive interaction with your brand. This will increase your discoverability, and help point curious surfers towards your store.
Imagine your ideal customer for a moment. Think about their demographic and interests. There’s likely quite a bit of overlap in niches between you and similar businesses.
Partner programs allow you to tap into the network of other companies that cater to your user base. For example, a dealership for boats might refer clients to the local board shop to get their equipment and vice versa.
This kind of partnership can do wonders for building community within your niche and showing your customers that you value their full experience.
If you’re looking to expand your network as an individual tradesman, you might want to look into a trade organization in your area. As a business, these kinds of groups are an excellent source of talent, research, and networking opportunities.
Many trade organizations will hold events and meetings where you can connect with other members, troubleshoot any issues you’re having, and learn about what they offer.
If you ever have a client that you can’t help for one reason or another, you’ll know exactly who to send them to, and you can trust that other tradesmen in your area will return the favor.
Affinity groups operate a little like an in-person review site, with a community forming around a particular interest or hobby. Members will connect over their love of something and oftentimes recommend their favorite products or services related to that love.
A company looking to harness the power of an affinity group might consider running a referral program that works with a few of its members. This is a great way to make sure you’re connecting with people who are passionate about your particular niche.
Social networks might seem like a funny thing to include, since they’re so ubiquitous these days. But they’re actually useful for finding customers and getting referrals. If you have something to offer that your friends and family need, why not let them know?
Put the word out there through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even LinkedIn. These days, you don’t need an extensive network to find the people who need what you have to offer.
Sometimes, it’s hard to find referral networks with a local angle or for those of us who don’t have extensive professional contacts. That doesn’t mean we can’t reap the benefits of referrals, though!
Online groups are one way to get around the traditional model of referral networks. This can include anything from Facebook groups to Google+ circles to Subreddits.
It’s basically an online community based around people who can refer each other to the customers they need.
Customer Referral Programs
Customer referral programs are a golden opportunity to fill up your pipeline with qualified leads. This kind of referral network consists of customers or users of your product referencing friends or family to make use of your service.
You’ll need to have a great incentive for customers to do the referring. That could be rewards points, money off, or other perks that reward the customer and the person they refer. At the same time, two-way referrals can be a great way to find new customers that fit the profile of your existing ones.
And while many people might think of customer referral programs as a one-way street, a well-thought-out customer referral program can generate a lot of useful information for your business like customer profiles, their feedback, and more.
Building Your Referral Network
Knowing what kind (or kinds) of referral network you want to build for your company is only half the battle. Actually crafting that network and getting the most out of it takes planning and skill.
These are my top tips for crafting an out-of-this-world referral network, no matter what industry you’re in.
Number One: Make A Shareable Business
As soon as you’re dabbling in relationships with people, every recommendation becomes an opportunity to put your neck on the line. If you want to ask people within your network to refer customers to you, you need to make sure your business is worth sharing.
High-quality products and services, immaculate customer service, and a proven track record all contribute to your company’s sharability. The more time you spend getting these right, the more powerful your efforts to amass referrals will be.
Number Two: Make It Worth It
If you're asking people to find leads for your company, it can't hurt to offer them something in return. Every type of network will warrant a different type of reward, so make sure you consider what friends, stakeholders, and even common customers might find valuable.
Some great options for incentives include:
- points programs
- cash bonuses
- fun events
It doesn’t take much, but offering something for referrals can make a big difference in the power of your referral network.
Number Three: Ask Away
Of course, you can’t build a referral network without actually asking for referrals!
You can start by simply asking happy customers if they’d like to recommend your business as part of your standard meet-and-great process. This is the easiest and most organic referral network you can build, so use it to your advantage!
Some people get uncomfortable asking outright, but when you do, you’ll be surprised by the results. Make sure you frame the offer in terms of what it can do for them, not just what it can do for you.
While it can help to offer a reward, don’t forget to also incentivize by playing on people’s passion for a great product. Doing that can create a positive vibe that will naturally draw in more referrals.
If you’re working with other professionals, don’t be afraid to send a customer or two their way first to break the ice. This sets a precedent and shows them how valuable a partnership with your business could be!
Managing Your Referral Network
As soon as you start to mobilize your referral network, you need to keep track of what leads are coming from where. That’s when a robust referral software like Referral Hero becomes vital.
Having all the information and data in one place lets you keep an eye on what’s working so you can focus your efforts, and makes it easy to track any rewards you may be offering.
The best part of using software to keep everything in order is that it doesn’t require any coding or troubleshooting on your part. You don’t need a whole team dedicated to tracking and optimizing your referrals, it’s all done for you by Referral Hero.
The Bottom Line
Referral networks can be the thing that ties your entire operation together. A source of leads, support, and advice, they help reach more potential customers and build a better-lasting network.
Building a good referral network takes effort, but the rewards are definitely worth it! With some planning, and expert tools like Referral Hero, you should have everything you need to start forming long-lasting relationships with industry insiders that can only benefit your business in the long run.
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