Happy clients multiply. That is the mother of all facts. Good word of mouth always helps you attract more customers.
Before we jump in we need to make one assumption: your customers are happy with you and the service you provide. If this is the case then you are in a position to ask your customers to help you find more customers.
The most direct approach is just that; be open and be straightforward. Simply asking a happy customer to suggest people you can call and pitch to is good way to go.
“Please Joe. Do you have any good leads you can suggest?”
Of course, one could turn this into a more creative endeavour. Akin to the art of selling without selling. Think back to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon where the world was exposed to the art of fighting without fighting. If you have seen this classic film you will remember this scene for sure.
A happy customer is actually a stakeholder in your business. They don’t want you to disappear, because then they would have to invest more time with a new person, and there’s no guarantee they will be better than you (or as good looking ;-). The better your business is – the better it is for your customers as well. And that’s because of you, not someone else. So the worst thing you could do to your stakeholders is to go live on Mars (apparently we are getting closer). That will make them have to start all over again. Yes, your customer is happy with you, so go ahead and bait them. Let’s have a look at a simple scenario:
You : Are you happy with how I look after you Joe?
Joe (customer) : Absolutely.
You : Do we provide a good, quality, value for money service?
Joe : I am very happy.
You : Times are tough and we are struggling on our side. If we don’t find more clients soon we may have to close down.
Joe : You can’t close down – I need you.
You : Then please help us Joe.
Joe : Help you? How?
You : You do business with so many other companies. Trading partners, suppliers, other service providers. Please can you suggest some leads – people I could call and go and see.
Joe : I can.
Yes, if Joe is happy with you, then he will be happy to help you. Sympathy is good for business. Times are tough indeed so most of this rings true (except the closing down part, but we needed some tension in the story, and to prove the point, so please just use your imagination here and fill in your own story – we all have one). For the storyline, think using more honest emotion and less Hollywood explosions.
After the fact, always remember to find ways to thank your clients for promoting your business. Manners maketh the money.
Don’t play games
Honesty is the best policy. Don’t have a hidden agenda. If you ask for help then help you will receive. Perhaps not everyone will be generous but if your clients trust you, most of them will help. Your customers have a stake in your wellbeing. If you do well, they benefit too. Never forget that.
Sincerity is your vehicle here. This is all about character. If your customers truly trust you and respect you, because you always keep your promises, and because you go the extra mile, then they will be happy to help you. That is our experience.
Break the ice and be straightforward. People don’t like game playing. Be direct, but be gentle and never be desperate. Try going for a combination of James Bond and Oprah.
‘No’ means ‘move on’
If you get a resounding ‘no’ when asking for leads, always remember that it’s not personal, it’s just business. Perhaps there’s still opportunity to connect in future.
When asking for referrals, make sure it’s from your ideal customer. Don’t take a scattergun approach to everyone you’ve worked with - better to target those who you feel comfortable with, well, at least when you start. But leads are everywhere. Just keep listening.
Team up in a symbiotic way to use their database for your business. Example, they sell car tyres, you do bodywork and fix windscreens. Or you’re a freelance web designer who creates websites for their campaigns. They can refer you to their clients on the back of your good work with them.
Offer to pay towards their database mailing expenses, become a working partner. Take time to find the right leverage partner - there’s strength in numbers.
If you help them sell more, you’ll sell more.
What other skill or product can you offer together with your alliance partner that could possibly create a new income stream?
Stay in touch
Don’t lose the relationship. Touch base in ways that don’t involve sales talk. Otherwise you might need ways to re-connect with an old client.
Timing is everything
Make contact at an appropriate time, not just before financial year-end, rather a few months before you could help on a seasonal holiday offering.
Never be complacent in thinking that even your oldest customers know all the products and services you offer. Remind them. Send them an updated showreel or product range link to keep communication going – it also provides reason to connect.
Ask them what they think about your offering, so they have some buy-in to selling you. If anything, it may provide important guidance.
Offer money to make money. If you land a deal with one of their suppliers or recruit someone they recommend, offer them a financial incentive or free use of your time.
Connect to your shared market
Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups, attend networking events, find a mentor, join an organisation. Continue to expand your network. Relying on your existing network might be best now, but probably has a limited set of new leads. Expand your horizons.
Leverage your skillset. ‘Bribe’ current customers by offering to work for a lower rate, or do a free talk at their office. Perhaps this could overlap with their proposed referrals, where you can meet in their work setting rather than a possibly awkward first pitch meeting.
Asking for help is never a bad thing. If people like you and trust you they will listen. And very often, they will help. Remember, luck always favours the persistent, so keep at it. Be straightforward and spell it out. Always try to make people smile, smiles are good for business. And never stop listening.