Building a base of clients with fewer people making referrals.
We all know the best way to build a client base is with referrals from people who already know you, right?
Sure, so logically to be introduced to new clients, we need to talk to everyone we know and ask them to refer us?
No, definitely no.
Let me tell you why you need fewer people referring you clients.
Trust is rare because nothing is harder
The image above is from a recent subscriber email from Gaping Void. As with the best of their art, the picture needs no explanation.
What does that mean, though, related to my advice to have fewer referrers, not more?
Trust is at the core of every relationship, whether personal or business. The deeper the trust, the deeper the relationship,
Where deep trust is present, there is real power in the relationship, but as the image expressed, building such trust is rare, because it takes work.
What happens without building trust first?
Going back to the idea of client referrers, if you spread yourself out far and wide, you can build lots of relationships, sure. However, they are based on a thin veneer of trust.
Imagine if you meet someone at a networking event and tell them you’d love some referrals. What is likely to happen? Well, mostly nothing. If by chance sometime in the next day or two they meet someone who may be in the market for what you offer, they may say to them: “hey, I met someone who seemed decent, perhaps you could check them out?”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, nor does that person really know anything about you. What’s more, they may not be the sort of person you’d like to have referred to you, they may not be remotely suitable to be the type of client you’d love to work with.
Even worse, imagine this person you’ve met for a few minutes has some of their own client base who could be referred to you. They’ve just met you. Do you think they will refer their very best, most favourite client to you?
Perhaps, but the reality in practice is that they haven’t built trust in you. so they will likely refer to you only the “test cases”, those of their clients who they are willing to lose if you don’t do a good job. After all, they don’t really know you to refer clients to you, so they absolutely won’t risk their reputation at this stage.
A final piece to hammer home what happens without trust being built. So, they send you a “test case”, then you put in huge effort to serve that client well, figuring that if you do that, your referrer will then send you their best clients next time, not this problematic one. You might think that would happen, and sometimes it might, but again evidence indicates that the behaviour of the referrer will then be: “great, they sorted out that test case, that problem client. I’ll send them more just like that!”
If you don’t build trust first, be ready for introductions to people that know the bare minimum about you and what you offer, or, worse still, are test cases.
Take time to build Trust
Yes, where we are seeking to build our business with new clients, it is tempting to get out there and “be active”, to confuse being busy with lots of meetings with success. Lots of “sales calls” but likely only a few new clients.
Yes, it feels like hard work to take time to build strong and trusting relationships with potential referrers.
Yes, I have developed a process around this over many years of experience to build trust deeply. In the past, I specialised in professional services firms, where the risk of reputation (personally, professionally, for the firm) is always very much top of mind. As such, trust is critical. I continue to do this work for select clients, and also, at a broader level, the process applies to ALL relationships, not only referrals of clients.
Yes, the structured process does make the process of building trust quicker, as well as having both parties clear on expectations of each other at the end of the process, so driving measurable results for all.
However (and you knew there was a “but”), it does take time, so you must (cough) trust the process and commit.
Do so and you know what happens?
You don’t’ have to “sell” anymore. Wouldn’t that be nice?
A story: “Do whatever he says, pay whatever he asks”
Imagine this was the introduction someone gave about you and your business? In such a situation, you don’t need to “sell”, you simply meet this new person, who has already decided to be your client, establish their needs and “take the order”
A story from my own experience was that I was teaching the process for building trust to a long-time client. Towards the end of the workshop we ran on it, I jokingly said that, when the trust is deeply formed, the referrer will go to people they have deep trust with and who need your services, then tell them: “You need to talk to Tom, do whatever he says, pay whatever he asks”.
I said it very much tongue in cheek, but this was a morning workshop. The client then went to a business lunch, where a dear friend of his told him about the needs of his own business. The client delivered that message, upon which, as soon as the lunch finished and the person called me right away, saying: “my friend and your client told me I had to call you and that I am to do whatever you say and pay whatever you ask”. I tried to laugh of the line a little as I was more than a little embarrassed, but they were deadly serious, so I went into their office that afternoon. We met for twenty minutes, which was the beginning of a multi-year relationship.
So, in conclusion, take time to build trust. Slow down to speed up later, as once you’ve done this, such deep relationships will keep paying dividends for both parties for years to come.
If you’d like to learn more about the process, let’s talk.
My clients say I “see what others don’t see”. Experience for yourself, book your 30-minute call now.
Also published on Medium.