Most of our clients come to us when their well of word-of-mouth referrals has dried up. That’s a reactive approach to business development. As a managed services provider, you need a consistent flow of new leads to build a strong sales pipeline. Think about what you’re telling your prospects every day: Proactive support activities are necessary to maintain a healthy network. In the same way, proactive business development is a mandatory part of a healthy sales-focused organization.
Now, just because nobody is handing you referrals, that doesn’t mean they aren’t any out there. Instead of waiting for them to come to you, go out and get some. So, how do you ask people for referrals? I’m going to teach you a simple way to collect referrals from your current clients. It’s not difficult. Start the same way you would start any new project — prepare for it!
Call your client and schedule some time to talk with them. Better yet, invite your client out for lunch or drinks. The best idea? Have this discussion after your quarterly meeting, assuming the quarter went well.
Here are the things you should have on-hand:
- A list of the things you felt went really well for this client. How much money have you saved them? What problems have you solved for them? When did you go above and beyond to make sure they got what they needed?
- A pre-written testimonial that your client can either sign or customize and return to you. The easier you make this for your client, the more inclined they will be to help.
- A list of contacts you would like to meet who you think would be a good fit for your services. Check your client’s LinkedIn profile. Who do they know that you want to know?
- A thank-you card you can pop in the mail immediately after the chat.
Start by asking your client what they like most about working with you. Then, ask what you could be doing better.
This conversation should tell you whether or not you’ve earned the right to ask for referrals. If they identify multiple challenges, you need to change gears and plan with your client how you will resolve those issues. If your client loves everything you’re doing and hasn’t identified any red flags, move on to discuss referrals.
The next step is to ask your client to review, item by item, IT issues they experienced and the resolution you provided. Make sure their memory of the event is the same as yours. Highlighting all the things you do for them daily can also be helpful because much of it is executed remotely and never seen by the client.
Once you’ve established that your client is having a positive experience and reviewed the most important IT issues you’ve helped them with, try asking for a testimonial. It should go something like this:
“Joe, I’m really pleased to hear that you’re happy with our services. We enjoy having you as a client — and we’d like more clients like you. We have plans to grow our business this year, and I hope we can count on you to help us. Are you comfortable providing a testimonial and allowing us to use you as a reference client?”
“Great! I’ve tried to make it really painless for you. I’ve written this testimonial for you, and if you like it just as it is, just sign off on it.”
If they like it as is, move on to the next half of the discussion. If they don’t like it, obviously they’ll need to make changes. Suggest a deadline for those changes so you don’t need to chase them down.
Now you should be ready to ask the client for referrals. Try something like this:
“As I’m sure you’re aware, warm introductions are the easiest way for us to find potential new clients. I spent some time before this meeting making a list of companies that I think would really benefit from our services. I reviewed your LinkedIn profile to see if you were connected to any of those companies, and there are six people I’d really like to meet. Here’s the list. Would you be comfortable introducing me to these people? I would be happy to return the favor and see if we could be helpful to you in growing your business as well.”
Remember, there are plenty of people we connect to on LinkedIn who we barely know, wish we didn’t know, or who we don’t know at all but added for reasons we forget. So, if your client doesn’t want to make an introduction, don’t take it personally.
Next, ask them if there is anyone else in their circle they can think of who might be looking for a new IT service provider. Remind them of the types of services you offer and ideal client profile to help them think about who might be a good fit.
Thank them very much for any referrals they make, and don’t forget to send out that thank-you card.
When a referral closes, be sure to send something nice to your client. But, the best way to show appreciation for referrals is with referrals of your own. Actively begin thinking of who in your network might need your client’s services and start making introductions. The more referrals you give, the more you’re going to receive.
Carrie Simpson is the founder of Managed Sales Pros, a lead generation firm dedicated to providing new business opportunities for MSPs. Carrie teaches IT firms how to build, manage, and grow their sales pipelines. You can follow Carrie on Twitter @sales_pros and connect with her on LinkedIn.