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Business development trainer Mike O’Horo is rarely at a loss for words. His new column for Attorney at Work is dedicated to helping you find just the right business development words to use, too. Last month in “Well Said,” he explained “How to Stimulate Referrals.” Today: How to say “thank you” — and maintain good relationships with your referral sources.
Now that your referral source has generously plugged you into her network, what must you do to show proper appreciation and respect?
1. Email the referral immediately, with a “cc” to the source. Your Subject line should say: “Intro via [Source]” — this ensures your email gets opened. You’re trading on your referral source’s standing because you don’t yet have any. You’d be surprised how many people let referrals languish. Nothing says “I don’t value your help” like not acting quickly. Don’t risk having the source speak with the referral before you do.
Explain your purpose simply, directly and succinctly: “[Source] and I recently had a discussion about [industry problem]. His insight was hugely helpful and got me thinking about it in some new ways. He thought you might be willing to share additional thoughts to help me get a better handle on it. Might I get 20 minutes with you by phone at a convenient time in the next handful of days?”
2. Honor the contract. You asked for 20 minutes. At the 15-minute mark, acknowledge that the end of the 20 minutes is imminent. If the person is really busy, they’ll appreciate you not abusing the time. If they’re not pressed, or they’re really engaged in the discussion, they’ll extend the time. If the deadline is hard, go immediately to the next step.
3. Rinse, repeat. As you did with the source who connected you to this person, thank them for their insight and candor, and ask with whom you could have “a conversation like this one.” Since they just had a brief, relevant, respectful, peer-level discussion with you, this reminds them that there’s really no reason not to refer you.
4. Keep your sources informed. Most referred people you email will “reply to all” so that the source knows what’s happened. Keep the source up to speed with future developments. (At some point, most sources will suggest dropping them out of the email thread.)
People only refer you to contacts they care about. Don’t make them wonder what’s going on or, worse, have to call you to ask, “Did you ever speak with … ?” That’s equivalent to someone having to call to see if you’ve received his gift because you didn’t acknowledge it.
5. Say “thank you.” When you get hired, or receive any direct benefit, or conclude your interactions with the referred (e.g., decided not to continue after exploring), thank your source.
Separate your “thank you” call from all other business with the source. You want it to be clear that the sole purpose of the call is “thank you.” Don’t allow it to turn to your benefit — an additional referral, a new matter from the source. Instead, call five minutes before the hour or half-hour (:55 or :25) to say, “I’m heading into a :00 (or :30) meeting, so I only have a second, but I didn’t want to forget to call and say ‘Thanks’ for introducing me to [name].”
If the source offers you an additional referral or other business, cut it off with “I’d love to talk about [new matter, other referral]. May I call you back about it at [time within two hours, to avoid diminishing the urgency]?” Your source will realize that you really did call just to say “Thanks,” rather than using it as an excuse to ask for or accept something else.
6. Maintain periodic contact. Otherwise you’ll create the (correct) impression that you only call when you want something.
The number of people who know somebody who has a need for your services is small relative to the number of people who know somebody who has a logical reason to discuss a relevant topic. Asking someone to refer people you can sell to rarely works. You’re essentially asking for money, or at least a direct path to it. The advantage of this topic-based approach is that you’re asking for advice, which most people are happy to give.
Standard advice to start-up companies approaching investors: “If you ask for money, you’ll get advice. If you ask for advice, you’ll (eventually) get money.”
Ask for advice.
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