The five worst referral marketing mistakes to avoid

Our focus when discussing marketing is usually looking at alternative ways of thinking about the process to produce better results, whether that is more sales, customers or enhancing brand image and so on.

However, finding the things to avoid doing is just as important as understanding what you should do, and because doing the wrong thing can really harm your ability to obtain referrals, this is an essential part of marketing.

To ensure your next campaign is successful, here are five referral marketing mistakes that you must avoid. Get this right, avoid the pitfalls, and your referral program will go from strength to strength.

  • Failing to include referrals at all in planning

Referrals do not happen by accident, and the first way to lose many of the referrals you should get from new business is simply by not mentioning them in any conversation. You should be expecting referrals, you know how good your work is, how much your clients benefit, so it is only right that you get referrals from that. This mindset does not just appear though, it has to start with you, and you need to promote it right through your company.

Not only do you deserve those referrals, but those friends, family and colleagues who would be referred to you are missing out if they do not get to experience your service.

  • Not treating each situation as unique

This is perhaps a failing across all marketing programs at times, but is especially problematic when seeking referrals. Each client or strategic partner, and each situation, is unique, a standard approach to everything and everyone simply fails to account for the different reasons and methods of those different groups. Instead of taking the easy route, tailor your approach to suit the situation, and ensure that each client has the motivation they need to bring referrals.

  • Accepting any referral as a good referral

It may seem like a good approach, but if there is one thing that is guaranteed to provide the worst referral experience of your career, it is accepting anyone as a referral. You have an audience, you have taken the time to understand who they are, and it is those who you also want as a referral.

When seeking referrals, it is important to explain to your referral sources exactly what you are looking for in a referral, and just as importantly, what you can offer those referrals and why they will benefit.

  • Failing to appreciate your referral source

Few marketing consultants ever remember to mention this, but a referral should not be a one-time thing, keep a referral source motivated and you can expect several, maybe more, over an extended period. Even if the referral does not become a customer, showing appreciation to the referral source makes sense, not just in terms of business, but simply as being a decent person to deal with. In fact, the thanks for a referral that does not work out can often be more appreciated by the referrer than the thanks for those that do work out.

To get those referrals, that is people going out of their way to tell others about your business, they need to be motivated to do so, and that thanks, a show of appreciation, can go a long way to keep that motivation going.

  • Asking for a referral

Now, this may seem odd at first reading, common belief is, after all, that we get more referrals when we ask for them, and that is definitely true, it is not the asking that is a mistake, it is using the term referral in the question that you should avoid.

Lead, referral, these are words that describe a list of names, and that is not what you are after. You want new clients, and so by changing your wording, you can do better, asking for an introduction implies something more personal, and your source will pick up on that. Rather than just having a list of names, instead you will have a more qualified referral program.


The 3 steps to your referral success


  • Contrary to some opinion, there is a best time to ask for a referral, and it is when the client is saying nice things about you! At that point, simply ask how well they know the referral, and would they be able to give you an introduction. It does not have to be complicated.
  • A referral is not a guarantee of a successful business relationship. Like every other lead, you still have to gain trust and convince the referral of your ability. Turning up to a first meeting as if a contract has already been signed will get you nowhere. Instead, provide value to the potential client before the first meeting, offer them a valuable piece of content or similar to get the relationship going.
  • While we have discussed a simple way to ask for an introduction, another successful approach is to ask for advice. Point out you have enjoyed working with the client, and then simply ask 'In my position, what would you do to find more clients like yourself?'.
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Posted on Dec 27 2016

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The five worst referral marketing mistakes to avoid



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