I was at my parents’ house over the weekend, and I saw how a referral unfolded. My dad was explaining to my brother’s father-in-law how his brother (my uncle) told my dad how he wanted to re-do the floor with hardwood. My dad’s comment to his brother was: “Hire someone. I’m too old to help you!” That’s when my brother’s father-in-law responded to my dad: “You should get him to use X. He’s a Vietnamese guy who did a great job at my daughter’s house. He’s very quick, has a large team and is fair with his pricing”. Within a short period of time, my brother’s father-in-law was speaking with X on the phone, asking him to go in and give my uncle a quote on the job. There you go… A referral that took place in just a few minutes and out of nowhere.
So that leads me to ask a few questions:
1. When do people refer?
Clearly, in the case above, and I suspect in most cases, people who are happy with your services do not start a conversation by referring you. They’re not paid, salespersons. And if they were, it would make the conversation awkward. So there is a moment, a triggering event I like to call it, that allows a person to suggest/refer X. If you think about it, my dad was complaining to my brother’s father-in-law. He never asked for a referral. It was just a story about what was happening in my dad’s everyday life. This could have been any kind of story – for example, like the fact that he just came back from Panama or that he looks forward to the weather getting better so he can go golfing again or that his daughter-in-law (my brother’s wife) is about to give birth soon or that he is in the market looking for a new cell phone. The point is: these are all natural and unassuming conversations that people have every day. They don’t just start talking about products/services that they need to buy.
2. Why do people refer?
This is interesting. My father-in-law didn’t refer because he received any incentive for it. He referred because he had (through his daughter) a good experience from X and because he was trying to help out my dad and his brother. Think about that. Dentists who try to incentivize others to refer based on free teeth whitening or X aren’t helping themselves. People refer because they liked the experience or because they want to help others. They might not particularly want to show off how much they know, and they might not wait until their opinion is asked. They refer to help others enjoy a good experience—end of story.
3. Where do people refer?
Many people think that referrals happen online. I mean, social media is huge, and a lot of referrals should be happening online, right? Wrong. A few studies I’ve read show that less than 10% of referrals are happening online. Why? Because we’re human. And human interaction offline allows us to engage each other in ways that the internet doesn’t allow. We like telling stories in person. We like to gauge our audience’s reaction. We need that physical presence that comes with talking about the good experiences we have and how we can help others experience them. And it seems so unnatural to try doing that online. If you send a text, email, BBM, tweet, FB message, etc. message, it’s easy to ignore it or delete it if you’re on the receiving end. We get tons of this every single day. But when you have someone in front of you, and you’re engaged in a “dance of talk” (it’s curious to see how people interact; it’s almost like a dance of tone and space and words), it’s hard to ignore or walk away from. You’re engaged, you’re entertained, you’re educated. And that’s why word-of-mouth referrals happen offline way more than online.
4. How often are people referring?
I’ve read that people talk about ten brands a day, for about 3-5 minutes per day. That’s it. But we’re bombarded with hundreds of brands every single day. But think about that. We only talk about ten brands a day on average. And wouldn’t you be curious to know if when you / your brand is spoken about, what kind of message (particularly the key words) is coming across? Is it the same kind of message that you want to promote? Does it contain memorable elements? Will it be the kind of message that spreads virally? Make sure to keep your message succinct so it can!
5. Who refers?
Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (which I’ve blogged about extensively on this website)? Not everyone spreads messages. Generally, you want to target well-connected people who accumulate and nurture people and relationships (CONNECTORS), people who look for and spread deals about products/services/ideas (MAVENS), and people who will use their charm and sales skills to convince someone otherwise (SALESPERSON). These are the individuals who refer and who are the best at referring. So you should target them.
We talk a lot about word-of-mouth marketing and online marketing on this website and in person during our presentations. And we care about our dentist clients and their business success. That’s why we love to share new ideas that come our way, like about building a brand that will spread or using a niche strategy to survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive industry. These ideas in this blog about “referrals” apply to your practice, whether you want to admit it or not. Just keep that in mind…