Customer Referral Marketing? Try ‘The Handshake’ First

business meeting

Referral marketing has become the new ‘it’ word in online marketing ever since ‘Yelp” went online in 2004 (Yes, it HAS been that long.). Now there was a tangible link between prospects seeing your business online, visiting it, and then writing a glowing testimonial about it. The most important part of this, of course, is the visit: They saw you online and they visited. Due to mobile advertising, you could catch people when they were in your area, and perhaps hungry for what you had for sale: It was this instant connection, that many people felt would be the key to future advertising: “Get them while they are hot!”. Getting the visit under any circumstances was the key, because that is what marketing does – brings in the prospect. Exactly the same can be said for all referral business. It has no use unless it brings in a prospect for the business to convert into a customer. The speed may not matter, the visit is all important.

If, therefore, you are asking for a referral in real life as a ‘real person’, how do you approach it? Do you say to someone: “You look great in that blue shirt – you should go to so-and-so, they have a sale on shirts right now” No, of course not. You ask for an introduction first, and that is what you should be doing for your referral marketing, too.

If you ask people that have shopped with you before to let you have a contact of theirs that may also like the product, what do you really have? A lead…or simply a name? Most people think it is a lead, but is it? We can misread that original name-dropping as care and attention, when really it could be anything, depending on that customer’s mindset at the time. Deliberate spamming, or a joke. What do you do when you meet Mr. Blue Shirt at the cocktail party? Introduce yourself, and allow him to do the same. This is what you should be doing online, too. A referral only works if the prospect trusts both you and the referrer.

If you want to make referral generation a significant part of your marketing success you need to start asking for introductions and not simply a list of names. The key to generating introductions is to make it as easy as possible for your referral source to do so.
Getting your customers or contacts to rise to the level of engagement required to make introductions or bring a friend to lunch requires a level of value that is a tough message to get initially, but online referral marketing is exactly the same as that in ‘real life’. You must be different from anyone else in your field, and area. You must offer value to someone who will spend time listening to you, or learning about your product or service, and when you meet them in whatever surrounding – cocktail party or online – they have to feel the introduction and ‘handshake’ first. When you can do this, people will gladly introduce you to others. When you change the context of a referral to that of an introduction you automatically raise the stakes for all parties and that’s the place where you can do your magic.


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