Capture Referral Information
Like all marketing strategies, the only way to measure the success of referrals is to capture data and measure the ROI (return on investment). To do this you need a CRM of some kind. I have a bias for salesforce.com but there are others available.
The key to success here is training the people on the front lines. Everyone who has initial contact with clients should identify the lead source for each new client. A simple question such as “May I ask who referred you to us so I can thank them?” will always elicit a response. After all, who doesn’t like to be thanked? Don’t be afraid to ask a clarifying question if necessary. If someone indicates it was a website, probe a little further to try and identify which website. You may have a new source of leads you didn’t know about through someone who has created a link to YOUR website.
Personally Thank Them
If asked someone how often they get thanked, the usual response will be something like “not enough.” In our modern society, just like letter writing, this is a lost art and a courtesy that you can take advantage of to set yourself apart from your competition. Take 5 minutes to call a referring party and extend a sincere “thank you” for their recent referral. Assure them that you will treat their referral with the same level of care as they experienced. And don’t forget to remind them that referrals are the lifeblood of your business and that you look forward to and appreciate each one.
If you have a younger clientele who communicates most by email and the web, an email may suffice. At the very least a handwritten note may be in order. In the end there is still nothing like a personal call. Remember, the very fact that you took the time to make the call will make a huge statement about you as a business.
Learn More about Them
Take each interaction with your client seriously enough to continue to learn about them and what is important to them. Important dates, children and spouse names, interests and hobbies are just a few of the categories that you should learn about your client. Remembering things that are special to them is another subtle way to create that 1% difference and the impression that you care more about them than others.
Categorize Your Referrers
Once your referral engine gets going, you will have different categories of referring parties. All businesses have a select few who really are passionate about your product or service and will refer all the time. Others will still refer but less proactively and less frequently. You are likely to have at least 3 levels (you can name them A, B, C) of referral types and you need to know who falls into each category. Treat them all the same, but make sure you reward the top referrers differently.
Reward Them for Referring
Beyond your personal phone calls and notes to thank your referrals sources, it never hurts to show your appreciation through a well thought out gift. This is where knowing everything you can about a client is so helpful. Your gift can be directed towards an interest they are passionate about such as a sports team or activity. Alternately, your gift might be directed towards their spouse or children that shows your intuition and interest in your client. Whatever it is, make the gift something unique and personal to them.