There's no better way to gain customers than through your current customers' referrals. A customer's personal recommendation adds strength to your marketing program that money can't buy.

Referrals are big business β€” and they're serious business.

Your relationship is under development the moment you get the prospect's name. The pressure's on. You have to come through for both your original customer and your prospect.

You've got a small window when you need to make the contact (24 to 48 hours), and you better be prepared to deliver the same level of service that brought you the referral in the first place.

What's in It for the Customer?
Knowing that there's a lot at stake with referrals, let's look first at your customers' motivations. What's in it for them? Why would they want to give you referrals? HVAC Sales Training expert David Holt points to four main reasons:

  1. The hero factor. Your referral source has an opportunity to be a real hero to one or more friends or colleagues. If working with you truly has been a pleasure, he or she can look good by helping a friend or colleague learn about you. Remember β€” people prefer to find service providers through recommendations.
  2. It brings better service. Your customers know that if they give you referrals, it will give you added incentive to provide them with even better service than you already do. Even though you attempt to give all your customers the best service possible, isn't it natural that you will run a little faster and jump a little higher for the customers who give you referrals?
  3. They like you and trust you. If people like you and trust you, they probably want to help you. This is the most powerful reason! If you've been serving them well, most customers get great pleasure from helping you become more successful. If you share your vision for success, they'll enjoy seeing your success by helping you with referrals.
  4. They know that keeping you in business helps them! Help your customers see the benefits of your staying in business. You can help them as their needs change, and you will be there to cover their warranties and continued maintenance.

Your customer may also respond to the incentives you offer, such as a $25 discount on their new system for each name offered. Just remember, even if you do offer incentives, don't overlook the fact that what you're really offering are great products with great service from a great company. That's the true incentive for referrals.

The Trust Component
When the customer trusts you, he or she begins to believe all the things you say, and they don't worry about whether you will fulfill your promises. Your customer knows that a trustworthy contractor always fulfills promises. With their trust in you, your customers will be reluctant to try an unknown HVAC company.

As their trust in you grows, so does their confidence in you. They know what you can and can't do. This confidence factor is important for two reasons:

  • They will call you because they know you can fix it.
  • They know you will take good care of their friends and family members.

Think about it. Would you ever tell your mother to go to a restaurant that didn't cook the fish correctly? Would you tell a friend to go to a store that treated you poorly?

People look out for their friends and family. Never doubt that. You earn the right to ask for a referral by treating that customer with respect, honesty, and value. When they refer their friends and family to you, don't think they're selling their friends' names for a discount. They're looking out for them.

You see, referrals are a good thing for you, for your customer and for the new prospect. Everybody benefits when you get referrals.

Facing Customer Obstacles
Even if you're great at your job, some customers may be reluctant or unwilling to give you referrals. Here are the most common reasons:

  • They like the product, but don't like and trust the salesperson.
  • They don't want to sic a pushy salesperson on a friend or colleague.
  • They aren't clear about what you do and how you might benefit their friend or colleague.
  • They pre-qualify their friends and colleagues for you even before speaking their names.
  • They are afraid of upsetting their relationships.
  • They don't want to appear that they're talking behind this person's back.
  • They can't think of anyone at the moment, but may later.
  • They truly don't know anyone who could benefit.

Remember, if you constantly bring value to your customers and create relationships where they like you and trust you, objections will be rare; people will want to help you. If they don't like or trust you enough, they probably won't tell you so. And there's nothing you can do on the spot except to back off as they continue to resist. Then keep working hard to gain their trust.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for many free marketing articles and reports.