Sometimes, the word “referral” gets a bad rap. Too often it’s synonymous with quid pro quo as in “I’ll send you a new client if you send me one” or “I’ll pay you $500 for every person that you refer to me.”
I strongly advocate against this. I’m in the school that believes that you don’t mix love and money (my mom will be happy to hear this).
Someone should feel comfortable and excited enough about your company, your product, or your service that they feel it would be a disservice NOT to tell his friends about it.
For the purposes of this post, we will talk about my school of referral marketing…the kind where you don’t have to pay for an endorsement. Here are 3 ways to supercharge your referral marketing and are things that you could start today.
This week I spoke at TrackMaven’s inaugural Competitive Summit that focused on KPIs (key performance indicators) and metrics for marketing. Most of the attendees were Fortune 1000 companies but as I sat listening to other speakers, I asked myself, “Isn’t there still a place for data and metrics when a majority of your business comes from the relationships that you have?”
Relationships and data sound like oil and water. However, if we don’t measure and manage analytics for our outreach to our network, aren’t we just leaving our business development and the growth of our business to chance?
What data should we be tracking to enhance our relationship-based business efforts?
1. Number of follow-ups
If you are not following up and providing value to anyone in your network each week, you have a poor baseline. Start with 7 – 10 follow ups per week. If you have a process for following up, it should take you no more than an hour to 90 minutes.
Remember, follow-ups does not mean sales pitches. It could, however, mean sharing an article you thought they would like, commenting on something they posted on LinkedIn, or even commenting on how awful the Redskins were in the first half of Monday Night Football (totally hypothetical). You just want to stay on their radar and keep the conversation open.
Too often, the CIO or VP of Technology is tasked with choosing and implementing a new platform without the explicit buy-in of the department that will be using the system.
This reality is never as stark as it is when you look at a new sales or marketing technology. Particularly with sales, the team is so busy with the today’s tasks that the idea of instituting a new system and technology not only sounds like a back-burner issue but more importantly it sounds like a huge pain in the ass.
The beleaguered CIO is then left reading the writing on the wall. The writing probably says #CRMfail.
Now that the first quarter of 2013 is over and many of us are looking at the remainder of the year wondering, ‘What else can I do to grow my business?’, we wanted to offer five things you can do to grow your business this year. Let’s jump right into it.
1. Know what you want from your network.
If you are in a referral-based business, meaning that you seek business opportunities from your existing network, the most important thing you need to understand is what your network can do for you. To know this, you must first define what is most important to you and what your network relationship objective is. What kinds of opportunities do you want to generate from the people in your network? If you want to learn more about how to achieve this, read this in depth blog post I wrote that can help you figure everything out.
2. Identify the most important people in your network.
Like most things in life, not everyone in your network is created equal. The majority of people in a referral-based business generate a large amount of referrals from a small group of people. The classic 80/20 rule applies here, and in some cases can be even more pronounced, like 90/10.
Try to identify which of the people in your network are your “Legends.” Legend is a term we’ve developed over the years defined as people that have the ability, willingness and history of delivering the kind of opportunities you’re seeking, often in the form of referrals. In general, it’s a good idea to take the time to rate your network. While focusing just on your Legends is a great first step, feel free to read this blog post on how to efficiently rate your network overall
Give this exercise a try. Write down the top 30 contacts you think would fall into your Legends category. Then, create a bucket called Legends in your Contactually account and add those contacts to it. Then, take a look at your communications with those Legends and identify who you haven’t spoken with in 30 days. You might be surprised just how high that number is. If it is above 20-30% of your Legends bucket, you know you’re letting opportunities fall through the cracks and leaving money on the table.
PRO TIP: Once you have created your Legends bucket, make sure you set to the follow-up reminder interval to 30 or 45 days, as shown here:
3. Meet with each of your Legends and learn about the things that are relevant to them.
Now you have your Legends in a central location with a follow-up reminder system in place, it’s time to touch base with these contacts at least once every 30 days. Next, you might wonder what kind of content you should send your contacts in your follow-ups. One thing you probably fear, as many of us do, is coming across as spammy or unauthentic in any way. Let’s see if we can overcome that challenge – it’s easier than you think!
As long as you send a message that is perceived as relevant or valuable, you’ll never fall into the “spam trap.” Here, you need to ask yourself what is relevant to that person. As a first step, you can try to make notes in each contact record so you don’t forget what you know about them. Surprisingly, most people will realize that initially, they didn’t know much about their Legends!
A simple solution to that obstacle is to first use email to request for a more in-depth meeting, whether it be coffee, lunch or just a phone call. This will allow you to check in with him and figure out his current professional challenges, as well as some of his interests and passions. In other words, what projects is he working on that requires completion? What is he doing in his free time (perhaps on the weekends) when he is not trying to solve those professional challenges? The more you can dig out, the better.
As soon as you are done with that meeting, take the time to record your notes in Contactually. This way, you’ll be able to look the information up when you receive a follow-up reminder for that person. It will make your life much easier.
4. Use Contactually to reach out to your Legends on a regular basis.
The brilliant thing about Contactually is that it will remind you to reach out to these people at intervals that you specified for each bucket. In theory, you should now have everything in place to deliver excellent experiences with every interaction you have with your Legends. We’re reminded to follow up with them automatically and we know enough about them that we can come up with something creative that will certainly be appreciated.
This is where you can develop most of your skills. We can support you a lot with technology but at the end of the day, it really depends on your ability come up with ideas. Don’t worry though – it’s easier than you think! For example, say you know a Legend that is really into flying planes. If you are also somewhat a fan of aviation, this should be a no brainer. If you’re not, a quick Google search will come up with some interesting pieces of content to share.
The following email will give you a better idea of how to properly execute this:
Here is the response I got response I received was the following email:
In case you’re wondering, VPL stands for a “Value Payload” and is a term I coined to describe exactly these kind of interactions. Interactions that carry a payload of value. Pretty powerful stuff.
In a nutshell, all you have to do come up with great ideas that would be interesting, meaningful and valuable to your Legends. This may be challenging in the beginning, but will soon become second nature with a bit of practice. While Contactually will remind you of when to follow up with your Legends, it is absolutely critical that you actually act on it.
If you don’t interact with someone you barely know, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll never refer you to the people in your network.
5. Make every interaction valuable
We’ve asked you to create a bucket of 30 Legends and set the follow-up interval to about 30 days. If you do the math, you’ll realize that all you’ll need to do is send one email per day. By the end of the month, you’ll have sent 30 emails and will have reached out to every one of your Legends. It’s that simple! If you continue for the entire year, you are looking at 260 to 365 interactions, depending on your motivation and ambition levels.
In any case, the key point is you will interact, at a minimum, 260 times more with people in your network that have the ability and willingness to support you with referrals. A simple tactic like this can be the game changer you have been looking for. Click here to start your Contactually trial and try it out.
We know from a ton of first-hand experience: the art of the follow-up can be pretty tough to master. There’s a fine line between an effective follow-up and one that misses the mark and goes unnoticed. Avoiding these five common follow-up mistakes will give your follow-ups the boost they need to be perceived as genuine, personal and considerate while giving you an edge up on your competitors.
5. Writing a Generic Thank You Note
A knowledgeable professional will be able to tell the difference between a well thought out thank you note and a generic letter that gets sent to everyone after a meeting. A thank you note is a great way to differentiate yourself and your company when executed properly. Conversely, when put little effort into such a simple task, it’ll make little difference for your desired end result.
Using generic lines like “Thank you for your time” hardly sets you apart. Your thank you notes are implicit opportunities to show the recipient why he or she should choose to work with your firm. Rather than thanking somebody for their time, thank them for something explicit that happened in your previous interaction. Including a line such as “Here’s a Business Week article that I thought you and your colleagues would enjoy” demonstrates that you’re willing to put in the extra effort to strengthen that relationship. Additionally, using “you” and “your” when talking about the prospect and his or her company and writing the letter by hand makes the thank you note seem substantially more personal.
4. Sending a Thank You Gift
People often think sending an elaborate gift can give them that little boost they need to truly stand out, and it’s generally true that sending a gift will help you and you brand retain mindshare. However, these types of gifts often cost a sizeable amount of money, and may not give you more of a boost than that hand-written thank you note from our previous example. You’ll find that crafting a personalized thank you note will be received just as well if not better than a gift, as it shows that you took the time and energy to reach out in a genuine way – and you can’t put a price on that.
3. Following Up On Time
Some people fear that they’ll be perceived as overly aggressive if they contact a new lead soon after after that initial interaction. They might decide to wait a few days to reach out, but before they know it, a few days turns into a few weeks and they’ve completely forgotten to follow up with their prospect.
Humans are forgetful by nature. In order to avoid such a situation, either follow up immediately after you interact with that new lead, or schedule an action item or calendar reminder so that you don’t run the risk of losing contact.
2. Constantly Emailing or Calling
Conversely, some professionals tend to be overly aggressive and eager to gain new business and as a result, they bombard their prospect with an avalanche of messages, emails and calls. There’s a good chance that your contact has a lot going on —after all, we’re all incredibly busy – and he or she might not be able to respond to you immediately. A phone call or two better demonstrates that you appreciate that they took some of their limited time to speak with you. Several continued pestering phone calls and messages will simply irritate your contact to the point where he or she will most likely not want to work with you in the future.
1. Not Following Up At All
Contrary to forgetting to follow up, some people do not see the benefit in following up and choose not to do so. For anybody whose income and livelihood depends on strong relationships with past and current clients in order to generate business, this is a huge mistake. You need to routinely follow up with the people in your network in order to stay top-of-mind and secure those business opportunities down the line. Of course, it’s always best to make these follow-ups personal, but it’s better to say something – even if it’s generic – rather than saying nothing at all. Showing that your contact is worth your time and effort will have a huge impact the way that others perceive you, as well as on your business.
Is there a particular mistake to which you’ve fallen pray that our readers should avoid? Let us know in the comments. We love learning from you!
How can you start improving your follow-ups now? Sign up for your Contactually trial by clicking here.
Founder’s note: “Dogfooding” my own product is for me an incredibly important component of our product development. While we rely heavily on metrics, customer development, and intense feedback, retaining that gut feeling that we’re building a product of value for all of us is key. I’m going to explain how important maintaining relationships is for a founder, how I do it, and how I use Contactually to manage it all. I hope you’ll learn something, and consider giving Contactually a try, as thousands of other entrepreneurs have.
When running my previous company, staying in touch was crucial to my business. For three years, we never spent a penny on advertising, rather, all our business came through referrals. Current clients, former clients, partners, vendors, etc. – all of whom provided not only a steady (overwhelming, at times) flow of incoming high-value opportunities, they were also my avenue of talent acquisition, business development, and back-office services. It completely makes sense of course; we live in a world where everything is becoming increasingly commoditized, ratings sites can become stale, inaccurate, or corrupted, so our sphere of influence becomes all the more key. We were one of dozens, maybe hundreds, of web development firms in the region, but a recommendation from a past client that we were the best in our game set us apart. At the same time it allowed us to properly score incoming opportunities, based on who they came from. Come to think of it, I never accepted a client that came via anonymous websites (read: my own website). So relationship management was a core aspect of my role as founder.
Fast forward to 2012, where I’ve now transitioned to co-founder and CEO of Contactually, an early stage, venture backed startup. Relationship management now plays not just a core part of my responsibilities, it’s absolutely live-or-die to so many different aspects of the company.
Let’s dive in to how I manage all the relationships for Contactually.
Who do you need to keep in touch with, and how often?
Here is how I’ve set up our relationship management. In Contactually, we allow you to set up “buckets” as a way of grouping individuals, and then allowing you to set up different rules for them.
- Top Users (keep in touch every 15 days) – I ensure that I or another co-founder talks to all of our top users every couple weeks. We ping them about new feature releases, ask for their support, and in general, just touch base to see how Contactually is working for them. They love it. We also sync these contacts to our company CRM.
- Partners (keep in touch every 30) – These relate to some of the deals we have in the pipeline, API providers, business development relationships, resellers, etc. I’m usually in touch with them more often, but I set up Contactually to ensure I don’t fall out of touch with them. We also sync these contacts to our company CRM.
- Sales Leads (keep in touch every 10) - While we’re a self-serve software as a service, I’m in touch with many people who are actively considering Contactually, and I use our own product to follow up with them until the sale is closed.
- Advisors (keep in touch every 30) – Through our network, as well as 500 Startups, we’ve gained an incredibly valuable set of advisors and mentors. Again, I’ll reach out to them as we need something, specifically, but it’s helpful for me to touch base with them, give them a quick status update, and ask them for a particular connection. Some of our advisors are close enough that we can simply ask “how are we doing?” and they’ll give us an all-around review.
- Current Investors (every 15 days) – Given our early stage, we stay especially close to our angel investors, given them incremental status updates, asking for guidance and introductions, and in general, giving them some pride in their investment. It also helps to have a high frequency of communication, as it helps me ensure that we are making enough progress that it’s worth reaching out.
- Potential Investors (every 7 days) – Every entrepreneur in fundraising mode will tell you how important it is to be persistent and continually follow up with investors who are evaluating your company. I provide constant updates on metrics, answer any questions, etc.
- Future Investors (every 30 days) – If you haven’t read Mark Suster’s excellent blog post about investing in lines, not dots, read it now. Read it, and you’ll understand why this bucket exists.
- Potential Hires (every 7 days) - We’re in touch with a number of potential candidates – keeping in touch with them often works both ways, as we’re able to show interest, at the same time ask them any questions we may have.
- Other Entrepreneurs (every 30 days) – We’ve had the chance to meet so many other awesome founders from other companies – both through networking, then also our 500 Startups batch. While we’re always exchanging introductions, support, etc – it’s generally nice to get in touch with each other just to see how things are progressing.
What’s the process?
- Initially it’s all about setting up your different groups of contacts. Deciding how often you want to keep in touch with them is the first step.
- As you’re reaching out to people, categorizing them appropriately. As I’m using Contactually, my way of handling this varies as our product evolves. I may drag and drop contacts through our web interface, play the bucket game to quickly process (and it’s fun too), or use some of our new client plugins to do it as I’m sending an e-mail (stay tuned).
- Set Reminders – If you’re using your own system or calendar to set reminders, set a follow-up calendar appointment for each one of your contacts. If you’re using Contactually, you simply tell Contactually how often you want to stay in touch with each group of contacts, and we handle the rest.
- Process Reminders – This is important. While you may receive notifications that it’s a good idea to get in touch with someone, you have to decide whether or not it’s appropriate at that time. Choose to adjust your parameters, reschedule for another time (our product allows you to “snooze” a contact for a certain number of days), or, worst case, delete them.
- Get in touch – For each of your contacts you want to reach out to, it’s helpful to send them something other than a “hey how’s it going?” e-mail. I use Contactually to review our past conversations, see their recent tweets and Facebook updates, and decide what else to include (subscribe to our newsletter or sign up for Contactually for more advice on this coming up).
- Fall off the wagon, and recover – This is the hardest part of relationship management. Realize you’re going to screw up. You’re going to be too busy, not feel its the right time, procrastinate, etc. That’s totally OK, and to be expected. What we’ve found is that getting back into the groove is much easier than you expect.
What did I leave out? How do you ensure that you stay in touch with all the people that are important to your business?
So here’s the pitch: We built Contactually to help professionals do their job better by making it really easy to manage their relationships, follow up, and stay top of mind. While we’d love for you to use our product, figuring out some method of staying in touch with everyone that matters, both short term and long term, is vital. So not only do we see thousands of users using Contactually, it also is an incredibly useful tool for entrepreneurs. Drop me a line, I’d love to have you on Contactually.