Make It Business Magazine | Inspiring Small Business & Entreprenuers To Think Big

Planting referral seeds early in the sales process leads to eight times more referrals


There are a lot of ways to spend money in marketing to generate new leads. However, one of the most cost-effective ways to grow your business without spending money is by turning your customers into your biggest fans and strongest salespeople. Sounds good on paper, but how do you do it in real life? When and how do you bring up the whole conversation of referrals?

The time is now!

There is no time like the present to bring up the conversation about how you grow your business with your clients (or potential clients). The first meeting is not too soon in the relationship to let people know how you work. If you build your business through referrals, there is often no reason why you cannot advise people of this fact, immediately.

The reticular activated system (RAS)

We each have a system in our brain called the reticular activated system. This system allows us to filter out all of the various noises and distractions in our lives that are not material to us, so that we focus on those areas that are of consequence.

For example, a new mom sleeping in a 14th floor apartment above a noisy street might doze on, oblivious to the noise below. Yet when her baby stirs two rooms over, she is up like a flash and at her child’s side. The reticular activated system is the brain’s mechanism to allow for this phenomenon.
Have you ever noticed that, after you buy a red car, all of a sudden there are more red cars on the streets? Or if you, your spouse or a relative or close friend is expecting a baby, there just seem to be more expectant moms around? They were there all the time. It is just that the same system, which blocked them out before, now lets them in.

Try it out for yourself.

Please make a mental note: how many yellow cars have you seen in the last 24 hours? Now, for the next 24 hours, simply count the number of yellow cars you see. By the way, cabs do count in this exercise.

If you try this yellow car exercise, you will most likely find an increase in the number you see.
We often get responses like:

• Before: none that I can recall.

• After: five (or eight, or 14, or even 34!).

Test it out for yourself, and you be the judge.

Letting this brain function work for you

In business, many people believe that the time to bring up referrals is after a product or service has been delivered and the customer is happy with the outcome. Unfortunately, the RAS will not have a chance to work for you if this is the case. The scenario often goes as follows.

You review all of the good work you have done, and your customer agrees that you truly did a marvelous job. You ask who else she knows who might benefit from your services, and while she cannot think of anyone at this time, she will surely keep you in mind.

You leave feeling great. All those referrals will just be rolling in the doors! However, your assignment with your customer is complete and you don’t see her again for a while. You follow up with a phone call, and she lets you know that she has been talking about you to some of her friends … haven’t you been getting all of those calls?

You quietly withdraw, rather than becoming an annoyance to this “good customer.”

An alternative approach

What would happen if you let a potential client or customer know, right up front, that your business grows by word of mouth? Recent statistics by Inc. Magazine indicated that, in the United States, people gained eight times as many referrals during an engagement as after it. This makes sense to me. Your client sees you and can pass along a name of an interested additional potential customer while you are working together. However, after you are done (when most people ask for referrals), you often have little if any contact. As a result, opportunities are missed.

It is like planting a seed. During your relationship with your clients, you may then water these seeds and watch them grow.

Here is an example of a discussion that one of our clients has with a potential clients on the first visit.

“It is our goal to make you so thrilled with our services that you want to talk to all your friends about our work together and the great job we are doing. Our business grows by word of mouth, so I just wanted to let you know that we are going to work hard to make sure you are thrilled.”

Another client, a chiropractor, posted the following sign in his reception, for all to see.

The greatest acknowledgement you can make to us is to entrust us with the care of your friends and colleagues.

Marketing can cost lots of money. Having thrilled clients and customers who talk about you is quite cost-effective.

By planting seeds in this manner, you will increase your effectiveness in gaining and keeping more customers at a profit as you build your business consistent with your goals and commitments in life.

Michael Walsh, founder and president of Kaizen Consulting, a Vancouver-based company with offices in Canada and the USA, has been helping small business owners achieve business growth since 1995. In that time, Michael has helped more than 200 business owners reach their personal goals by doubling, tripling and quadrupling their revenues. Kaizen Consulting can be reached at or Though blessed with the same name, our extensive genealogical research has found that Michael is not related to Fiona Walsh.

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