Focusing on prospects in a down economy – or any economy for that matter – is far down my list of suggested marketing priorities. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rank it a 15. Business development activities should be focused on existing clients and referral sources 99.9% of the time in my opinion. There are a few exceptions, but not many.

An aside: I had a partner one time, when I was in-house, who told me – no ordered me – to focus on bringing in new clients, and “stop wasting our time on existing clients we already have.” Putting a high priority on retaining existing clients, and trying to get more work or referrals from said clients was not on his radar screen. He was a bit long in the tooth, so his radar was WWII vintage, and we can pardon him for his lack of marketing sophistication.

Today, there is no such excuse. This past Wednesday, I had the privilege of listening to a free webinar hosted by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing blog fame. His panelists consisted of three highly respected experts in the field of referral marketing – Ivan Misner, Bill Cates and Bob Burg. I thought I pretty much understood the value of referrals. Now, the word “clueless” comes to mind. To say the least, I learned a few things (and I expect I can learn a whole lot more) listening to these guys.

Here are a few of their pointers:

  • Key elements for a referral foundation: Visibility, Credibility, Profitability (includes reciprocal referrals);
  • Being referable – i.e., potential referrers know you (and what you really do), like you and trust you;
  • Common mistakes – not prepared, no system, no script, not collaborative and don’t ask for referrals;
  • Focus on giving vs. getting – add value by sending referrals first;
  • Develop trust – it is “the ultimate root and source of referrals;”
  • Over 71% of new business comes from referrals;
  • Women give two to three times more referrals than men;
  • Sources of referrals: clients, personal networks and strategic partners; and
  • “Referrals are King” in current economic climate – “More important than ever.”

That’s just part of what was covered in the webinar. You may want to buy one or all of their books to learn more. I intend to.

Thanks, John.

  • Although I think referred business has a terrific value, I disagree about the 99.9 percent. The lifeblood of any business is new business and it is very possible to get it by, say, educational seminars, and/or Internet marketing, neither of which have much to do with referrals (although all these strategies work beautifully together). Referrals are great, but if you depend on them totally, you put your destiny in the hands of others. My .02, as they say.
    Tom’s response: Mark, your comments are always worth much more than 2 cents, I assure you….say a nickel or dime???? Just kidding. You are right of course, that seminars are a good way to generate business, and that “new business” is the lifeblood of any business. But, the gurus mentioned say that 71.6% comes from referrals, and I documented when I was an in-house marketer that 80% of new business in two of my firms came from clients (in the form of new work or referrals) and other lawyers.
    Okay, so maybe my suggesting that 99.9% of the time should be spent on referrals was a bit of hyperbole. How about 83.8745%? Heaven knows that firms spend too little time focused on clients and referral sources as it is.