IT business owners often follow a few regular paths. They may have been in-house IT staff who decided to strike out on their own for more freedom, decided to dip their toes into the entrepreneurial waters after a layoff, or simply started moonlighting as a service provider. Whatever the reason, they decide to take the plunge and start selling IT services, likely break/fix to start and then more recurring managed services as they grow.
While the paths may diverge, one commonality in the early days is how they pick up their clients—word-of-mouth. This pattern’s common among most people who strike out on their own to offer some form of consulting work. And to be honest, word-of-mouth business like this can be the best—it’s easier to close the sale because you have a recommendation and, if you like the original client, there’s a good chance they’ll be a delight to work with as well.
Eventually you’ll want to branch out and market yourself to cold prospects. Some companies do make a full living only on their reputation, but it’s [ital]extremely[/ital] important to diversify how you get customers (plus, active marketing does give you a bit more influence). Still, you shouldn’t neglect word-of-mouth marketing. Today, we want to talk about how to increase the odds of winning referrals.
Here’s the deal. When it comes to gaining referrals, a lot of it comes down to the quality of the service you offer. It’s not the only thing you have control over, but let’s start there.
First, the term “offering great service” can be a bit vague. It’s worth sitting down and defining “great service” both within your team and among your customers. Try to get specific. For starters, here are a few ideas:
- Meet and exceed your SLAs: This is table stakes. It goes without mentioning you’ll need to hit your targets for customers. But try to see any way you can to exceed them. Before signing any contracts, think carefully about what you think you can reasonably deliver. This way you can underpromise and overdeliver.
- Consider soft skills: A lot of this business can be transactional. But it’s the soft skills that cause people to return. When hiring employees, consider not just technical ability, but their ability to remain cool (and pleasant) under pressure. Look for those who have a sense of urgency about their jobs. And if necessary, make sure to train employees on interpersonal communications skills; nearly everyone can use them, and they’re particularly useful if your employees ever want to grow into leadership roles.
- Ask your customers: Of course, what you think would be good service may not be what they experience. You can always simply ask your customers. If they’ve recently switched from a previous provider, try to ask them why they switched to see what the pitfalls were. Also, you can ask how they perceive your current service, both in terms of what you do well and what could be improved. You can ask directly or send out a survey. Also, it can help to ask a very specific, outcome-based question such as, “What would it take for you to be so happy with our service that you recommend us to your colleagues?” Regardless, after asking customers, you may find yourself surprised by some of the answers and, ultimately, end up delivering on unwritten expectations you didn’t even know where there.
Make it easy
Of course, service is only one part of it. It may seem simple, but it also helps to make it easier for customers to recommend you. In the same way you have to learn to ask for the sale, you should also consider developing the habit of “asking” for the referral—although, you do want to avoid being too overt or pushy.
One way could be to add a footer to the bottom of email communications that either asks for recommendations or at least brands your company. For example, you might try something like, “Know someone who can use our services? We’re currently accepting new clients.” The footer can link to a page on your site promoting your services and asking to set up a free consultation call. The point is you want to remind customers that referrals are welcome.
Another tactic to try involves offering incentives for referrals. For instance, you might offer a one-month discount on services or offer a finder’s fee if someone they refer signs a contract with your business. You could try to bring this up at quarterly meetings or, if you feel comfortable, over email during certain times of the year. However, make sure not to do this too often—it can backfire if you’re too pushy. But don’t be afraid to give it a try either. You might be surprised how often people are willing to recommend you, but simply don’t think of it when the subject comes up in conversations with colleagues.
People enjoy referring business
Word-of-mouth referrals shouldn’t be the sum total of your marketing and sales efforts, but they should enter into the mix. The truth is that most people love to be experts and have insider knowledge. It’s human nature. This works in your favor—if you do good work, people will be glad to say they “know someone good” and recommend you to your colleagues. So keep doing good work for your clients, and don’t forget to make it easy to recommend you; it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Winning referrals isn’t the only way to maximize your profits. When it comes to your business, improving efficiency can help you keep more of what you earn. SolarWinds® RMM is designed with efficiency in mind, and even includes a drag-and-drop automation editor to allow you to create scripts to boost efficiency without having to write a single line of code. Learn more about SolarWinds RMM.