By Larry Sonntag
Lately, the number of calls from my website have fallen off a bit, so I am very happy that my client base is still growing as a result of referrals.
I love getting referrals. The prospective client is frequently pre-sold on my services because the referring client has given me a glowing recommendation, so my “sales” work is usually limited to not un-selling him on the initial phone call.
Referrals are also cost effective in that I didn’t spend any of my hard-earned cash for advertising. I simply invest a few moments of my time to get a new client. I’m sure we would all love to double or triple our number of referrals.
Why don’t we get more referrals? Well, how often do we ask for them? This may seem obvious, but many trainers that I have spoken with never ask at all.
You Must Ask Before You Receive
Many of us hate to ask for referrals. Some excuses that I hear are: sounds like I’m begging, or I just can’t do that, or… well, you get the picture. And often we don’t ask because it seldom seems to work, right? If that is the case, why bother?
I have had the same experience myself until I found a method that does work, not every time, but with greater frequency, and my business increased dramatically. I discovered there are several keys to getting referrals: how to ask, what to learn about my clients, and when to ask.
How To Ask
What I used to ask was if the client knew anyone who could use my services. That gives her the whole world to think about and she just gets this glazed look; when the “whole world” is an option, we often can’t think of anything at all. Not effective. This is sad, because I think that most of our clients would like to help us grow our businesses, because they have seen how effectively we have helped their dogs be more fun to live with.
I discovered that narrowing the frame of focus is more effective. Some of the questions I ask now are: Do any of your friends have a dog that could use better manners? Maybe someone in your family? How about at work, or at the dog park? Perhaps someone has mentioned a problem with his dog? Has a friend commented to you “I wish my dog was as well behaved as your dog”? I don’t ask all these questions every time, just one or two.
I also assume the client knows someone who needs help. For example you might say something like: “I have had many clients who have a friend, relative or neighbor with a dog that is, well, less that a joy to be with, right? Just imagine how much more your friend and her dog will look forward to spending time together after she has developed a relationship with her dog like you have with yours. Then as you look back, after she has worked with me, won’t you feel good about having helped?”
Style is important too. Ask in such a way to imply genuine curiosity, using a caring voice tonality and saying that it is a shame so many dogs go untrained, and maybe you could help to solve this.
What You Need To Know
As you work with a client, you informally gather information that will help you narrow the focus and more effectively ask for referrals. You collect this information in a conversational manner and put the facts and ideas into your memory, to recall when appropriate. Getting to know a client is a normal part of any business process. Some things I want to learn about are what they do for a living, where they work, what any hobbies they enjoy, are they active in any clubs and organizations. This gives me clues about where the clients interact with friends, family and colleagues who may also have dogs.
When To Ask
As soon as you can detect that the client believes his dog is improving, ask. If you wait months after working with a client, it will be more difficult. Here’s an example: During your conversation with your client, make the observation that “I really have noticed Buddy improving his behavior.” When your client agrees, you then, very casually, ask for a referral, using the methods described in this article.
Keep in contact with your clients. I make two or three follow up phone calls with every client during the month after a dog goes home (or very near the end of group classes.) I don’t ask for referrals on every call, but on about half. I also send a hand-written thank you note prior to the first call, and then ask for referrals on the next call.
A Critical Step
I also ask that if you later think of someone that I could help, call me with a name and phone number, rather than just giving the other person my contact information. This will be easier, rather than expecting your friend to take action, just leave the follow up to me. If I have the information, I will call. What are the odds the referred person will be proactive and pick up the phone? This step alone can double your referrals.
I like to explain to the client that you may give my name to someone who really sounds like he will call me, but life gets in the way, and most people just don’t get around to calling. If you give me the information, I guarantee that I will call them and explain how I can improve their dog’s behavior. I will not be pushy and I’ll be brief.
One Last Note
Remember to thank your clients for each referral. This also is a good reason to stay in touch, to report how the referred dog is doing. Your client may even have thought of another referral.
I know that you can build a growing referral base, just as I did. Since I love getting feed back, please email me with your success stories, or any questions you have.
Keep on training.
Larry Sonntag has over 20 years of successful experience training dogs for obedience, hunting and AKC hunt test competitions. Larry is Professional member of IACP, Force free & TMD certified and is a certified practitioner of NLP, Neuro-linguistic programming. Larry coaches and gives seminars for trainers to help them avoid problems & achieve their goals. Larry brought 20 years of sales & sales training experience to his dog training business. He can be reached at Larry@saltydogfarms.com, or 414-530-3139