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Posted: November 17, 2004

Professional Caregiving

Effective Referral Strategies --
The Simple (But Effective) Math of Contact Management

How many of you are in a business you love and want to stay in that business?

Business viability is the key word here and most of us, if not all of us, are selling something. It may be a service, a product, a housing option, or a caregiving experience. One thing that I have learned as I work at expanding my coaching, counseling and training business, is that if I don't stay on top of a strict marketing strategy, I eventually lose track of potential business that might have come my way had I followed up on a discussion, a chance meeting and a referral.

In the end, it all comes down to effective contact management, a concept that requires effort, focus and creativity.

We all should know that good intentions are not enough to make a business grow. Good intentions with a clear strategy to stay in front and available to our colleagues who can become clients or client referrers is the name of the game. So, what does one do to keep on top of the multitude of conversations and meetings we have over the course of the year?

Allow me to burst a bubble. We cannot expect our service to pop magically into the head of a potential consumer when we are needed, especially if we wait patiently for them to remember us. What does happen is the following -- and think this through with me:

Let's say you desperately need a widget. A certain type of widget. The options that pop into your head come from "somewhere." They come from contacts you have had that related to widgets, maybe a giant store that sells things LIKE widgets, or a neighbor who was telling you about his widget, or a business card you saw for widget repairs. Each of these cues came about because you had contact with this subject on one or more occasions.

Marketing gurus tell us that you have to be in front of a prospective buyer at least seven times before your service will pop into their head when the need arises. So staying in front of our potential referrals (or better, our best referral sources) is key to keeping our product fresh in the potential customer's mind.

Creating an annual 12-point strategy with each contact might include, a note, a call, a newsletter, a referral, a holiday gift, a visit, an invitation for lunch and a meeting about something you have in common with this contact. This is a great place to get creative!

We get a bigger bang for the buck if we do this with entities that can be ongoing referral sources because they, if they are successful and grow their own business, will continue to seek resources like yours for their clients.

But staying in front of them is not enough. We need a systematic strategy that ensures that each contact we have with them leads to another ?touch.? Is it a phone call and subsequent fax with the information you promised to get them? Or a thank you note with an article that you published on a subject you discussed during lunch? How about referring your clients to them, which establishes a reciprocal relationship?

What do you think about a system that guarantees a return? One well known marketing specialist uses a "100% refund strategy." With every customer he serves, he gives them four business cards. If he receives four referrals from them, he returns their payment for his service in full. That is a 25% return on their investment with you when they send a referral that turns into a client to you!

I gulped the first time I heard it too. But think for a minute. This expands your referral network and motivates your client to find other referrals for you. A 25% refund per referral is a benefit you pass on to the next layer of referrals. This is a strategy that salespeople use and could be useful in our industry as well, This is an enticement to use our service more because of our client's motivation to find referrals and educe their payment to you while at the same time referring you clients they feel you can help. And you gain more revenue. Everyone wins.

How about finding two interested parties who have complimentary businesses but are not in competition with one another? You plan a workshop that is of interest to all of your combined clients, and each of you invites 25 to this workshop. What you have done, in addition to offering a quality workshop, is expand contact with 50 new prospective clients that you had previously not reached, all as a result of the partners' invitations.

The ideas can go on and on, some of them more sales related, others more marketing driven. But either way, we are reinforcing our customer base with repeat service contacts, sending them free information, offering to link them with other services, as well as growing our own referral base. Partnerships in this endeavor can bring greater impact to our and our partner's businesses and as a result, the future viability of a business we love is strengthened.

_____

Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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