Secret Ingredient: Adding Referrals to Your Seller-Doer Strategy

aec seller doer referrals strategy 810x650

Referrals should be a crucial component of a firm’s business development strategy, yet few seller-doers know how to utilize referral marketing effectively.

In the Stambaugh Ness webinar, Smarter Selling: Business Development Tools for the Seller-Doer, we introduced 15 “tools” that seller-doers can use to drive new business. When it came to referrals, we queried our attendees about the effectiveness of their firm’s seller-doers. The results of our little survey were telling. Only 22% of participants believe that their firms’ seller-doers have the proper training for generating referrals.

Referral Marketing Defined

At its core, referrals happen when a happy client tells others about how great your firm is. On the product side, this is like when you purchase a new smartphone, love it, and tell other people about it. The result is word-of-mouth marketing at its finest.

And yet, there is a dark side to this, too: bad customer experiences. You’ve probably purchased at least one product that didn’t live up to your expectations. Did you keep your dissatisfaction a secret? No, you told friends and family about your experience.

This same thing happens in the architecture, engineering, and construction space. A happy client may tell others, but an unhappy client is much more likely to share their opinions on a larger scale.

Referrals result from a positive client experience throughout all touchpoints in the relationship – from the early marketing and business development touches to the contract negotiation to the delivery through every phase of the project and even project close-out and maintenance contacts. If the client has a negative experience at any point in the relationship, the potential for referrals – and future work – can be totally derailed.

Because referrals are connected to so many aspects of the client experience, they typically fall under the purview of seller-doers. Marketing and business development staff may plugin during the early stages of a relationship, but the rubber meets the road for successfully delivering a project. Seller-doers are on the front lines of this, serving as principals-in-charge, project executives, project managers, discipline leaders, and more. They are the relationship managers tasked with driving PMCE: Positive Memorable Customer Experience.

How Did We Do?

For companies that formalize referrals as a business development initiative, a tool to capture client feedback is often part of their process. You’re probably familiar with the Net Promoter Score or NPS. How many times have you been asked the question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being highly unlikely and 10 being highly likely, how would you rate your willingness to recommend <<INSERT COMPANY NAME>> to a friend or colleague in need of similar services?”

If the person completing the survey gives a score of 9 or 10, that’s great news: they are your promoters and are most likely to refer you. Those who score a 7 or 8 are passives; that is, they are satisfied but not “enthusiasts” about your service. Those who score you 6 or below are the detractors. Don’t expect repeat business from them, much less a referral.

In this scenario, the strategy may include follow-up with all clients who scored 9 or 10 to discover why they scored you so high. You can also learn if they would be willing to refer you to another potential client, serve as a client reference, and even write or record a testimonial for your firm.

Certainly, your firm doesn’t have to be using NPS to move forward with referrals, but it is an easy way to identify your promoters.

Regardless of whether you have formalized the client feedback loop, the next step is to make the ask. It can be simple and open-ended: “Do you know anyone in a similar role as you who could benefit from the services that DESIGNS-R-US provides?”

Or you could leverage your knowledge of their network (for example, their LinkedIn connections or fellow members of an organization) to get more specific: “Would you be willing to refer DESIGNS-R-US to Susan Jones at COMPANY XYZ?”

For whatever reason, front-line project staff (project managers, project executives, site superintendents) often don’t feel comfortable asking these questions – even though they personally know the client(s) and have been working with them closely for an extended period. It is vital to get them prepared to identify those key clients, determine the request, and then make the ask.

This preparation can be accomplished by training, role-playing, and practice.

Of course, a referral isn’t what it used to be. Surprisingly, many of the referrals received by AEC firms don’t even come from existing clients. In fact, these referrals may come from people they have never even met.

Sound crazy? Perhaps it shouldn’t: consumer buyers (which we all are) are increasingly bringing those behaviors into the business-to-business space. These new behaviors require a call-to-action to rethink our traditional business development and marketing approaches and how to better align with the changing behaviors and demographics of AEC buyers.

Next Steps

Join Stambaugh Ness as we present our new webinar, Instant Credibility: How AE Seller-Doers Can Generate New Business Through Referrals.

Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM