I recall a conversation with a client who owns a bookkeeping service company. While their client base is consistent in terms of size (small businesses, of course), they are still fairly diverse in the kinds of individuals and businesses they serve.
That said, the owner was describing one client whom she indicated had all the traits of the “ideal” customer:
- Working in an industry that was high growth and high margin
- Focused on doing what they do best, and not concerned with micromanagement
- Consistent and reliable; respectful and not taking the bookkeeper’s time for granted
- Pays bills on time and truly understands the value of the service her people provides for him
She concluded the description with the statement: “I need more clients like that guy!”
I pondered that statement for a moment, and put the question to her: “Well, if you would like more clients like him, who do you think might help you find them?”
The answer was obvious…of course her “ideal client” was the best choice. After all, the expression “birds of a feather flock together” didn’t come out of nowhere. People tend to associate and form connections with others of similar attitudes, values and behaviors.
That said, what about you? Think about your best clients—the ones like whom you wish you had more. Have you actually sat down with these preferred clients and told them that? How do you think they might respond?
Instead of taking the typical, “Who else do you know that I should be speaking to…?” route (which typically generates the response, “Can’t think of anyone right now but I will keep that in mind…”) I suggest a slightly different approach to generating high-quality introductions from these centers of influence:
Don’t ask them who you should be talking to. Instead, ask them about their life, their business, and the people with whom they interact and associate as they go about their daily and weekly routines.
Examples of this kind of engagement include (but are certainly not limited to):
- What kind of exciting projects, either business or personal, might they be engaged in? Does this involve other business colleagues, friends or family? In what way?
- Ask about business groups or associations to which they belong. Are they specific to industry or location? That itself could provide the basis for introductions.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Engage in conversations that encourage your clients to share the stories of their lives. Stories involve people, situations, problems and solutions. When you invest your energy into learning more about the lives of your top clients, you are learning about their needs, and the other people they intereact with.
Bear in mind that this is not a fishing exercise. We are not engaging in conversation just to elicit the names of people your client may know.
Rather, your first priority is to absorb and learn—and reflect that understanding back. At the same time, each time a new character in your client’s life is mentioned or introduced into a story, make a note of those details for follow up later.
In most cases, through sincere conversation, the topic can naturally shift from your client and what is happening in his life and business, to you, and the challenges and opportunities you face in yours.
Don’t EVER engage your clients in person or on the phone without reminding them of the importance that their referrals and introductions play in your business, and in your capacity to continue being there for them. Further, when the time is right, that reminder leads into a simple question:
“You know Bob, it’s good to hear about the work you’ve been doing serving on the community shelter board. Last week I remember you mentioning one of the other board members, Susan, who is going to be serving with you on that committee project. Given her profession and line of work, she sounds like someone I might like to connect with. Would you mind introducing us?”
What do you think will be your client’s response? In most cases, an enthusiastic “Yes!” of course. But remember, this is not a referral (where you make the call to the prospect per your client’s recommendation). This is an introduction—where your client contacts the prospect for you (sometime over the phone but in recent years email has been very effective also).
Lastly, when the introduction and new connection is made, express your appreciation with a thank you card. If it leads to new business, send your client another thank you with a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Show that you take their business—and their trust—very seriously.
Make this activity a habit with all of your centers of influence—and prepare to watch your introductions grow.