Most of your consulting firm’s business comes from referrals. Sure, inbound leads inspired by your marketing are great; however, leads who have been introduced to your firm by an independent source turn into paying clients faster and more often.
Are you getting as many referrals as you could?
Not by a long shot.
Before diving into how you can increase the number of referrals your consulting firm receives, make sure you’ve read part 1 of this 3-part series: What Your Consulting Firm Really Wants From a Referral.
All referrals and introductions are good. But what you really want are Champions, Enthusiasts, and Broadcasters. People who will, unsolicited, recommend your consulting firm.
Let’s say Priscilla Prospecto meets four peers at a conference:
- Una Weir has never heard of your consulting firm.
- George Curious recently learned about your firm and has been exploring your offerings.
- Vera Loil is a longtime client who views your consulting firm as a solid, reliable service provider.
- Dee Seipul hired your consulting firm a number of years ago and, while she did not engage you again, your work for her unlocked huge, personal transformations.
Who is most likely to introduce your consulting firm to Priscilla: the current client (Vera), the past client (Dee) or a non-client (Una or George)?
You’d think your clients, for whom your consulting firm has delivered excellent results, would naturally be proactive referrers. Especially if you strive for “customer delight” and high Net Promoter Scores.
But they’re not.
Here’s a painful twist of irony: as you work with a client, the likelihood the client will proactively introduce or refer your consulting firm to other prospects often decreases.
In fact, the biggest drop in likelihood of a spontaneous introduction may occur before or soon after a client engages your consulting firm.
That feels totally unfair, doesn’t it?
What’s going on, and what can you do about it?
The Referral Catalyst: Emotion
Someone is most likely to spontaneously introduce your consulting firm to others when they associate your firm with a strong positive feeling. Feelings not results, drive spontaneous referrals.
Feelings of achievement, victory, and relief may be the most likely to trigger referrals, but so will joy, safety, pride and other positive emotions
Then why aren’t your clients—the folks who have gained the greatest value from your consulting firm, the most likely to recommend you?
For one thing, most “customer delight” is actually just customer satisfaction, and satisfaction is not a strong emotion. Also, Net Promoter Score is based on a rational assessment, not an emotional one.
Most importantly, though, the feeling of achievement, victory or relief isn’t based on actual value received. In fact, that emotion can run highest before someone even contracts your consulting firm.
Anticipatory achievement is just as exciting and referral-provoking as actual achievement.
If George Curious is totally enchanted by your marketing material, he’s experiencing an anticipatory sense of victory, achievement and/or relief.
Based on that, he’s likely to mention your consulting firm to many others with a caveat, “I’ve never worked with them, but they look really interesting.”
And since George hasn’t experienced any of the little disappointments and setbacks that accompany virtually every consulting engagement, his emotional experience of your firm may be quite powerful.
In contrast, Vera Loil’s emotional experience of your consulting firm may be muted thanks to her numerous, unmemorable interactions with you.
Vera receives solid consulting work from you, but without any endorphin rushes provoked by you, she’s unlikely to proactively recommend your consulting firm.
Dee Seipul would be your best referral source if, and only if, the personal transformation you wrought remained top-of-mind.
Connect your marketing materials with prospect’s emotional gains. Depict the victory they’ll achieve and the relief they’ll feel when working with your consulting firm.
Dig and Listen
Invest time and energy into understanding your consulting prospects and clients at a deeper level. What truly motivates them? What sparks extraordinary passion from them? With that knowledge, you can deliver value to their hearts as well as their wallets.
Find and Defuse Bombs
Investigate your clients’ stressors. The more anxiety, discomfort, danger, and fear they feel, the more palpable the relief they’ll associate with your consulting firm.
Retool your client experience to deliver and emphasize emotional wins. For instance, ask, “How has this made a difference to you?” during your project retrospectives
Leverage Key Moments
Ask current clients for introductions when their positive emotions are running high. For instance, immediately after they sign with you. Also, cement emotional victories by explicitly congratulating your clients and by celebrating their triumphs with them.
What, if any, steps do you take to generate strong, positive emotions in your marketing and consulting work?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.