Now, this company was creating friggin’ breakthrough results for the coaches who participate in their program, with students and grads giving nearly universally positive feedback of their programs; yet those same happy customers weren’t referring others to the program. Like, pretty much not at all.
Each time they prepared to launch the next program, they’d email past grads and ask them to help spread the word about the upcoming offering.
The first three fourths of their email went something like…
“Our next program is coming up! You can help us transform the world by introducing your friends and family to our work! When you help your friends become coaches who can create lasting change for their clients, you help change the world…one coach at a time.”
It was more eloquent and evocative than that, but it was essentially a mission-centered request, one that, if you’re on board with their mission and you’ve gotten the results they promise, you’d probably be delighted to heed.
Then, almost as a P.S., they also mention they’ll grease your palm with a $500 referral commish, for anyone you refer.
Mystified at why their first request garnered negligible results, they sent another, and another request. With each failed email, they got more desperate, letting the mission-focussed message take a backseat, and putting the emphasis on the referral money, thinking perhaps their grads needed to be hit over the head with the carrot, instead of merely having it dangled in front of them.
Their results plummeted further until at last their once-loyal list of grads began unsubscribing from their list altogether. Ouch.
What went wrong?
These results aren’t anomalous; they’re typical. I work with a lot of game-changing businesses who sell training and education aimed at causing a particular result in their customers’ lives, in their businesses, relationships, wellness, and other specialized niches (even worked with a knitting guru once). I’m constantly amazed at how few referrals even the happiest of their customers send their way.
Many of these business’s customers are having their lives changed: their fat melt away, their minds blown, dramatic improvements in their knitting skills. Yet when the time comes for the business to ask their past customers to spread the word, they hear crickets.
Ever experienced this? Did it make you scratch your head in amazement, like: “These people friggin’ LOVE my stuff, they rave about how much they’ve gotten out of it, and yet they won’t even take a cash reward to share it with their friends? Am I taking crazy pills?”
It’s ironic, but, yes, they did love your stuff, and, no, they’re not going tell anyone about it, and, no, (most of you) are not taking crazy pills.
There are, however, three essential things you may be doing wrong:
1. Mission Trumps Money
If you’re a mission-driven business (like, you’re trying to create some change in people’s lives, businesses, bodies, relationships, etc.) and affect change on the planet, then, in most cases, offering monetary incentive muddies the primary psychological driver on which you should be relying: your mission.
It comes down to the way humans are wired. The desire for financial gain and the desire to help our friends with a great recommendation are utterly distinct. If your aim is to motivate your customers to spread the good word about your business so that their friends and neighbors can enjoy the same benefit while simultaneously making the world a better place by spreading your business’s mission, then put away your money and pound that drum.
Muddying the motivation by offering referral commissions confuses your customers on a subconscious level, while diluting the potency of both the mission and the monetary motivation.
Ultimately, when you do this, your confused customer moves on to the next thing in their day, without being moved to share for you, because they lack the laser sharp clarity they need about why they’re referring.
They’re not sure: are they in it to make a quick buck, or are they helping change the world by enlightening another’s soul? The two motivators cannot simultaneously occupy the same space (their cabeza) at the same time. Not possible.
2. Sow, nurture, then (and only then) harvest
If you haven’t built opportunities for your customers, students, members, clients, whatever, to share the benefits they’re getting from your product throughout (and directly after) the process of consumption, then your request for referrals will likely fall flat. This is because, without gaining experience talking about the benefits they’re getting from your product as they’re consuming the product, they’ll lack the precious fluency they need to comfortably share about your product. Then, when you hit them up later to essentially sell it for you, it feels weird, awkward and pressurized.
Plus, they’ll lack the background of context they need in order to share authentically and effectively.
You wouldn’t try to harvest fruit from a tree you failed to plant, forgot to fertilize, and never watered, right? Why would you expect to reap referrals from customers who haven’t been carefully primed and prepared to refer?
3. “Systemless in Seattle”
If every time you start promoting for the next program, you merely cross your fingers, and start from scratch, pummeling your past customers with a barrage of pleading emails, then you’re laying a solid foundation for failure.
You’re just taking a series of spasmodic actions again, that haven’t worked in the past, and hoping for a different result. That’s insanity, friend. More importantly, it’s not systematic.
If you want to apply your most strategic, creative self to this (and any) problem, then I recommend you stop attacking that same problem over and over again like killing snakes with a stick. Instead, create a system that allows you to solve it once, and solve it with genius.
Then, once you’ve designed and mapped out the system for how you’ll plant your seeds of sharing, you’ll want to automate that system.
Let’s dig in a bit deeper:
1. Sow Seeds:
Take a step back and look at your offering. At each point in the fulfillment of your product or service, look for the times when people get the big ol’ badonka benefits. At every one of those moments, look for a way to build sharing about that benefit, into the customer’s very experience of using the product or service.
Let’s say your product is a training program about how to lose weight and cultivate positive self esteem, for instance. In this case, you might have each lesson include a prompt to share with three of your closest friends or family members:
- How you felt when you achieved each weight loss milestone, big and small, as you achieve it…
- One breakthrough you had in positive self-talk, say, sharing what words you used to use mentally badmouth yourself, and what new thoughts you’ve replaced those hurtful ones with as you’ve cultivated your newfound self-compassion.
Keep the Prompts to Share Non-Salesy:
That your customers are participating in this cool training program will be a natural element to the conversation; however, the intent isn’t to sell anything, but to share the victories they’re having. Unless the other person is a kitten-hating narcissist, they’ll naturally be curious about how that change is happening and in all likelihood, be curious about learning more about the program.
It is these kinds of seeds that need to be planted throughout the process of the course. Then, when finally, the time is right to ask for referrals, your customers’ communities will be rife with candidates, ripe for the harvest.
2. Use Incentives that Make the Referrer Look and Feel Good (NOT Money)
If you’re going to experiment with incentivising for referrals (which I say is optional for this mission-driven model), then remember that you can’t buy people’s goodwill here. Doesn’t work all that well.
What works better is giving the referrer the opportunity to help their friend out with a discount for their tuition in the course. Now, the referrer gets the opportunity to look good in the eyes of their loved one by providing special access to an exclusive “friends and family” discount. This can be handled by generating a unique coupon code and merging it into the emails to your past customers to give to their referrals. ONTRAPORT works beautifully for this.
Note: Excluded from the above rule are most info products that are about how to make money, where giving referrers affiliate commissions are the coin of the trade and nobody cares about your stinkin’ mission, anyway.
3. Extra Ninja Nugget: Only Ask Your Happy Customers for Referrals
You may have the best product on earth, but some of your customers still aren’t going to love it. That’s life. Tip: you don’t want to ask the “haters” to refer. It’s a recipe for hate mail. Thusly, you’ll want an automated system that allows you to get feedback from all your customers, but then only asks those who were happy with their experience for referrals. On the other hand, those who gave negative feedback, giving them the opportunity to vent is critical, because…
1. You get to learn from their experience and improve, and…
2. They’re less likely to take to the streets with their message of malice (#blastyourassonsocialmedia). This ninja system is also easily automated, if you have the system mapped out (which you can grab at the end of this post) and the right tool.
4. Give Specific, Measurable Calls to Action:
“Please help spread the word” is all kinds of lame. It’s vague and squishy. People have no way to know, for certain, how they should go about spreading the word, nor any way to know, objectively if they’ve fulfilled the request. Instead, try this:
This Strategy is Tried and True
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Landmark Education is masterful at this. With nary a single penny spent on paid advertising to date, some 2.2 million people have participated in the Landmark Forum in 19 countries. Quite simply, all 2.2 million of their customers have been referrals from grads of the program. Just take a moment to let that wash over you.
I did the Landmark Forum back in 2000. One of the key things I noticed about the program was that the act of sharing was so completely integrated and so utterly critical to the process, that without doing the assigned share exercises, I wouldn’t really get the full benefit of the program. Throughout the process of the program, as part of our homework, we were asked to take time to reach out to those we cared most for in our lives.
During these assigned opportunities for sharing, I called loved ones and vulnerably acknowledged and took responsibility for where I’d been a less-than-the-awesome-brother, son, friend, (fill in the blank); then, I created new possibilities for those relationships, inspiring my loved ones to experience me in this new light, and ultimately to participate in a whole new experience of the relationship. Powerful stuff.
Now, during these conversations, I was not asking for my loved ones to sign up for the Landmark Forum; I was prompted to share, in specific (and what often turned out to be quite moving) ways, what I was getting out of the program. It was pretty friggin’ awesome.
Then, when it came time, at the end of the program, to invite my friends and family to participate in the Forum, it was a helluva lot easier, because I had been practicing sharing about what I’d been getting out of the program all along.
Now my friends and family needed much less introduction. After all, they’d been experiencing the positive effects the program had been having on me, throughout.
It is, in my opinion, quite simply, one of the most brilliant, effective, and authentic referral strategies employed by any business, anywhere.
Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater
Disclaimer: To be fair, Landmark Education (out of their iron-clad knowing of what a dramatic difference their work makes in the lives of those who participate in it) also employs what many annoyedly refer to as “high pressure sales” tactics. I am not suggesting you do that. I submit that Landmark Education’s referral strategy would still work very well, even without the high pressure sales (not as well, but very well, still).
How to Deploy this Referral Strategy in Your Business:
Practically speaking, this means you need to be lacing specific, actionable, and non-salesy prompts to share via authentic conversations, throughout the fulfillment of, and immediate follow up after your product or service. The sharing element should be required to be most effective.
The Invisible Referral Machine
I call this system the Invisible Referral Machine because it’s so thoroughly integrated into the delivery of your product, that it’s invisible to your customers.
- A detailed process map of all the steps you’ll need to pull off the strategy, including my Automatic Feedback and Testimonial Generator system!
- The exact questions I use to get the best feedback for my clients’ businesses.
- The exact email copy I use to quell my clients’ unhappy customers’ tempers so they don’t leave negative reviews all over the web.
- The exact email copy you can use to make the referral request of your customers.
I’ve developed this copy over years of working with the top online businesses to maximize their referral results!