Be realistic about cross referencing

As you build your business, you naturally explore different avenues of networking for new opportunities. One such source is cross referencing.

Cross-references are strategic agreements, either formal or informal, between companies that provide services in similar markets to exchange contact information of their customers with each other in order to market their complementary products or services. For example, web designers can create reference resources from freelance writers, marketing and branding companies, or web developers and other companies that do things that designers don’t do, but offer complementary services to their end customers.

Cross referrals are a great way to use free word of mouth advertising, although referral deals are not always free. There will be some arrangements where a commission can be earned based on a preset percentage or a flat fee referral fee; but many startups are happy to give free referrals in exchange for the same courtesy. While these referral fixes may seem like promotional gold, you can’t always trust other companies to sell it to their customers. More than a passing comment may never be made to the occasional customer. If you rely heavily on referrals from others, you need to make a change in your approach. While paid referral deals may offer more than one incentive, it’s your responsibility to provide your referral sources with the right materials to help them promote your business.

Some ideas include:

Professional-looking brochures and business cards containing your website, contact information, and a review about your services or products. If the situation warrants, you can regularly provide referral sources with discount offers and coupons that they can pass on to their own customers that are exclusive to referring customers or customers.

Promotional items like pens and magnets that can be passed on to others.

Say thanks

When the referrals start rolling in, make sure your cross-reference business partners know how much you appreciate them. Complimentary thank you notes are crucial after referrals bring you business. Keep a stack of personalized thank you cards to mail out after a referral comes in handy. You might consider a small gift basket with cookies or snacks to say thank you from time to time. A nice work lunch can also help reinforce your gratitude for referral assistance.

Referrals are not for everyone

Don’t expect everyone to be open to participating in free referrals. You can quickly become a nuisance to others if you constantly ask for help doing business. You need to have a strong marketing system in place so you’re not relying solely on referrals for new business, making any referral that comes in the icing on the cake. It’s good practice to contact your cross-reference sources to keep them up to date on what’s new in your business.

Remember: It’s a two-way street, and you should work just as hard to refer your cross-reference business partners as you expect them to in return. The more often you make referrals, the more likely they are to return the favor.

Don’t forget your customers

One of your biggest resources for referrals may not be from other companies. In fact, it is the praise from your customers that will ensure consistent word of mouth advertising for you. This is one of the reasons why excellent customer service is vital to the success of your referral. Customers who have always had a good experience with your company will be more than willing to spread the word to others who need your product or service. While there is no obligation to reward these acts, you may provide something in exchange for your advertising on your behalf. The better you take care of the customers you already have, the more likely you are to expand your customer base. For those customers who are particularly good to you, a token of appreciation like a gift of cookies or candy is sometimes more helpful than a discount on a service or a referral fee, and humanizes your relationship beyond business.

Referrals can be a great source of business for you, especially when you’re just starting out. You can’t expect everyone to cooperate, but you certainly can’t be shy about addressing the situation. Be direct but flexible, and always offer to return the favor.

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