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Careers Insight: What’s your referral scheme?

Referrals are a highly effective business development strategy because they help to build trust

It’s often said by mortgage brokers that the best source of new business is referrals from happy clients. Certainly there are few better leads than ones that have been sent your way with a strong referral.

Among the various elements of running a client portfolio, however, it can be a challenge to get your satisfied customers to actively promote you to their social and professional networks.

Some brokers practise ‘training’ their clients to do it, reminding them constantly in various communications, but there is a fine line between proactive lead generation and appearing desperate.

In recruitment, too, this fear of being diminished in your clients’ eyes creates levels of circumspection when it comes to asking them for ‘help’.

When you are confident you have delivered excellent service to your clients, you are in a good position to ask them for names of people they know who could benefit from your expertise.

For a broker, surely, the best time to ask for a referral is before the mortgage is completed, while still actively involved with the client and holding their full trust and attention. Likewise in recruitment, having done a good job of moving someone’s career forward, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable to ask their views on ex-colleagues or their network in general.

Asking for referrals is one of the most efficient and effective business development activities, and is helpful in targeting headhunting activity.

Headhunting someone for the first time following an introduction from a connection of theirs bypasses the initial barrier of ‘It’s just another recruitment call’; the validity of the research provides assurance that you are both credible and worthy of a time investment.

Perfect fit

Nothing beats those times when you’re describing a vacancy — including the exp­erience and personality required to succeed in it — and the person you’re talking to knows of someone who would fit that role exactly.

Of course, LinkedIn can give you an outline of someone’s experience but it doesn’t tell you much about their personality, work ethic or ability to make things happen.Furthermore, referrals often enable you to glean invaluable additional context, such as where the person lives, their family situation and, possibly, how they feel about their current boss and employer.

If people know from their own experience of being headhunted by you that you don’t just send their CV speculatively but work to find out how both sides fit each other, they are far more inclined to make a recommendation.

Some prefer, in fact, to not regard it as a recommendation, caveating the introduction with phrases such as ‘They could certainly succeed in that type of job but I’m unsure if they’re looking for a move,” or “I’d prefer to call them first to see if they mind passing on their name.”

This is understandable and it’s a question of which way works best to get the conversation started, whether it be about a role that you are currently recruiting for or to help you determine what the person’s ideal move would look like.

Paying dividends

I find most referrers are motivated to help because I’ve already helped them, and they are not seeking a reward for themselves. This is a dividend from your network that is rewarding the investment you gave them when working with them.

Referrals are such an effective business development strategy because they make it easier to build trust, which is critical in opening dialogue with someone who may not have thought about a career move and may not even have an up-to-date CV.

You’re given a measure of ‘reflected trust’ when you are referred, in the same way that, when we hear about a company via a friend, we are more likely to trust it compared to other forms of advertising. We trust our close connections to ‘do the right thing’.

Peter Gwilliam is owner of Virtus Search

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