How to Get Consulting Referrals Part 2

In my last post we explored the power or referrals for consultants. Let’s dig deeper in this post…

The best way to get referrals is to be extremely specific about the kinds of referrals you want.

In my 2nd or 3rd year as a consultant, after returning from consulting with companies in Asia, I went around meeting with different business owners and successful entrepreneurs. I was hungry for information and asked family and friends of anyone I could meet with that they knew who might be interested in my services.

This led to several introductions and meetings. At some point during each meeting the business person I met with would say, “so what can I do to help you? What kinds of clients are you looking for?” I replied by saying that “I’ve worked with companies in all different industries, from technology, financial services, pharmaceutical and more. So I’d be happy to work with any kind of company…..etc”

I was covering all my bases, right? Wrong. In these first couple of meetings when I used this reply it got me nowhere. I mean these business owners were willing to help me, but I was making their offer a very hard one to fulfill.

If you think about this, it makes perfect sense. I wasn’t giving any guidance nor pointing them in the direction I wanted to go. So these guys were left trying to scan through every company they knew – which was hundreds or thousands. Their brains were getting overloaded with information. The result: they shutdown and no referral was given.

Once I understood my mistake I went to my next few meetings with a much more focused list of the kind of companies I wanted to work with. The results were completely different than before. I had made the offer an easy one to fulfill.

Based on our conversation and the kind of clients I really wanted to work with, the business people I met with were able to list a few companies that fit those criteria. Boom, I had some nice introductions!

Developing Your Referral Criteria
To narrow down your criteria you should imagine your ideal client.

  • What size is their company? (think revenue and employee count)
  • What industry are they in?
  • Where are they located?
  • What kind of corporate culture do they have?

Using these criteria you can focus down and find the kinds of companies you really want to be introduced to. That way, every time you meet with someone you can ask them if they know of anyone that fits the bill.

Doing this will make it much easier to receive referrals than just leaving it open to the universe. The more specific you can be, the better.

This is an excerpt from our course, The Consulting Success System. To learn more details about how to make referrals work for you and how to become a successful consultant, pick up a copy of the Consulting Success System today.

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  • I'm not sure I agree with you on your "ideal client" networking theory. Which isn't to say that it doesn't work for you and lots of other consultants…and I suppose if you're looking to work for a specific company, it doesn't hurt to say so either.

    But for me, I kind of hate it when someone asks me "who's your ideal client" – because I won't give them the name of a company. Instead, I describe the kind of client I want to work with. My referrals are based not on my effective articulation of the "ideal client" or industry, but upon the kind of work that I do (and that I tell people I want to do). My expertise is in strategic communications planning, with some executive speechwriting, business writing and media relations in there for good measure.

    I'll often also say in my networking meetings that I'm looking for clients whose projects I can believe in – clients who take a values-based approach to their business – and companies that are becoming more progressive and need a consultant to help them tell that story.

    And those are the kinds of referrals I get. Different paths to the same results 🙂

  • Lesli – thanks for sharing that example. There's no question different approaches work for different people – as the saying goes…different strokes for different folks, right.

    What I've found over the years is that the clearer you can describe the kind of client you want to work with, the easier it is for the person you're talking to to think of who they might know that fits that criteria.

    You may find your referral leads grow when you tell people about the kinds of companies you usually work with in addition to telling them what you do.

    There's a greater chance that someone you meet will know someone at a business that fits the industry, size, location, etc that they can refer you to … than someone that has a specific need for the services you offer at the exact time you ask them.

    For some really good examples of this check out Chet Holmes' book The Ultimate Sales Machine.