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  • The Art of Asking
    Building Your Business Through Referrals

    Studies show that one of every three referrals results in a sale within a week of the initial contact. With odds like that how can you go wrong using this sales technique?

    You would think nothing of recommending a great restaurant to an out-of-town visitor or a terrific movie to a friend. But when it comes to asking a customer for a referral, many shop owners get tongue-tied.

    Think how many times you've helped someone out by supplying the telephone number of a great mechanic, electrician, or plumber. Or how many times you've e-mailed a recipe or interesting Web site address to a friend. Referrals are courtesies that bond people. Asking satisfied customers for referrals should be as common as asking for customers' names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

    Studies have shown that 80 percent of all buying decisions are based on recommendations from others. A recommendation from a customer increases your level of confidence and makes you an important asset to your customer network.

    Great Opportunities

    Asking for referrals takes some practice and requires a sense of timing, but the more you ask, the easier it gets - and the more your business will grow. Parties and other special events provide excellent opportunities for referral business.

    Some events lend themselves well to getting referrals while on site, but with other events, such as weddings, you should seek referrals a day or two after the event.

    If you're decorating for a party, ask the host if you can set a small table with a beautiful flower arrangement and a supply of your shop's brochures near the entrance. You might even place a discreet sign near the brochures that identifies your shop and encourages people to take one. Give the floral arrangement to the host to thank him or her for allowing you to market your shop.

    The day after the party, call the host or hostess to inquire how the event went and if there is anything else you can do. While the blush of success is still being felt by your customers, let them know that you enjoyed working with them and their referrals would give you the opportunity to work with others in their industry, social group, occupation, interest group, etc.

    Marketing your shop at a wedding is different. This day belongs to the bride, so don't impinge on her celebration. After the honeymoon, send a small complimentary arrangement to the bride and groom, as well as their parents who live in your market area. Call to ask if everything was satisfactory. If they are pleased with your work, ask for referrals. Try the "friendly reminder" approach: "Your wedding was beautiful and I loved helping you make it happen. Just remember that if you have any friends or relatives who are getting married, I would be glad to help them make their dreams come true, too."

    This also works well with a phone call the day after to the parents of the bride and groom to ask for their referrals.

    Following Up

    Once you receive a referral, follow up on it immediately. The customer who made the referral often tells that person, so they may be expecting a contact. Therefore, it's important to make the initial contact before too much time has passed. If you wait too long it may seem that you aren't that interested in the new person's business.

    You can send the prospect a card, letter, or e-mail that introduces yourself and extends an invitation to serve him or her. Keep the message short. Here's an example:

    "Dear ________,

    __________________ asked that I contact you. I would welcome the chance to be your florist. Please stop in to see our beautiful selection of fresh flowers, plants, and gift baskets.

    If you're planning a wedding, party, or other event, give us a call. We are in the business of transforming dreams into reality.

    I'm enclosing a coupon you can redeem for a special discount on your event. I look forward to meeting and serving you.

    Sincerely,"

    When phoning a referral, rehearse what you're going to say. Since you're not always sure of the level of relationship between the referral source and the referral, you can compensate by being personable, but forthright. Here's an example of such an approach:

    "Hello, this is Amy at Amy's Flowers. Susan Smith mentioned to me that you might be looking for a good florist. I'm calling to extend a personal invitation to you to come by my shop."

    The customer's response to this should indicate to you if there is interest. Even if the prospect doesn't seem to need your services right then, ask if you can send information about specials and holiday reminders. Most of the time you will receive positive responses, but don't expect an immediate order. Generally, referrals should be looked at as future business.

    On the occasions when prospects don't pan out for you, don't completely give up. Send follow-up postcards, thanking them for their consideration and reminding them that you will be happy to meet their floral needs in the future. List some of your services. Be sure to add them to your database so that you can keep in touch.

    Don't forget to send customers who make the referrals thank-you notes. A card with a handwritten expression of gratitude works best. "Thanks for thinking of us," is a typical response and strengthens the relationship you have with customers. You might even send a gift of appreciation if the referred business is a wedding or other large event.

    Other Referral Sources

    Your customers aren't the only ones who can help grow your business through referrals. Here are a few other sources of referral leads:

    Suppliers - Your strong relationships with your suppliers and/or vendors can result in many referrals, especially when there isn't a conflict of interest. For instance, a wholesale flower vendor probably won't feel right referring customers to just one of his clients. However, your accountant might not have another florist as a client and would be able to make referrals.

    Friends - Your friends can be a tremendous source of referrals. Because of your close relationship with them, it will be easier to verbalize what you're looking for in prospective customers.

    Family - Mixing business and family can be tricky, but almost every florist has done a wedding or party for a family member. Family members have "bragging rights," so you might as well use them.

    The Mail - Don't mail anything without including a request for a referral. A simple card asking, "Do you know anyone who could use a great florist?" will start people thinking.

    Your Community - Get involved in high-profile functions and use them to network with other business owners. Home or design showcases are great places to get referrals. Offer workshops in flower arranging to gain more exposure and reach more people.

    Everybody Wins

    One of the best and most cost-effective means of growing your business is through referrals. The process benefits everyone. The customer benefits from being able to help out a friend or associate by recommending your services. The new referral benefits by finding a florist who is instantly credible and trustworthy. The florist benefits from adding another customer. Even if a sale isn't made right away, the referred customer represents future business.

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