How Relationship Building Leads to Trusted Referrals
Seeing your competitors in a whole new light

Last year, I received a call from a potential client that was prompted by a referral from a competitor. Yes, that’s right, a competitor. Of course, I reached out to the client, and was able to provide him with a unique consulting service that helped him to improve the bottom line of his HME.

As the process unfolded I reached out to my competitor and asked, “Why did you make a referral to me?” The answer was simple, “He needed help and I wasn’t able to give him the attention he deserved.” We shared mutual appreciation and my respect for her, already in place, greatly increased. In a professional world filled with relentless competition, she acted with integrity and astute business sense.

While my experience was that of a consultant and merger and acquisition advisor, the point applies to the world of HME, home health and all areas of health care. Our customers are regularly bombarded with information, invitations, sales pitches and broadcast messages. In the health care M+A marketplace, my clients are often besieged by M+A intermediaries who offer all kinds of options to sell their companies and transition to the next stage of their lives. As a result, referrals are my platinum standard. In the HME market, you are trying to provide a customer experience that not only makes a sale, but makes your customers evangelists that bring other customers to you.

How the changed mindset helped the customer experience

My new client was warmed up to our relationship. He told me that he was impressed that the referral was from a competitor and that I must have something to offer as a result. He was fully engaged from day one, and the process moved forward quickly.

The client retained respect for my competitor. While we had a good working relationship, my client remembered the generosity of the referral and more than once remarked, “I really appreciate that she went out of her way to help me out.” Making the referral added to my competitor’s brand and I have no doubt that my client might tell another HME executive about the experience.

I learned more about my competitor (and myself). I read more about my competitor and learned about some interesting marketing approaches that were very personal in nature. It made me think of new ways to improve my own services and add value for my clients.

Over-commitment can negatively impact value. Referrals are a great way to create customer value while maintaining service and product quality for existing clients. In my work the issue is not volume, it’s the role delivered to a select group of health care business owners.

Recently, I heard Mark Zuckerberg speak about referrals and how they impact Facebook. He noted that:

“Nothing influences people more that a recommendation from a trusted source. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”

Ways to create your own Holy Grail for referrals

Recognize the personal. Keep your personal antennae extended so that you can listen to what customers want.

Paying attention. Paying attention to much more than delivering a product or service. Products and services have a personal implication (e.g. home health care = independence and higher life quality) and when you tap into that you will generate referrals.

Always add a personal focus. Even if you have a high volume business, add a personal element in your communications. Whether a brief note, a few kind words in a phone conversation or a prompt response to a customer in distress, you can transition a relationship into one that generates more referrals to your business.

Stay within your success range. Appreciate your limits and, in some cases shrink your potential client base, but go deeper into it. Evaluate your daily workflow and make sure your time and energy is focused on those customers that can lead to higher quality referrals.

Saying “no” leads to more “yes." As you determine your best customers for the growth of your business and referral generation, practice saying “no” to customers that don’t fit the profile. They may be great people, but you are committing resources to an effort that will likely yield mediocre or even poor results.

Make referrals. Make referrals to competitors after considering the above. When a customer doesn’t match your business model, or you would be over-committed if you accepted the customer, make the referral and make the introduction when possible. There is nothing but good that will come from it. Even if the customer has a less than optimum experience they are more likely to return to you if you keep the door open.

Helping people find the service or product they need is a professional service in and of itself. You may not receive immediate reimbursement for it, but it will make you and your company stand out as a leader in your market.