Steve Gordon | Never Before Shared Referral Strategies

Can you guess the #1 source of new customers and clients for businesses? It’s not marketing or advertising. It’s actually still referrals and word-of-mouth. 

There’s nothing that creates trust faster than a personal recommendation. That’s all well and good, you might be saying, but it’s so hard to get even very satisfied clients to take the time and effort to refer you to their network. They’re hesitant… scared even to put themselves out there because it seems like “selling.”

That’s why you take the referral process out of their hands and do it yourself. I share the process for doing that. It’s a system that brings in a steady stream of quality referrals.

I’ve never shared this with anyone, anywhere. Get all the details on that and much more, including…

  • What to do once you’ve made first contact with a potential new client
  • Leveraging human nature to get better – more – referrals
  • Yet another reason you should write a book
  • Why you should never “ask” for referrals directly
  • Widely neglected methods for effectively landing and building rapport with valued long-term clients

Listen now…

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Steve Gordon: Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon. And in today’s episode, I’ve got something special for you. I’m going to actually share with you some thinking that I’ve had on referrals for a long time. I’ve never shared this anywhere else, I’ve never written it, haven’t taught it in a workshop before. And what I want to talk about today is the goal of a referral. And certainly, part of that goal is to create a client. But before that happens, the goal of that referral is and for the process that you use to orchestrate referrals, is to get someone who loves your business to tell a story about the experience that they have with your business to others. 


And there are ways that you can engineer that. You can orchestrate it, you can do things that make that happen. And one of the big frustrations people have with referrals is they leave all of that to chance. You hope that if you do a really great job, that you’ll inspire a client or a customer to go talk about you. And that’s great. And it does happen spontaneously. But it doesn’t always happen. And it’s not very predictable. It’s hard to rely on it. And we’re going to talk today about how do you make that more intentional. So why is all this important? 


Word of Mouth is Still the Most Effective Marketing Tactic


Well, in study after study after study, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% to 65% of all new business, at least in the United States where these studies have been done, is generated through word of mouth and referrals. Which means that a small minority of all of the business that is done, all the new customers and clients that are created come from advertising. And yet, that’s where we tend to put all of our focus. 


We’re building funnels, and we’re doing advertising and we’re investing lots of money in all of these places, yet we generally ignore the area that delivers most of the business to us thinking that it just sort of takes care of itself, or we don’t know what to do. Today, I want you to begin thinking about a different way of approaching this. Because if you focus on this, as I’m recording this, we’re in the month of September. 


When this is published will be a little bit later in the year, but as we focus on this is an excellent way to create a strong end of the year. And an even better way to rocket into the new year. And all it takes is just a little bit of focus. Let’s dive into what it takes to create these conversations that lead to referrals.


So let’s think about the last time that you asked for a referral. You’re there with your client, you’ve asked them to introduce you to people that need your help. What you’re really asking them to do is to go and have a conversation about your business with that person that they want to refer. And the truth of the matter is that most people won’t do that. They’re uncomfortable doing it, they’re afraid that when they do have that conversation that it won’t be a fit, it won’t be relevant for that person. And so they’ll find anything that they can to avoid having that conversation. And that’s really the entire premise of my book, Unstoppable Referrals. 

The Many Advantages of an Old Fashioned Book


We talk about an easier way to do that by using what we call a referral kit. Today, I want to talk specifically about one form of a referral kit. And that form is a book. A book has some unique characteristics around it. First, we know that the value of a book. We’ve dealt with books all of our lives. We know that they create or that they contain great wisdom, great information, great knowledge. Maybe entertainment if it’s a fiction book. And we know that at a minimum, it’s probably you know, any given book is worth anywhere from five to 20 to 50, or maybe even $100 as the retail price of a book, depending on the type of book. 


So it has some built-in advantages over some of the other forms of media that you can use to package up your information. The other advantage that a book has is that it’s physical. And ebooks are great. They’re wonderful. But I would highly recommend that somewhere in your marketing arsenal, you have a physical book because a physical book allows you own real estate in the world, in the physical world of the person that you want to do business with. And that real estate might be on the corner of their desk. So they get your book and you own a corner of their desk. And it could be on their bookshelf. 


So that every time they look at that bookshelf, they see you and it’s got staying power that other forms of media, let’s say a report, or a newsletter, other things don’t necessarily have. Certainly doesn’t have the staying power of a PDF download. We all have that folder on our computer where we go and send PDFs to die in oblivion. But a physical book has special properties. And because it has this built-in understanding of the value of the book, you can go to your clients. And you can have what we call the value conversation. 


We basically say to them, you know, Mr. Client, I’m on a mission to transform the way that small businesses, and particularly service businesses, attract clients and get referrals. And I’ve written this book on the topic. And I’m on a mission to get this into the hands of as many people as possible. I know, you know people that would benefit from this. So let’s sit down together and brainstorm who we can both help by giving them a copy of this book. That’s how I would approach it if I were having that conversation. And as you do that you enlist and enroll the client in the mission that you’re on. 


So now they’re not trying to promote you simply because, hey, you know, I like you and I want to help you. It’s not because of that. They want to promote you now because it’s in their interest. They’re going to give a gift to somebody that they care about, that they like, that they want to have hold them in high esteem. So you’re beginning to do a little engineering of the social dynamic there. Now, one place that an awful lot of people get stuck with this is they say, Well, if I give them the book, what if they don’t send it out. And that’s entirely possible, but you don’t have to give them the book. 


We always recommend that to the extent that your client or customer is willing that you get the addresses and just let them know that you’re going to take all the work off of them, and you’re going to put that book in the mail, and you’re gonna put a nice note with it and you’re going to mention the client’s name. Well, I’ve had people tell me, that’s not a very strong referral if you just say, you know, our mutual friend Bob decided that you ought to have this book, so I’m sending it to you. 


And while I’ll agree that it is not nearly as strong as someone bringing a pre-sold pre-convinced client to you with a check already made out in your name, that kind of referral rarely happens. What we’re doing is we’re trying to increase our luck surface area. We’re trying to generate more leads then we are closed customers at this stage. And we’re trying to put ourselves in a position where we control the sales process, rather than relying on our unpaid and untrained salesforce, namely our clients, to go and prospect for us and make the sale and get them to us. 


Because our clients don’t do a very good job of that. If they did a great job of that, then we’d all have extremely consistent referrals, and we wouldn’t have to ever do anything to get them. But I know that that’s not the case. So the reason I believe so strongly in the need for you to have a book is because again, it’s got that intrinsic value that allows you to own that real estate. And when you approach your client about sharing it using what we call the value conversation, they buy into it. They know that there’s no risk in sharing that because it has that value. 


If you’ve ever received a book, I was asking folks this last week. I asked one of my good friends and client, been on the podcast a number of times, John Curry about it last week. I asked some folks at a mastermind group I was at last week if they’d ever been offended when somebody gave them a book as a gift. When it was well-intentioned. They said No, never. Often it opens them up to new ideas that they hadn’t thought about. And so there’s zero risk for your client and sharing this, which opens them up to sharing with a lot more people. 


But more importantly than that, when you send it on behalf of the client, and you mentioned their name, you now tee up the conversation that you want to happen. So at some point, you want your client to be able to talk about your business, but they’re not likely to initiate that conversation. It’s going to make them feel uncomfortable. It’s going to make them feel as though they’re selling, trying to convince someone. But when the prospect, the person who received the book as a referral, gets that book, they’re going to get it they’re going to see your note. They’re going to go, oh, wow, Bob thought of me. Hey, I’m going to call Bob. 


And so they call Bob. And they say, Bob, I got this book from your friend, Steve. And thanks so much for thinking of me, this was really cool. Why did you ask him to send it to me? And now the conversation has been initiated. But it’s not been initiated by your client, it’s been initiated by the prospect. Which makes it easy now for your client to sing your praises because they’re being asked about it. They’re being asked about their experience with you. 

Leveraging Human Nature


And by thinking through all these steps, you can totally reverse engineer everything that needs to happen to create a really, really strong referral. But instead of running at it head-on, we’re thinking a little bit about human nature and behavior and setting everybody up in this process to feel good. And to feel that they’re getting value. And we’re doing everything we can to make sure no one ever feels uncomfortable about it. That’s the thing, that’s the piece of this that I’ve never articulated in any of our writing and anywhere else. And it’s how you create this conversation. And the conversation is vital. It’s essential. 


It’s the thing that drives that referral business. But you’ve got to be smart about how you orchestrate that conversation, how you get it to happen. If all you’re doing is push, push push on your clients, they’re going to ultimately resent that. But if you look at what’s in their interest, you look at what’s in the prospect’s interest and then you think, how do I knowing everything that they want to accomplish, the prospect, knowing everything that your client wants to accomplish, how can I align myself so that I’m in line with everyone’s interests? And then the whole thing becomes really, really easy. 


Okay, so you give this gift of the book? Well, it’s in the interest of that prospect to find out more. You’ve piqued curiosity, They’re going to call the person who recommended that you refer. That’s going to prompt a conversation. You’ve now edified that client. They now feel good about this whole process because a gift was sent on their behalf, they’re now going to get a really nice phone call thanking them. And we see this over and over and over again. Nobody’s ever going to call them and be upset about it. 


They’re going to thank them. And they’re either going to thank them and say, Wow, thanks for thinking of me, this was really awesome. Tell me why you wanted me to have this book. And they’ll tell them and say, well, that’s really great. I’m not really a fit right now. Well, that’s okay. But they still show gratitude for that gift. You know, or they may say, this is really timely. It’s perfect timing, thank you. Thank you for being so thoughtful and thinking of me. And as you do that, and you engineer these conversations, whether that person is ready to become a client or not, whether they’re a fit ultimately or not, it doesn’t matter. 


What you’re doing at the same time is you’re reinforcing the referral behavior. You’re showing that client that when they enroll in your mission and help you spread your book around and spread your message around, that it actually makes them feel good. That, you know, praise, gratitude comes back to them. And it’s going to make them want to do it again. And that is the exact opposite of what most people do with referrals. 


When you go with the old way of doing referrals, which dooms your clients to feeling uncomfortable, you put them in a position where they have to go have a sales conversation, and unless they’re a sales professionals they are probably going to avoid that like the plague. They’re going to feel uncomfortable about it, they’re going to feel pressured, it’s going to be a negative experience all the way around for them. 


And one of the reasons it’s going to be a negative experience and one of the reasons they’re going to be feeling pressured, even if you’re not thinking you’re putting pressure on them, is that they may really, really like you. But you’re asking them to do something that is way outside their comfort zone. And so when you begin to think about referrals in this way, when you begin to look at all the different opportunities you have to engineer that conversation when you’ve created for yourself and for your business, a book, which is probably the best lever for generating lots of referrals. 


Then you really set yourself up for exponential growth in referral marketing. A lot of people are out there running around right now telling you, you need a funnel, and you need ads, and you need all this other stuff. Because if you’re relying on referrals, that well it’s not scalable, and it’s not predictable. It’s not scalable. And it’s not predictable, because you’re doing it wrong. You’re not aligning with human nature. You’re going against human nature. And I would submit that it’s actually incredibly scalable. And it makes the entire sales process vastly easier. We’ve had one of those funnels. We’ve run ads. 


You know, the typical thing is run ads to a webinar that generates sales appointments. And all that’s great. But I will tell you from experience that generated for us folks that did not become long-term, lifetime clients. However, when we get referred, we get long-term lifetime clients. Those clients are far more valuable. So that’s what I want. And the way to get there is with a book. Now I want to talk a little bit about how you take that book and turn it into a process. And let’s talk about some of the stats right after we come back. 


Pre-recorded midroll: Hi, this is Steve, I hope you’re enjoying this interview. We’ve got more to come in a minute. But what I’d love for you to do right now is rate this podcast. Leave us a review rate us on iTunes. It’ll really help others discover the podcast and help us help other CEOs, other business leaders become unstoppable. So if you go to You can find instructions there and links that will take you right to where you need to go to review the podcast. Thanks so much. Now back to the interview. 


Steve: Alright, so let’s walk through this whole process end to end. So we’ve talked about the value conversation. The next step then is you’ve got to send that book out. And the best thing you can do is send that book out with a personal note from you. And you may be sitting there thinking, Oh, well, this doesn’t. Again, this doesn’t scale, I have to write notes. A that’s not a whole lot of effort for most people if you’re generating 20 to 50 referrals a month, and you can do a lot more than that, for sure. But for a lot of the types of businesses we work with who are selling really high-ticket complex stuff, that’s a lot of leads and a lot of referrals. 


Warming Up Cold Leads


If it’s 20 to 50 a month, that’s not that many notes. There are ways that you can simplify that. You can have an assistant write them, you can do other things. But I would submit to you that if you’re the one that is going to have the appointment with that prospect that it’s probably in your interest to write the note. But setting that aside, whether you do it or you’ve got somebody on your team to do it. You write a note, you send the book. I like to send them either in an express envelope, you know, first-class mail, but express looking envelope, or send them Priority Mail here in the US, depending on when I want to get it there. 


And we get that out quickly. So soon as we get those referrals, we’re getting those books out in the mail. And then I learned this from my good friend John Curry. In fact, we were talking about it on the way to our mastermind meeting last week. He then does the same process. He then follows up with a phone call. And we’ve talked about this before with lots of our clients that the best kind of phone call for this is a phone call where you’re just confirming receipt of the book. And this phone call can be made by you as the business owner or, and I think more powerfully often, it can be made by someone on your team who you trained to do this. 


And you know, and they’re just simply calling to confirm receipt, and then pass the recipient for an appointment to meet with you. You’d be astonished at how well that works. Because you’ve warmed that, you know that otherwise cold lead up. They now know who you are, they now have some context for everything. And, you know, they know that someone that is in their network trusts you. And so you’re getting some of that trust to wear off. And the likelihood of them having a phone call 15, 20-minute phone call to get things you know started to meet you to kind of understand if there’s any kind of a fit there is actually really, really high. 


And so that’s the next step with it. Now you’ve got this physical book owning space. You’ve had a phone call, maybe they’ve moved into your sales process. But if they haven’t moved into your sales process, this is where your media platform comes in and takes over. And your podcast, your email newsletter, your print newsletter, then can be the way that you’re staying in a relationship with this person over time. Because not everybody’s going to be ready even if they have a need for you. For whatever reason, they may not be ready to do business today. 


And if you use this process, you get yourself a book you use this process, you follow what I talked about in my Unstoppable Referrals book. And carry this all the way through, you should be generating dozens of referrals a month. Should be generating dozens of new leads. Up to hundreds of new leads. And we have some clients who are doing more than that. But you should be generating a large number of referrals. And they’re not all going to do business today. So you need a way to take this asset that you’re creating and stay in touch with them over time. And so that’s where your media platform comes in. 


Converting Prospects 


As you do that, then you need a way to convert those people into a next step. Because if they’re not ready today, and you’ve got them on the phone, you need ways to reengage them. And one of the reasons we believe so strongly is one of the first things we do with every new client is we create for them a presentation where we take their entire sales message, we take all the problems that their prospects face, and the solution that the client offers. And we put all that together into a persuasive presentation that can be run on-demand on their website, and be run as a seminar, a webinar or however they want to run it. 


Now you’ve got places to invite people back to that can get them reengaged. When you begin to put all of that together, you have very powerful and strong lead generation which generates leads that if they are truly interested and read that book, they’re highly, highly qualified leads at that stage. They perceive you as an authority as compared to all of your other competitors. They’ve come referred some of the trust that your client has in you or the referral partner has in you, now accrues to you.


So all of that combines to be a very powerful and strong start to the relationship. Rather than positioning you as a salesperson, you’re now positioned as a leader, and likely an industry leader. Then you reach out by phone and you have a phone conversation. That’s going to allow you to pull that low hanging fruit. The people who are ready for whom that message was timely, it’s going to allow you to pull them right into your sales process so you can help them. And for everybody else, they’re going to get followed up with your platform, whether that’s podcast, email, newsletter, print newsletter, whatever it is, over time until they’re ready. 


And you’re going to convert them with a persuasive sales presentation that can run on-demand or can be run as an event. And doing the two together is actually very, very powerful. And with that, you’ve got a really solid system. With that, you shouldn’t need a whole lot else in our kinds of businesses to develop all the business you ever need. But you’ve got to get those pieces in place. And that’s one of the things that I love about what we’re able to do with our clients. We’re able to build that platform for them so it didn’t take a whole lot of time. 


We’re able to build that presentation for them with all of our experience having done dozens and dozens and dozens of these for clients over the years. Sometimes we can see the hidden gems in their message that they overlook and bring those out because maybe that’s really the valuable thing. And we’re also able to do it with books, because most people, most business owners are not authors or excuse me, I shouldn’t say that. There’s an author inside of you, but there might not be a writer there with him. And you can be an author without being a writer. 


And it’s so much fun to take a business owner through that process where we’re sort of downloading all of their knowledge and wisdom and all the things that they know, because you’re an expert at all these things, and then package that up. And then they have this book and they go out and use it as they generate referrals. And it’s just so much fun to watch that change, that elevation in the way the confidence that they have and the way they feel about their position in the marketplace. They almost instantly become a market leader. And if you need help with any of those things, let us know. We can help. 


You certainly can do all of that on your own, but if you’re looking to offload it, we’re happy to help you. Folks, I hope this has been helpful. And I hope you’re enjoying these solo episodes and getting things out of them. We put it out there because I’m a big believer in the power of ideas. And whether you choose to do business with us, or you just take the idea and you go do something useful with it. In either case, I’ve fulfilled my mission. 


And it fires me up every day. So I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re listening. And I would love it if you would take this podcast, share it right now. Before you do anything else, share it right now with a business owner that you care about, that needs to think in a new and different way about referrals to improve their business. And let’s spread the message. We’ll see in the next episode.