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Building a Referral Network

August 18, 2010 By: Michael Browne

One of the basics of the travel agent business is that much of it is based on referrals. It works like the old shampoo commercial: “So I told two friends.” “Then I told two friends.” And so on and so on and so on. (I had forgotten how annoying that commercial used to be until just now.)

Social networking has made the job of getting referrals so much easier. Now your clients aren’t telling just two friends about their great vacation, their telling 126 Facebook friends and relatives all at once. When they return and the trip has been a success, you might want to gently nudge them to mention you in their updates.

Of course, asking outright for a referral might seem a little crass but there’s nothing wrong with simply thanking a client and letting them know that that client referrals are welcome and appreciated.

Think about it: People would rather do business with people they know—or know of—than with strangers. When you're introduced to a prospect through a personal recommendation, that prospect has a vastly higher comfort level than, say, a buyer you find through cold calling. After all, few things are more reassuring than a positive endorsement from someone you know and trust.

People won't give you referrals unless you deserve them. In fact, getting a referral is the highest compliment you can receive. Let your customers know you prize referrals, which you'll earn by providing excellent quality products and services.

Here’s a few tips to get around the awkward referral request:

• Whenever a customer compliments you, respond with a thank you, quickly followed by a referral request. For example, "I'm really glad that you're happy with my work. Do you know anyone else who's planning a trip any time soon?"
• Use every client meeting as an opportunity to collect referrals. To keep yourself on track, jot a reminder down in your meeting preparation notes. Make it one of your standard talking points.
• Set a weekly goal for yourself. Keep track of the number of referrals you ask for each day. You don't need to limit your requests to clients; you can also ask business associates, acquaintances and prospects.
• Make the most of every networking opportunity. Step out of your comfort zone at networking events and set a goal to talk to at least three new people. Plan in advance what you might say.  Talk bout the exotic itinerary you just booked for someone, for instance.

One last thought: Always thank someone who has given you a referral. Send them a note, keep them informed of your progress and maybe even treat them to lunch.

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