THE BLOG

Closing the Advocacy Gap

01/04/2015 20:22 BST | Updated 01/06/2015 10:59 BST

It's a question I'm sure you've been asked countless times and have possibly asked yourself.

Maybe it's been posed in person, more often as a tick box on a post-sales questionnaire or client satisfaction survey. And so many companies seem to believe that it suffices as a referral strategy.

"Would you be happy to recommend us to your friends and family/colleagues?"

Earlier this year a client of mine shared some very interesting information. A financial services firm, they had carried out a nationwide survey of their clients, as they do every year. And among the questions were the standard referral questions:

"How satisfied are you with your adviser?"

"How likely are you to recommend your adviser?"

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The respective return of over 80% very satisfied and very likely to refer in both of the last two years were positive and well above the industry standard. Many companies would stop there, giving themselves what they feel would be a well-deserved pat on the back and ticking the 'referrals' box in their marketing strategy.

My client, however, went on to ask another question.

"Have you recommended your adviser in the last two years?"

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All of a sudden there's a big gap between those who say they are happy to recommend and those who report they have done so. While 47%-49% is still a large and positive response, there's no indication of the quality of the recommendations and referrals. How many of those reporting that they had recommended had simply passed on the name and number of the adviser and seen no follow through?

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This leaves a big 'advocacy gap'. People who have indicated that they would recommend or refer their services but have not done so. This is a gap that would be substantial in most businesses for one simple reason.

Whilst businesses are happy to ask "would you be happy to refer us?" they are less likely

to ask "would you actually do so?". The former is a soft option, asking someone if they would be happy to do something in theory doesn't run the risk of offending or being rejected.

To win referrals, however, you actually need to ask. Not tick boxes or ask if someone would be happy to but actually request the referral. It takes more work, more consideration and more patience than the tick box exercise but yields a greater return as a result.

You can't simply make a sale and wait for referrals, as so many sales people seem to believe. You need to develop and nurture the relationship. In another interesting finding from their survey, my client identified that their satisfaction rates dropped off the less frequently they interacted in person with their clients.

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This would, of course, have an effect on the willingness of their clients to recommend and refer them.

If you want referrals you need to build and establish a relationship, nurture that relationship and then, at the right time and in the right way, ask.

Otherwise you'll have a nice warm feeling about how popular you are with your clients....but no more business as a result.