Your Website Matters: Referrals Edition

This is my first post in what I hope becomes a series I’m calling “Your Website Matters.” I plan to use this series to illustrate how a small business’ website matters in various situations.  Today’s posting how your website matters to potential clients who found out about your business from a referral or “word-of-mouth.”

Referrals

Referrals are a great source of new business and most businesses count on them for growth.  A referral can come from anyone familiar with your business, but your best referrals come from happy clients.  A prospect who heard about you from a happy client is already two-thirds of the way sold.  But that last one-third is critical.

How your website matters to referrals

Many people with whom I speak don’t think about their website as playing a roll in their referral business.  They think the two are mutually exclusive; my website is for people who find me via search (more on this another day) and word of mouth prospects just call.  Maybe some do, but there is no way to know about those who never call, is there?

Real world evidence

To illustrate this point, I like to share an anecdote about my wife and my recent hunt for a new financial planner.  The first thing I did was go to Google and search “financial planners New York NY”  The result was overwhelming (“About 6,700,000 results (0.28 seconds)”).  So we then asked four couples with whom we’re close – people with whom we have similar career paths, lifestyles, etc.  This yielded three different individuals (much more manageable than 6.7 million).

Our next step was to go on-line where we vetted them against one another, further narrowing down the pool to just one.  We contacted him and setup a meeting a few days latter.  The other two, unless they heard from our friends who made the referrals, never even knew we considered them.

The paradigm shift

The paradigm of how we look for services has shifted.  The behavior my wife and I exhibited is becoming more and more common.  The rise in social networking and the increased difficulty of using search to find good results (nearly 7 million results for financial planners new york ny!) have combined to change the way we use the net to look for services.

We no longer go to one trusted source.  We go to multiple friends, or we post on Facebook or LinkedIn and ask hundreds of contacts.  We get anywhere from a few to many referrals (depending upon our social graph and what we’re looking for) and vet our options against one another.  This happens every day and for all sorts of businesses.

What can you do to your website to foster referrals?

There are two important rolls your website can play in fostering referral based business:

  1. It can facilitate how you business receives referrals
  2. It can help you make that short list that gets contacted

Item number 1 above is a posting in and of itself.  I’ll save that for another day.  This posting is about your website, so let’s talk about that.

As for item number 2 above, your website needs to treat referral visitors as just as well as it treats people who find you via search or off-line marketing efforts.  While they are predisposed to consider your services, you still need to do that last one-third of work.

My previous post, “A Trail of Mini-Conversions”, offers advice on doing a self assessment of your website.

Share your experiences

Are you like my wife and me – asking multiple sources for referrals and then vetting your options online?  Do you have a website and if so, what do you hear from your referrals about it?

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