Project Design: The Business of Referrals

Project Design Referrals

In the world of sales there is nothing better than a direct recommendation or referral.

No matter how good a salesperson might be, referrals will always outperform leads gathered from non-referral clients.

If you think about it, the logic of referrals is straightforward. We have all looked for or been given recommendations from other people at some point. The mechanics are simple human nature; we are all looking to avoid problems and use the knowledge our friends and colleagues have to help us make better, more informed choices.

In the competitive world of AV you need referrals, but how do you go about getting them? Well it’s not as tricky as some would have you believe and in our industry it’s not that hard to stand out from the crowd. You need three things: commitment, courage, and care.

If you are fully committed to your business and conduct yourself in a positive, professional and enthusiastic manner people will see this and notice that you are striving to make your business a success. If you compare this to someone who is not really committed and is only doing things because that is what is required of them, rather than because they believe they can make a difference and help, you will stand out.

If you have the courage to recognise a particular project doesn't fit in with the way you work, you will be able to focus your attention on other projects that are a better fit. This will lead to more of your projects being successful, and you standing out as someone who delivers results to a high standard. Turning down a project for the right reasons—which must be carefully explained to the client—and referring them to a company better placed to deliver on their brief, doesn’t mean you have created an enemy of your business.

If you take care of your customers, listening to their needs and taking ownership of their problems as they occur, you will gain a reputation as having great customer care. This will garner respect as your business stands out as one that puts its customers at the centre of each project. Service contracts can help deliver this but that is a whole different topic.

Other than standing out for care, courage and commitment, how else can we gain referrals?

Firstly, we have to look at where referrals are going to come from. While architects, interior designers, M&E consultants, and trades on site are all good sources, surely the most powerful referrals lie in the hands of happy customers?

Other than the steps set out above what tools do we have at our disposal to make better use of our happy customers? Considering that they have your work in their house and they are probably into at least a bit of technology they already have the practical tools to show off your business. But even when they are waxing lyrical about how great you are and how much they love their system you need an easy way they can pass on your details to their friends and colleagues.

Let's face it no matter how much they love you, customers are simply not going to be interested in having a box of business cards in their house. Leaving it to chance that they will share your contact details with people using their phone is exactly that, leaving it to chance.

The best way to make sure your contact details are always to hand is to provide every important client with a hand-over book. This could contain some information about your business (something interesting they don't already know), and all of the documentation you used to build the system in a neat-as-built format, including any instructions required to operate the system and the program written to control it all. This is the kind of thing that will really set you apart from other companies, and in the hands of the right customer is likely to take pride of place on the living room coffee table.

The benefits of doing this are twofold: not only do you put a very powerful referral tool in the hands of someone who is likely to use it, you are also providing the client with closure by handing over all the information required to service the job. When you give them this it's the ideal time to get your completion payment and put a service contract in place to make sure they get that standout customer service mentioned earlier.

On the front, back and or inside of this book are your contact details in written and scanable formats to make it easy for your clients to pass your details on as a referral.  It really is that simple!

Keith Jones studied Product Design at Central St. Martins where he graduated in 1996. Since then Keith worked in numerous high end audio outlets, culminating in owning and running his own AV installation company from 2001-2008. After a career break he started Jones designs in August 2009 which has recently morphed into a Ltd. company called designflow, with his business partner Kelly Ashforth. Designflow aims to increase awareness of design in AV and help installers win jobs and create proper documentation for them.