A Universal Master Key to Business Success

Posted On: June 15

In one of the greatest self-help books ever written, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” the author states that one of the Universal Master Keys to Success is creating mastermind groups (a small group of experts, advisers and mentors that focus on assisting you with your business, career and life). I could not agree more, as I’ve stated many times the most important thing I’ve ever learned is: You become what you focus on and like the people you spend time with. Along those same lines, it is also my firm belief that one of the Universal Master Keys to business success is: Referrals.

In his wonderful book “The Referral Engine,” my good friend John Jantsch points out that nearly 80% of all NEW clients and NEW business brought into most companies… comes directly from referrals. However, only about 23% of businesses have any kind of organized referral system. Do you see a huge opportunity here?

According to Jantsch, the power of glitzy advertising and elaborate marketing campaigns is on the wane; word- of-mouth referrals are what drive business today. People trust the recommendation of a friend, family member, colleague, or even stranger with similar tastes over anything thrust at them by a faceless company. Therefore the goal must be to harness the power of referrals to ensure a steady flow of new customers into your business… and then keep those customers happy, loyal and engaged… so that they refer your business to even more customers. The very definition of a virtuous cycle.

Some of John’s recommendations for how to build a referral engine include:

  • Talk with your customers, not at them. Thanks to social networking sites, companies of any size have the opportunity to engage with their customers on their home turf as never before—but the key is listening.
  • The sales team is the most important part of your marketing team. Sales people are the company’s main link to customers, who are the main source of referrals. Getting them on board with your referral strategy is critical.
  • Educate your customers. Referrals are only helpful if they’re given to the right people. Educate your customers about whom they should be talking to.

The secret to generating referrals lies in understanding what Jantsch calls the “Customer Referral Cycle”—the way customers refer others to your company who, in turn, generate even more referrals. Businesses can ensure a healthy referral cycle by moving customers and prospects along the path of Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer. If everyone in an organization keeps this sequence in mind, and focuses on it daily – with every customer and prospect – your business will generate referrals like a well-oiled machine.

Let me give you an example from my own business. When a new client hires me to do a workshop or deliver a speech, at the beginning of the process I say to them, “I am totally going to work my butt off to deliver the highest quality program I possibly can for your attendees, if I deliver something that significantly exceeds your expectations… I’m going to ask you to send a strong personal referral to a minimum of 10 of your colleagues letting them know about what a wonderful job I’ve done for you and suggesting that they consider hiring me for their next workshop or speech. If I absolutely earn that, will you agree to send the referrals for me?”

I have never had a client say no to this request, especially since it is all based on me first delivering a truly superb speech or workshop. So if I hit it out of the park, they are willing to send my name along to 10, 20 or 100 of their business associates… knowing that if any one of them hire me I would work just as hard for them. It makes the client feel good to refer business my way and confident that if one of their friends takes their advice I will make sure they 100% satisfied – a true win-win for all involved.

I also have another referral technique that works extremely well. If a client or even an attendee of one of my speeches/workshops approaches me after I have just finished my presentation and says, “Wow John, that was a fantastic speech, thanks for all of the great ideas and information.” I say to them immediately, “Thank you so much for the very kind compliment, I appreciate that a great deal… actually the best way you can thank me would be to tell a whole bunch of people you know about how much you enjoyed my program and how much value you took away from it. In 18 years of doing this for a living I have learned that 99.9% of all of my new business comes directly from happy customers telling their friends and business colleagues about the work I do. It would be great if you could take 5 minutes. And send out a handful of e-mails to anyone you feel would enjoy the sort of presentation you just saw.”  Having a set response like this that is well thought out, professional and honest, has been one of the most powerful referral tools I have ever used. Do you have something like this for your business? How do you currently ask your best customers – in a professional, clear, focused and comfortable way (NOT a memorized script!) – for them to please send you several dozen targeted referrals?

Which brings me to my next point; it also helps if you make it really, really easy for them to send a great referral your way. As John points out above the first step in this process is to help your customers clearly understand WHO is a good referral for you and represents the kind of clients you want to bring in. Next, you need to make it almost effortless for them to refer you to lots and lots of the right people.  For example, if you’ve got a client who is enthusiastic about sending referrals to you, you might simply type out a short note  that they can use as a template. Here is an example of what I send to my customers when they agree to send out an e-mail on my behalf.

Dear ________, I hope this note finds you doing very well. I recently listened to a really fantastic speaker who said that if he hit a total homerun we should thank him by telling 15 or 20 of our colleagues about his work. Well, because he did such an awesome job I wanted to honor his request. I am writing this note to highly recommend John Spence. His session was fast-paced, engaging, fun, and delivered lots of truly useful information. Here’s a link to his website so you can take a look and see what sort of programs he presents, he does a really super job: www.johnspence.com

I simply send that template to my client and ask them to look over, customize or change it in any way that makes them comfortable and then e-mail it to anyone they feel would find value in the work I do. Some clients don’t send any e-mails, some clients send a handful, and a few very special clients send it on to dozens and dozens of people. I promise you there is no advertising or marketing program in the world as powerful as a happy client sending several dozen e-mails to their clients and colleagues to strongly recommend your services – it is absolutely pure gold!

So there you have it. Referrals are a universal master key of business success – but you can’t just sit back and “hope” that your clients will refer you – you need to turn your business into referral engine. How you do that?

  • Talk with your customers. Use social networks to engage your customers and generate referrals.
  • Get everyone in your business involved in asking for referrals.
  • Help your customer understand WHO is a good referral for you.
  • Make it incredibly easy for your customers to give you referrals.
  • Ask for referrals ALL the time.
  • And most important – do such amazingly awesome work that you truly EARN tons of referrals!!!


I hope you found this article helpful and that you put these ideas to good use

Take good care – I wish you every possible happiness and success – John Spence

PS – To make sure I walk my own talk… I also VERY much hope that you will take just a minute to send a strong personal  note of referral about me to anyone in your network that you feel would benefit from the sort of speeches and workshops I deliver. It would truly mean a great deal to me – thank you!!

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  1. Another basic, easy to follow recommendation to stimulate business—thanks for keeping it simple! We have empowered each of our Golf Course Managers to use this same technique in the social media arena to maintian a constant dialogue with regular customers and make referrals viral. Look forward to seeing you at the FRPA Conference in August. You know we will keep giving you the referrals every chance we can!

  2. As usual John you hit the point over and over. I really agree with the principle “now, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer.” I really like the educate – buy- repeat – refer. Something we try to accomplish every day with a variety of programs you mention.

    Thanks for this information.


  3. Once again John, you have driven home the importance of doing the right thing by your business in focusing effort where it will give the greatest return in terms of new business, rather than throwing more and more money at marketing efforts, that give nowhere near the same level of return.

    I have added a link to this article at http://scoop.it/t/business-improvement to help drive a little more traffic to your excellent blog site.

  4. In the past 5-months, Miami-Dade County Parks & Recreation Department has implemented a monthly Sales Forum inviting employees. It is a great feeling when employees share the benefits of how important it is for the Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer Cycle because they experienced it first hand and now there is a personal connection with the service/product that makes the referal that much easier. Now we have to create the engine and start generating referrals. John, thank you for giving us the tools to go from Good to Great! Looking forward to more blogs.

  5. This is the second such blog article I have read by John Spence. He has a KISS approach to business, which I like. His mantra “Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer” is really key in today’s society. Many people want to reach out to businesses, but not all of them have a good product or ‘walk the walk’ as John says. In the zoological community, people look to us to provide new and exciting information. It is hard work, but the rewards are great and it’s ALL about repeat visits by our local communities.

  6. Something learned this past week. Publix supermarket said: people, people, people…..in your organization and those who buy you service/product is the most important factor! This will creat the “referrals”.

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