I recently got this comment on my article about borrowing customers:
I sell an event planning service in upstate NY. I’m not sure any event planner I know would let me borrow some customers. Suggestions?
Although my original idea about borrowing customers was not to get your competitors to send you business, it is certainly possible to get business from your competition. Many businesses and professionals refer clients to their competitors on occasion.
Why would someone send business to you instead of working with the customer themselves? They may have more work than they can handle. Or the client may not be a good fit for them. The client may need services they do not offer, be in an industry your competitor does not specialize in, not have the budget for their services, or not fit their client profile in some other way. Instead of simply turning the customer away, they want to be able to refer them to someone capable. That could be you.
Here are a few suggestions on how to make it happen.
Network with others in your industry. Get to know the people who are successful. More importantly, help them get to know you. If they are aware of what you do and the types of clients with whom you best work, they may be in a position to refer business to you. Join your industry associations and go to local meetings. Attend conferences. Join other groups to which people in your business belong. Be active and get to know the people who can help you.
Show your expertise. Demonstrate what you know and generate awareness by teaching classes, speaking to professional and industry groups, presenting a session at a conference, writing for industry publications, etc. This will get you on the radar of people who can refer clients to you—not only your competitors, but others.
Watch and listen for opportunities. Look for ways to create a win-win with anyone who could refer business to you, including your competitors. This means you need to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. Someone else’s problem may be an opportunity for you. The idea behind getting your competition to refer customers to you is not just about them doing something for you. It is about you helping them in some way, too.
Stay visible. You want to be on your competitor’s mind when they have a situation where they might refer a client to you. To do that, make sure you have a high profile. Be active in your professional association and other groups to which your competitors belong. Do you send a print newsletter to clients and prospects? Add some of your professional colleagues to your list. (Note: Adding someone to your email list without their permission is spam, so do not send bulk emails without explicit permission.) Be the one who comes to mind when they need you.
Getting customer referrals from your competitors is just one of the strategies you can use to build your business. And many of the things you will do to get the attention of others in your industry will also make you visible to other influencers who can help build your business.