In our work with agencies of all sizes across the creative, marketing and technology sectors, we always encourage agency leaders to develop a full and concerted approach to marketing, lead generation and sales.

For larger scale agencies that means developing more sophisticated sales and marketing functions – perhaps dedicated sales leadership, a structured approach to managing end-to-end sales cycles supported by proactive marketing involving thought leadership and lead generation through a multi-channel approach. But most agencies rely, to some extent, on the power of referrals to help them win new business to grow and scale, particularly as SME’s.

Referrals make sense as a part of an agency’s sales toolkit. They are powerful and can be considered ‘warm’ leads giving, even at an early stage, an indication of some likelihood of success. Although the key limitation of referrals is that they only expand to the boundaries of your network, that network can still play a pivotal role in driving referred business. Even larger agencies still need to harness the power and effectiveness of referrals as part of their commercial development and growth.

So, how can you capitalise on the power of referrals to generate good quality new business to grow your agency?

Understanding what makes a referral powerful

Referrals work because they come from a position of established trust. Someone in your network recommends your agency to another contact. There’s trust exchanged at the heart of that referral so it has an element of peer-to-peer respect embedded in it.

But there also must be a belief – a belief that your agency can perform the work to address the desired outcome of the secondary contact.

This means that your reputation for quality of work and diligence must travel on your behalf so that it comes back to you in the form of new opportunities. This allure becomes even stronger if you partner your reputation with effective case studies and proof points (often metric led) that establish or reaffirm your credibility and capabilities. These should focus on the key sectors or market verticals where your agency specialises.

Leverage your network as a strategic tool

The use of your own network as an agency leader, and the wider network of your agency, is pivotal. That forms your ‘sphere of influence’, and, by nature, it is limited so you need to ensure that you maximise it and work to expand it as much as you can.

Even a limited approach to thought leadership and marketing using single channels such as LinkedIn can be successful. Demonstrating your subject matter expertise through thought leadership or opinion pieces are a low cost way to create awareness and remind your network of what you and your agency are great at. Circulating up to date case studies, metrics, examples of work, can emphasise not only what you do but also that you do it well and can solve the particular challenges of the markets you specialise in.

The powerful combination of relevance, knowledge and trust

The use of case studies and other testimonial evidence brings the key ingredient of relevance to the external ‘match making’ that you are trying to leverage. It also inserts an element of knowledge and trust to those referrals.

By nature, they tend not to be cold leads and can be more beneficial in terms of qualification and progressing the lead, as well as developing initial rapport and mutual respect and collaboration as potential partners.

Whilst it’s important not to be limited to or entirely beholden to referrals, they do have a powerful role to play in your business development and growth efforts.

With limited work and budget, you can use your expertise, heritage and channels to develop and grow your potential referral network – it just needs to be nurtured.