Book review – The Referral Engine

This weekend I got stuck into The Referral Engine, John Jantsch’s follow up book to Duct Tape Marketing.

I’m always immediately disheartened by books that (correctly) promote offline networking as a referral tool, because I hate networking in the real world. But as John points out:

“Get out from behind the computer and go out there in your customer’s world and get a better understanding of what they are going through, and you may just discover an entirely new view of your customers and how you can engage them more fully.”

So, why should you read it?

For small businesses this is a powerful read because the strategies recommended don’t cost anything except time.

My top take-aways from the book

  1. Online marketing works for some companies, offline marketing for others, but convergent online/offline strategies are goldmines for any type of business.
  2. Every business needs a blog, and it has to be updated with good stuff regularly. Jim Connolly gets this. He posts to his blog every day and often comes up with some great ideas and highly referable content.
  3. Social media is a lot easier to manage when you go into it with a solid plan. Think of the number of Twitter accounts out there with 3-4 tweets on day 1, then nothing. These are the people who believe Twitter ‘just won’t work for my business’. In the book John outlines how he uses social media on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and it’s obvious that this is a guy who has a lot to do and needs to optimise the time he spends on Twitter/RSS feeds/Facebook.
  4. High quality content really is king in the world of marketing (both online and offline), and it isn’t just about blog posts. Think of sites like Hubspot and Unbounce. These companies churn out dozens of high quality content pieces every year, from blog posts to infographics to eBooks to webinars, it’s all there. And it’s always top quality & free.
  5. Making yourself more referable needs to be part of your core business philosophy. My local pub fails miserably at this because the landlady is the first to go on the offensive when something goes wrong. The result? All her staff follow her lead and very few people refer her business (and it’s a pity because the beer is cold and the food is usually great).
  6. The easier you make it for customers to refer you, the more likely they are to do it. It’s all about friction: if you give your customers the tools they need to refer you and the incentive to do so, they will.
  7. If you aren’t following up every sale (even one-off sales) with some form of ongoing communication, you are far less likely to be referred. On page 154 of The Referral Engine John talks about the “Owners Manual”, and shows how a simple transaction can lead to a string of non-spammy follow up communications almost guaranteed to get you more business. This page alone is worth buying the book for.
  8. Yes, we all have businesses to run and work to do that pays the bills, and this marketing stuff takes a lot of time. But the book also talks about repurposing a lot of content for blog posts, eBooks, webinars, real-world presentations, whitepapers, case studies and more, which makes a lot of sense.

You can read The Referral Engine from cover to cover in a weekend, but I think you’ll need to set aside a few hours to plan how best to put John’s ideas into action.

In summary

I don’t know if it’s because I am where I am with my business right now, but I found The Referral Engine to be one of the best business books I’ve ever read, simply because it’s written buy a guy who understands and works with small business every day, not a career writer who simply watches from the sidelines.

Have you read it? What did you implement? Let me know in the comments.

  • Ecommerce consulting guy

    Sounds like a real interesting read. We use this exact methodology to build our brand but the hardest aspect is generating the content needed for results.

  • Matt Middlesworth

    Hey Dave – totally agree. The Referral Engine was one of the better business books I’ve read as of late. I like how he pointed out the 4 C’s of marketing – content, context, connection & community.