An unprecedented referral opportunity as engagement picks up

May 18, 2022
A second honeymoon for operators and their clients.

Last month, we explored the business reality that nothing beats face-to-face contact when it comes to client relations. In fact, the column generated more reader response from operators than ever before – a clear signal that businesspeople are anxious to return to something that resembles pre-pandemic “business as usual.”

I get mail

A note from Dan Welch, president of World Cup Coffee & Tea in Portland, reflected the sentiments of several operators. He reached out to say, “Great read. I just sat down with a client we have had for 32 years.” Welch went on to explain that because of the strength of the relationship, he just installed a huge micro market following the easiest sale he ever had, without any bidding. “You are dead on. Interpersonal communication is far better than online meetings,” he added.

Happy honeymoon

Now that operators can begin to finally interact directly with clients – with meetings, lunches, dinners and sporting events back on the table – operators will find themselves in a unique position of reliving the client-operator “honeymoon period,” amplified by the many reinstallations that are occurring as offices repopulate.

Starry eyed clients

If there is any truth to the reports that employers are hungry for amenities, then operators should find their clients starry eyed as they see the ramped-up OCS technology, new product variety, high quality food and multiple sustainable solutions that our industry now offers. Smart operators will maintain rigid safety and sanitization programs so that clients will feel safe – much safer than dealing with unvetted outside services.

Big referral door

This honeymoon period opens the biggest referral door ever. Operators have a fresh opportunity to tap into an unprecedented amount of quality referrals – often the source of incredible new accounts.

Wrong way, right way

 It is important to remember (I have talked about this before) – that there is a wrong way and a right way to ask for referrals.

The wrong way: A client services rep or a sales rep approaches the happy client and asks: “I am so pleased that you are happy with our company’s performance, the smooth installation, and your new office refreshment program. If you can think of anyone who might benefit from our services, would you be kind enough to pass my card along to them?” Probable results: zero.

This might work

This approach to referrals may work, to a small extent, if an operator is offering a paid strategic partnership program, where all clients are offered a $50 gift card for a referral that gets you an appointment, plus another $200 gift card when you actually turn the referral into a new account. Paid strategic partnerships like this work with a small percentage of people who are truly motivated to cash in on the gift cards. Those people can “set the table for you” at some outstanding new accounts. It is certainly one way to generate referrals, but there is a better way.

This works – guaranteed

The best way and the right way to ask for a referral during this second honeymoon period (or with any happy new or existing client) starts with LinkedIn.

Your goal is to get yourself a referral by way of a warm introduction.

You don’t have to be a LinkedIn guru to know that warm introductions can impact your business in a big way. Get started by looking at your client’s LinkedIn connections and pick 10 you would like to meet. Take your happy client out for a nice lunch and ask them, “Do you mind if we have a conversation about possible introductions to your LinkedIn connections?”

Your clients will be cooperative for three reasons:

  1. This is a very focused approach.
  2. It is easy for them – requires little effort.
  3. They love you right now – it’s the second honeymoon – they want to help you!

Their list might end up getting cut down to three or four connections, but warm introductions to a handful of key contacts are powerful. Once the list is defined, ask them to make the introduction however they are comfortable – in a call, email or through LinkedIn.

Ask to be copied and let them know you will be happy to take it from there. It works.

Engage, try it and report the results

Try this proven business development approach during the post-pandemic honeymoon period, and let me know how it goes. This approach always worked for me and resulted in some sensational new business (which led to even more referrals). To get the ball rolling, get out from behind the Zoom screen and go engage with your clients.


Industry consultant and Vending Market Watch contributing editor Bob Tullio is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up and advises suppliers on how to successfully connect with operators. Tullio’s YouTube channel, b2b Perspective, is designed to “elevate your business in two minutes.”

At the 2022 NAMA Show in Chicago, Tullio presented a pre-conference session entitled, “Selling Convenience Services: Strategies of Elite Performers.”

For more information on the services that Tullio offers to operators and suppliers, visit his new website at or contact him at [email protected]


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