Book Review: The Referral Engine – Teaching Your Business to Market Itself

What if you created a business that automatically referred business to itself? What if we could get current customers to send new clients to our business? John Jantsch believes that this is not only possible but very much doable. In his book, The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself*, he provided guidance for creating a referral process within the business process.

“Human beings are physiologically wired to make referrals” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 3).

While I was reading this book, I thought that this book was highly appropriate to Extension educators and programs. We need to harness our repeat customers to gain new customers. We need to create such buzz that they are all but happy to refer others to use our services.

The Referral Engine is spread over 256 pages and 13 chapters. The first five chapters discussed the concept of a referral and how it will benefit your business. Jantsch advocated for not only asking for referrals but also creating lists of high quality businesses, individuals, and agencies whom you would refer to others. As Jantsch noted, businesses are not referred simply because of the product. “Buzzed-about businesses have a good solution draped in a total experience that excites, delights, or surprises the customer and motivates them to voluntarily talk about their experience” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 6). Throughout the book, he provided examples of business that took the extra effort and became buzz-worthy businesses. In my opinion, these examples can be replicated in an Extension community.

In the second chapter, Jantsch outlined the qualities of a referable business. Interestingly, many of the qualities were tightly tied to the employee such as training, empowerment, transparency, etc.  One of the key concepts presented was that of “giving.” It is a concept that I wholeheartedly agree with. We should be making our products readily available for others to see. This helps develop awareness and trust in our organization. “Businesses focused on generating referrals turn their attention to education over selling, in an effort to teach or demonstrate that they have what the prospect needs” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 27). Throughout all of the chapters, he provided ideas and tips for implementing a referral-based organization.

In my opinion, chapter 3 was noteworthy. In this chapter, Jantsch introduced the 4 Cs: content, context, connection, and community. “Authentic content that educates or is otherwise seen as valuable to the consumer is the new currency of marketing” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 34). Repeatedly, he stressed the importance of making content available to the public as well as leveraging social media tools. He pointed out that we need to be “balancing high-tech connections with high-touch engagements, by allowing one to inform the other” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 35). Extension is quite adept at high-touch engagements, we now need to work on high-tech engagements. This chapter also introduced his Ideal Customer Lifecycle. As I was thinking about my processes, I realized that there were a number of areas that I could improve upon.

Beginning with chapter 5, Jantsch included strategy action plans. These strategy action plans provided an abbreviated version of the chapter key points to help guide development through the process he created. Each keypoint was previously explained in detail.

Chapter 6 focused on content as a market driver. Jantsch explained why content was important to a referral organization. He not only stressed the importance of leveraging social media, but he also advocated for the reuse of content. He listed a number of ideas for reusing content, many of these ideas I have suggested in the past for example, answering questions as a blog post, posting presentations on slideshare, turning radio spots into podcasts, etc. “Anything you produce should have several lives” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 113).

In chapter 7, Jantsch discussed how to be found. He highlighted the importance of having a central hub with many different means to access the hub. He also noted the importance of social media on search engine optimization. These concepts are key to being found. “Any attempt to garner positive search results for your primary Web site hub must be accompanied by a strategy to optimize your entire Web presence through the effective use of social media” (Jantsch, 2012, p. 118). As he continued the chapter, he explained the impact social networking had on traditional networking. A key concept in this chapter was the importance of blogging. I could not agree more. Jantsch provided a number of best practices to help blog readability. He also included other alternatives to text only blogs such as podcasts, vodcasts, Webinars, etc. Finally, he listed recommended tasks for daily, weekly, monthly, and annual engagement opportunities.

In chapters 8 and 9, Jantsch examined the customer and strategic partner networks. Basically, he provided instruction on how to get customers and strategic partners to refer business. There are countless ideas for creating engagement opportunities;  opportunities that will lead to referrals. As he noted, not all customers and strategic partners are equal, some contribute more to the process. We need to take time to recognize these special contributors. Jantsch made a point to educate others how to identify an ideal customer as well as provide guidance to turn this customer into a referral.

In chapters 11 and 12, Jantsch provided a wealth of ideas of how businesses were creating referral organizations as well as ideas that could be used by a number of different businesses.

From this book, I walked away with countless ideas for improving upon what I do and how I do it. I initially purchased this book as a Kindle book; however, I liked it so much, I just purchased a paperback book because I will be referring to it often. The ideas in this book can have a positive effect on how Extension and higher education does business. We need to create the conditions where others are referring new customers to us. Retooling some processes will not be easy, but I believe the benefits will be worth it. I think all educators should read this book.


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