The Joy of Referrals

I was chatting with a coaching client the other day when the topic of referrals came up. She was concerned that networking was all for naught if you didn’t really get to know the people you were meeting. After all, how can you (or they) offer a referral about someone you’ve briefly met at an event?

Well, this took me a little by surprise. After all, we marketers — and business people in general — are big fans of networking. But maybe we don’t articulate why it’s an important activity very well. Yes, you’re out to meet new people. And, yes, you may only meet some of them once. But, if you do network regularly, don’t you begin to see some of the same people over and over? And don’t you get to know them, their businesses, their life in those repeated run-ins? Of course you do.

But, alas, she understood the value of these repeat meetings. It was those she met once or twice that had her concerned. I explained it by breaking out the three levels of referrals:

  1. I met this person at an event last week. He seems to do what you’re looking for. Obviously, this person isn’t giving a personal recommendation. They’re simply connecting someone with a need to someone who seems to do that or sell that. This is the level of referral you will be getting or giving for those people you meet briefly. Because there is the possibility of a referral, even from those you barely know, make sure that you are clear on why your product or service is so special while you network. That is what will click in their brains when a colleague says later on, “Have you ever heard of someone who…”
  2. John at Leaf Spots does that. He’s really good. This will come from someone who knows you better. Perhaps they’ve tried your product or service themselves or have heard good things from someone who has. Either way, your reputation is getting a boost with this referral. This is also the recommendation that my client thought all referrals should be and was a little daunted by the amount of networking time it was going to take to establish these “fans”.
  3. I’m bringing in Stacey at Gleefully Yours as a subcontractor or co-contractor. These are the best, usually the most lucrative — and the scariest — referrals to give and to receive. You are attaching your reputation and project performance to another business person. In essence, they are becoming your temporary partner. These referrals come from a contact you may have met at a networking function but with whom you have developed a business relationship through such nurturing activities such as regular coffee meetings or working together on other projects. These are worth their weight in gold and it’s important to spend the time developing at least a few of these.

Once I explained that not all referrals are the same — and that no one expects them to be — my client’s block towards networking seemed to significantly soften. She doesn’t have to make friends with everyone she meets — and neither do you. Networking is for learning about new people, re-enforcing relationships with those you’ve already met, and keeping your ear to the proverbial ground for new, exciting business information. More on that later…