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Monday Mornings with Madison



It's not news that referrals are an excellent way to get more business. We all ask people we know when we’re looking for a new product or service.  We rely on our friends and colleagues for advice in these situations in order to make the best decisions.  The more complex or important the service or product needed, the more we turn to trusted sources for advice.  Legal advice.  Financial assistance.  Medical help.  Real estate transactions.  These, for example, are all areas where a referral by a friend or colleague carries more weight. 

The process of building referrals can seem daunting. If you have a good product or give good service, you can count on some referrals from existing clients and people you know, but that can be fairly limited.  The real question is how to develop more referral sources.  I believe this boils down to one basic principle, which underlies all sales and marketing:  people do business with people they know, like, and trust. For someone to do business with you, they need to know you, like you and trust you.  In order to get a referral from someone you know, that person needs to be sure you will take good care of the person or people they send you. For that, the referring sources has to know you, like you and trust you… at a level that goes beyond just having heard your company’s name.

To expand your list of referral sources, try an approach which goes beyond getting referrals from the people you already know.  For this, you have to know the right people.

1. Create a most-wanted list of ten occupational categories whose members are frequently in touch with the type of client you desire. For example, a commercial lender who specializes in working with small start-up businesses might choose accountants, attorneys, commercial Realtors, shopping center owners, office building managers, business coaches, business teachers, career counselors, entrepreneurship center staff, and small business financial planners.

2. Make the acquaintance of ten people in each occupation. Seek them out, meet with them, and familiarize them with your expertise and the benefits of the service you offer. Find out more about what they do and the type of clients they serve so you can refer business to them as well.

3. When you connect with someone who seems open to sending you business referrals from time to time, you have found a referral partner. Add their name to your list. Ten people times ten occupations equals Referral Team of 100.

When you have a specific goal like this in mind, your networking becomes more focused. As you meet new people, you'll soon be able to decide from looking at the title on their business card whether following up with them should be part of your plan. Whenever you meet someone whose occupation matches one on your list, ask, "I think we might be able to refer each other clients. Can we get together and talk about that?"

No matter what your business is, if you can define your niche, you can identify others that serve it. A marketing consultant might target web designers, copywriters, and graphic artists. A massage therapist could seek out chiropractors, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors. If you have trouble coming up with a list of occupations, ask your current clients with whom they currently do business.

Share your most-wanted list with others, and ask for introductions to people they already know. For example, if accountants are on your list, ask your clients, colleagues, and friends for the name of their accountant. If you are seeking commercial Realtors, ask friends who have businesses for the name of the Realtor that helped them find their office or retail space. 

Regardless of how you first get in touch, some of the people you talk to won't be receptive to getting to know you better or the idea of referring each other business. That's okay. You only need ten names for each occupation, and there are plenty of people from which to choose. Just move on to the next possibility.

Also, don't be concerned that you won't have any business referrals to send in return.  Neither of you are promising to send each other clients.  You are simply expanding your circles to increase the likelihood of that happening. As you get to know more people in your niche, it's quite likely that you will find yourself making referrals more often.

4.  When you aren't able to make enough connections through networking and your existing contacts to complete your Referral Team of 100, don't be afraid to just look them up.  Of course, the Internet is a great place to identify referral sources.  But trade associations are even better sources.  Those contacts you approach through a trade association are going to be more receptive because you both are members.  No matter how you identify them, if you approach them as a colleague and express your desire for the two of you to help each other be more successful, you'll find many people willing to get better acquainted.

5.  Once you have developed your Referral Team of 100, switch from identification to follow-up mode.  Stay in touch in a personal way with everyone on your list at least once per quarter. With 100 names on your Referral Team, you should be able to do that easily.  Over time, you’ll find that some in your Referral Team aren't particularly good referral sources. That's to be expected. The reason to develop such a broad network is that only a few will consistently refer. You can always add more names later to replace those who aren’t as helpful.

6.  Final tip.  When you get a referral from one of those on your Referral Team of 100, thank them for it.  Let them know that you appreciate the business. 

Looking for referrals in a direct, systematic manner reduces stress and is a great way to go beyond getting referrals from existing clients and friends. 


"In sales, a referral is the key to the door of resistance." Bo Bennett

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