AAM Minute - Business Development News

12 Steps to Take Referral Relationships to the Next Level

Fred Kaplan, Mazars USA LLP


1. Look Out for Your Outlook

Call it a mission statement, a purpose, or a personal culture, but look to approach people you meet from the perspective that networking is awesome when you network to help rather than to meet people. If you seek only to meet people, you are unlikely to invest the time and effort it takes in getting to know them to the degree where you can make a referral. Alternatively, if you are focused on learning how you might help them, you may actually start a productive relationship.


2. Networking is for Qualifying, Not Selling

Networking events are filled with both likely and unlikely referral partners. Qualify new acquaintances by conducting short screening conversations (e.g., what do you do, how long have you done it, etc.), and then share your story. Use the “one breath rule” when talking about what you do. That is, have a clean answer ready to go with one caveat – exhale only once. By the time you run out of breath, you should have completed your saying. Be clear and concise and you will be asked to tell them more. That is your cue, and permission, to go deeper. Do not forget to exchange business cards.


3. Go Postal

Follow up promptly with people you meet via email, phone call, or a handwritten note. Acknowledge meeting them and mention that you look forward to talking with them again. Repeat information that you may have mentioned during your first meeting like details about an upcoming event. A speedy follow-up shows that you care about having met the person and that you did not discard their business card. It also helps the other person remember you above others they may have met at the same event.


4. Your Network is Your Net Worth

Invite your new contacts to join your LinkedIn network. The value of connecting on LinkedIn is to enable you to add depth to your knowledge about the other person. Once connected, you can see the other person’s network and find mutual connections and common interests that will help you decide whether to engage further. This also allows you to add thousands of indirect contacts to your network.


5. Size the Prize

Only invest in further engagement with those who pass your pre-qualification criteria (e.g., size of their clients, geographic footprint, relationships, etc.). Invite selected new contacts to one-on-one meetings. Remember a bell curve exists here and half the people you meet will be below average.


6. Asset or Acquaintance

Meet one-on-one with potential referral partners. Conduct a relationship conversation. Be curious. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Why did you get into this business? Why do you like it? Write down points for post-meeting follow-up, such as introductions you might make for this person. Explore the value of building a mutual referral relationship.

7. Givers Gain

The best way to get a referral is to give one! Listen for an opportunity to help. During your one-on-one meetings, be perceived as a giver, not a taker. The more you listen, the more the other person will like you. Ask yourself, “How can I make this person better as a result of connecting with me?” Offer to forward information on a networking or educational event. Introduce this person to another in your network for further networking. Offering to help starts to build trust. You want to make a deposit before a withdrawal. Starting with a low-risk referral deposit minimizes fall-out should your evaluation of this person be wrong, and you could be wrong, so never immediately refer a new acquaintance to a client.


8. The Most Important Question

"How can I know if somebody I'm speaking with is a good connection for you?" Asking this question shows that you are both interested in this person and committed to contribute to his or her success. It also shows that you take action, which will further enhance your image.


9. Ask for the Referral

Now it is your turn to articulate your capabilities and distinctive value. Communicate why this person might want to make a referral to you. Help them get to know and like you. Do not expect to gain trust early in your relationship. The following are three ways you can ask for a referral from the least to best method:

A.      General – “Do you know anyone at XYZ Company?” While this request may generate a few names, you have to follow up on their positions and closeness of the relationships to the referral partner.

B.      Guided – “Who are you connected to at XYZ? Who should I be talking to at XYZ?” This is better since you are helping the other party identify contacts who might be good for you to meet.

C1. Specific – “Can you introduce me to ____?” When you already know the person for your desired introduction, either by name or position, you can learn quickly if your referral partner can help.

C2. Softer Specific – “Would it be worthwhile for me to meet with ___” By enabling your referral partner to decide yes (or no), your partner becomes obliged to follow through.


10. Amateurs Sell, Professionals Sort

Sometimes you are a match, and sometimes you are not. If the potential referral partner does not ask you thoughtful questions to learn about you or does not offer to help you, you have to decide whether or not to invest further in this person. You may conclude that this person does not have a compatible personality, will not be a mutual referral partner, and you should end the meeting. The level of commitment is more important that the number of referral partners. It is better to have 10 strong partners than 100 average ones. Find partners like you, those who are motivated to help each other.


11. Organize Your Referral Sources

Categorize each referral partner relationship for scheduled follow-up using your contact management system. Consider these four categories:

·         A - Already referred clients

·         B - Brought you opportunities

·         C - Can refer prospects

·         D – Do not bother (Do not trash these contacts because you could be surprised with a referral necessitating a change in category).


12. Keep Calm & Stay Visible

In both cultivating referral partners and pursuing business prospects, try to straddle the line between lurking and stalking. Periodic touch points are needed to keep each partner an active referrer. Schedule a cycle of follow-up activities for each person per category. This could be monthly for your As, bi-monthly for your Bs, and quarterly for your Cs. Reach out in-person, by phone, or email – just connect! You can easily stay visible by:

·         Recognizing milestones

·         Notifying them of events and invitations

·         Keeping them informed by sharing articles or blog posts

·         Following their LinkedIn and Twitter posts

·         Seeking advice or help

·         Following-up on past projects or events you have in common


Also, do not forget to reward your referral partners by sending them gift cards, event tickets, gift baskets, etc.


Building a continuous referral pipeline requires a commitment to the disciplined development and nurturing of strategic marketing alliances.