How to Give a Good Referral?

Annoying referral How many referrals did you pass along this month? Were you listening to your friends, clients, casual acquaintances, folks met on the bus?

When you’ve said, “I am so tired of that faucet dripping, it’s driving me nuts,” do you have a friend, business acquaintance, or an outspoken client, who can’t wait to run down the list of businesses that can come to your rescue (even though all you really needed was a therapist)?

I have a few colleagues like that. They are kind of deal-killers for me to be honest. We are bombarded with advertising and media overload nearly every waking moment.

OK, so why is the Chairman of the local Business Networking Group talking like this?  Hey, aren’t you supposed to be encouraging us to make referrals for one another?

Yes.  But I didn’t say anything about annoying everyone with whom you come in contact.

So, just for fun—and for a great, controversial meeting topic—here are my top ten ideas for providing great referrals:

  1. Be quiet and listen to your friend, colleague or client:  One of the most important rule of good listening is to keep your mind open. Don’t, for instance, start thinking about solving the person’s problem before they even finish their sentence. Hear what they are saying—completely—and take a few seconds to try to stand in their shoes.
  2. Ask some follow-up questions about their situation and echo back to them what they told you:  Using the above example, say, “So your faucet is dripping like a sieve and for some reason it is driving you over the edge. You said you could fix it, but you just have too much on your plate and are very stressed out. You say you don’t know what to do.” Thought it was a plumber they needed, did ya? Wrong! If we would have listened longer we might have found out what they really needed was a massage and Qigong lessons. Ooops.
  3. Make a mental note about the person in need of assistance:  Are they wired or are they laid-back? Do you think referring a business colleague that is “like totally mellow” would work for someone that has ADHD?
  4. Try to make the highlight of your conversation about your new or ongoing relationship versus just another advertisement for a business colleague:  If you are in the latter frame of mind, it’s likely that your “target” (in the above case) will just try to brush you off, so you will stop trying to sell them on something they may not be able to afford anyway.
  5. Make sure you really know the business, and preferably the business owner, you are referring:  You are just like the company you keep. For example, you won’t find me referring someone to a car dealer who simply offered to buy me dinner if I would send their way some poor unsuspecting sucker, er person, I know (and probably like) into their clutches. If I am referring a business to a friend, colleague, or client, I want them to have a great experience. Remember, that friend, colleague, or client is also going to be in a position to refer my business to someone else.
  6. When making a referral, think of that “emotional tidbit” that will stick in the mind of the person to whom you are giving the referral:  Emotional experiences, whether good or bad, leave strong traces in the brain. For example, “Joan at Alpha Massage hit a spot in my neck that absolutely lifted the world off my sholders. She is a terrific massuse!”
  7. Let the person receiving the referral have their own “ah ha” moment:  Don’t go immediately for their jugglar vein with, “—and Joan can be reached at this number/ email—can I have her call you?” I can’t think of a better reason to scan my calls or make use of my spam filter than this. If you made an impression on them with your emotional hook, then they will likely ask you how to get a hold of Joan.
  8. The businesses in your circle of influence are a major part of your own business’s  success:  Your network wants you to be successful, because the more clients you connect with, the more potential clients for them. It’s the only pyramid scheme that actually works (ok … I am going to get letters for that comment).
  9. Be sure to let your colleague know that you were thinking about them:  Tell them you dropped their business name/referral on a potential client. This gives them a chance to know what expectation you set on their behalf and a brief snippet on what the prospective client is like. Both parties will appreciate your effort and will remember you when they want to refer someone.
  10. [And finally, my favorite, and the reason people actually come to me for referrals….] Get to know your colleagues on a personal level:  Do things together. Get involved in each other’s charity or social groups (this does not include email, twitter, or other SN, social networking media).  If you are in the trenches together—eye ball to eye ball—you have a much better chance of winning the little battles that life puts in front of you.

Thus, the subject matter of this Friday’s open discussion session.  Bring your thoughts and ideas!  And bring a friend!

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