Handshake

The subject of getting referrals has been written to death. Unfortunately, when you read and follow one of those articles or networking books on the subject of getting referrals, you are probably starting on the wrong foot. A better approach is to become really good at giving great referrals. It is a bit like the “giver’s gain” concept in networking which basically goes that those who give great service to others are rewarded for doing so. The golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” applies to referrals too.

When you give a referral, the people on both sides should feel like they are being treated with respect – like V.I.P.s or the very important persons that they are. You should be able to give a perfect referral so that the people on both sides get back to you expressing their gratitude for your having made the referral.

To give a perfect referral, there needs to be a perfect process and it needs to involve perfect people. You will need to create your own process according to your style and preferred approaches. Whether you only have enough time to squeeze out a few phone calls and emails between things or can fly to Jamaica for a round of golf or day of windsurfurfing to make proper introductions depends on your circumstances. Whatever your process, it needs to be sound.

There is a sliding scale of referral process quality from bad to good. Where do your referrals fit on the scale?

  1. Name-dropping referral. This is when you allow someone to use your name “talk to this person, use my name” with the other side not having been set up expecting something. In other words, permission has not been obtained so it becomes little more than an awkward cold call. This is bad.
  2. Email referral or what we call “referral spamming”. This is when you cc people as you would do with subordinates in an office. There is notice but it is a one way thing without there being permission granted from the other side. The appropriateness of the request has not been confirmed by asking the anticipated recipient before the email notice goes out. This is so so.
  3. Perfect referral. When you talk to both people, get permissions and also confirm the fit before going forward. Followed by a confirmation (maybe by email) and a follow up on how the meeting went and possibly attending the meeting itself. This is what a perfect referral looks like. Your process needs to cover these elements.

Making referrals should not be a high volume operation. One good one done well is better than making 10 crappy ones that can embarrass a bunch of people.

To ensure a perfect referral is given, you need to give it to the right people. These people should have the following attributes:

  1. They should be the best at whatever it is that they do. “An empty bag will not stand upright.” – Benjamin Franklin.
  2. These should be people that keep their word. There is not much point in referring people who are unable to keep their word. That type of referral is unlikely to produce anything constructive.
  3. They should be easy to deal with. People who are cheerful and pleasant to deal with are the best to have involved in the referral process.
  4. They should say “thank you” and prove it. It depends on the nature of the referral. Something slightly above the ordinary or expected can have long-lasting, positive effects. Sending a hand-written follow up card, flowers or a token gift to someone who would not be expecting it can make a strong positive impression. People who obtain referrals should not take their referrers for granted and should acknowledge them both privately and publicly for the referral.

Everyone involved in the referral should be treated with respect. Since first impressions count and referrals by definition are for making introductions, everyone involved with the process should be mindful of the consequences of a bad first impression that can be caused by a glitched referral.

For you as the referrer, the goal is to have both sides thank you after the referral has taken place. This will make it easy to obtain referrals later from these people when you need them.

The perfect people using the perfect process creates the perfect referral. Can you say that three times fast?

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: Happy About® Not flushing Away Your Innovation Dollars now available.

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