Kickin It Old School: Building a Referral Culture

When we’re kids, we’re told to live the golden rule. I must have learned a slightly more 20th century version of the phrase: “treat others the way you want to be treated.” It’s a deceptively easy little dictum, but as we all quickly learn on the playground, things are not always as simple as they seem.

Once we make it out of the schoolyard, it’s off to the real-world races where it feels like the only law of the land is every man or woman to themselves. Sometimes it’s as though you’re the only one who remembers that, once upon a time, we were all supposed to be nice to one another!

But, kindness isn’t a lost cause yet, and that all important golden rule is still just as meaningful as ever, especially when it comes to referrals. Giving and receiving are inextricably intertwined, in life and in business.

When you think about generating a strong influx of clients through referrals, it’s usually a one-sided question, and that’s the way we’ve been trained to think about the process. But, one of the best ways to bring in the fandemonium of a true referral culture is to be a spectacular referrer yourself.

Let me just stop here and say something that you just don’t hear enough: Networking is about generating value for others in your community. Yes, you’re supposed to get a good return on this investment of time and energy, but ultimately, networking is just that—it’s creating a network of prosperous people whose individual successes multiply the overall achievements of the others—the truest display of the good old golden rule.

So what makes you the kind of referrer your network just won’t stop talking about? Here are four techniques that will build your referring chops and create the referral culture you’ve been looking for:

1. Get to Work for Someone Else

You can send an amazing message to current and potential referral partners when you put your smooth talking self to someone else’s task. Think about a referring partner who has a considerable amount of potential but you’re not quite to the point yet where you’re shouting each other’s names from the rooftops. At your next networking session, talk them up. “I’m actually trying to help a friend in X who needs to meet with a Y,” makes quite the impression on these new faces, but it also turns someone who wasn’t quite a strong partner into your biggest fan.

2. Data Mine

When it comes to how much we really retain from any given conversation…suffice it to say that it’s not always very impressive! Instead of leaving it up to your busy brain to remember every last detail that could be good for a referral, document that info in your very own Customer Relationship Management system, otherwise known as a CRM. Maybe this kind of effort seems like it’s overkill, but when you have a comprehensive CRM (of which referral data is only one component, by the way) you set yourself up for a far more nuanced interaction with both clients and referral partners.

3. Use the Follow-up Force, Luke

Don’t just follow up on your referral partners, check in every once in a while with the people you intend to refer them to. It may seem like these are people and businesses with little to no value to your own efforts, but remember, it’s not all about you! And remember what we were talking about a while back with Joint Venture Partnerships—sometimes, seemingly unrelated businesses can forge very fruitful partnerships, but it takes a strong relationship, and that demands a follow-up.

4. It’s a Referral, Not a Lead

Remember what characterizes a referral. It’s not a name on a page, or a business card, or just an email with a little bit of information—heck, you can buy that! A referral is a “Hello!” It’s an introduction between compatriots, even if they are only acquaintances. Ultimately, referrals are about trust, after all, you refer people you like to others you genuinely believe in. Again, it’s all about the message, and honest relationships say quite a bit.

In the end, the tools we took away from our schoolroom days are just important as ever. Who knew a kindergarten saying could be one of the best pieces of business advice you’ll ever see?

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