Referral Party: Are You Going Formal or Business Casual?

June 8, 2011

Any seasoned sales pro knows word-of-mouth referrals are the platinum standard of lead generation. Why? Let’s start with higher closing ratios. Then we look at a low cost per lead which pencils to only a fraction of traditional marketing and advertising expenses. Combine the two for a lucrative income stream whether you are selling real estate, massage therapy or cleaning services.

Ask the grizzled marketer how they go about generating referrals and you’ll get one of three very different responses. Among the most popular:

 “I do a great job for my customers and they tell people about me.” Translation: I do not have a referral system. Hope is my strategy. Let’s call this the “business casual” approach.

Another common answer is any number of variations on  an old, and ill-advised theme, “I do a lot of networking and always tell people that I’m never too busy for their referrals.” Translation: You ask people for referrals and sometimes you get one. Sorry to say this is not networking. Without giving an abundance of relevant value first, asking for referrals spirals downward over time into a doomed campaign of begging for dollars. After a while, even your strongest supporters will get tired of hearing from you. My advice: adopt a Givers Gain® philosophy before you further damage your most valuable asset, relationships with people who like you and trust you.

Finally, less common but indicative of someone whose networking activities are aligned with generating referrals, “I belong to BNI” (or some other referral group), is the response of a professional networker.  If creating referrals was a party, this black-tie formal approach to word-of-mouth networking would be the hottest ticket in town.

Givers Gain®

Let’s start with the basics. Generating referrals for yourself begins with you finding and creating referrals for others. So that’s the first step to referral marketing – building or joining a network of referral partners who you like, trust and send referrals to.

Next is consistently making your network visible to its targeted prospects. Best results come from systematic use of simple but powerful tools like a business card organizer, network directory flyer and website, as well as social media to promote the products and services of your networking partners to your clients and sphere-of-influence.

Finally, a networking group that meets regularly creates more referrals that those that do not. Statistics show that once a week is the optimal frequency for a group meeting of networking partners who have made a commitment to actively participate in a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship to maximize referral results.

Time Crunch

Unfortunately however, most people do not have the scheduling flexibility to belong to an existing referral group with a regularly scheduled meeting, or the knowledge, resources and experience to create and run one on their own.

There is good news!

While a regularly scheduled meeting is the pinnacle of structured business networking, an individual “free agent” networker can create a more loosely structured semi-formal network and an abundance of referrals, both inbound and out, with systematic integration of an advanced power team process.

So here’s the question:If there is no meeting, what is the system? How does the network operate? Answer: There will be meetings, but they will NOT be regularly scheduled, ongoing meetings with the entire group.

You as the leader of your own free agent network will go to breakfast, lunch or coffee when you can with a few of your networking partners at a time to learn more about each others’ business and cross pollinate referral opportunities by discussing current projects, clients, haves/wants, etc.

Shift Activity from Meeting to Promoting

While the group meetings take a backseat based on scheduling, the primary focus shifts to systematic promotion and network visibility by all networking partners with a variety of tools, including: 

  • business card organizer
  • promotional information on contracts and paperwork
  • directory flyer
  • website
  • social media
  • email “signature”
  • voice mail message

The free agent network fits somewhere between an informal, unstructured, “I go to mixers and just sort of know a few people who send me referrals” approach and the professional commitment of belonging to a structured networking group with a regularly scheduled meeting.

 To clarify this concept, here are the three levels of referral marketing:

  1. Business Casual – No directory, no meetings
  2. Semi-formal – Directory of trusted vendors, irregular meetings
  3. Formal – Ongoing structured networking meeting

Whether you are already riding a wave of referrals from a structured networking group or an individual business person flopping around like a beached fish, frantically squirming to create referrals on your own, the secrets of free agent, semi-formal networking can dramatically improve your results. How? I will be happy to tell you at our next irregularly scheduled meeting of the minds, when our adventure in networking continues…