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Referral relationships

November 14, 2012

Here’s some more ideas on building up referral relationships in your business:

I read once (and I wish I could remember where so I could give them credit!) that people talk a lot about “buisness to buisness” selling but that is never really the case, it is always, always, always “person to person.” Behind every business deal is a person.

I love the Referral Institute’s formula and I see it in practice every day as a business owner: Visibility + Credibility = Profitability

Trust is at the core of building relationships and nobody rolls deeper than the Better Business Bureau on that topic. They have built their whole brand around this idea including their yearly torch awards.

So how does a small business owner build referral relationships? Here are some of the basics:

Availability: These first 2 are actually vows taken by the Northumbria community. That community has learned there can be no relationship unless their members are available and vulnerable with each other. Our life is made up of a succession of moments so sharing our time is THE way we share our lives. Are you available to your most important customers and referral partners? Do they have direct access to you? This should most likely not be the general public if you are trying to build a business that is bigger than yourself. You do not want everyone to have your mobile phone number but you do want those 20-40 people who send you a lot of work (or have the potential to) to be able to contact you directly and get a response fairly quickly from you. Not your assistant. Not an auto responder email. Not a gatekeeper. YOU! First of all the type of people who are great referral partners probably won’t have the time or patience to wade through a matrix of gatekeepers whether persons or machines. They will want direct access. If they have a problem or want to make a referral you want them to be able to get to you directly.

Vulnerability: do you have the ability to make fun of yourself? to not take yourself too seriously? When we’re vulnerable with another person it triggers empathy in them and builds a bond between people. It’s also important to show real emotion. Now of course there is a balance here. You don’t always want to be wearing your heart on your sleeve in every relationship and certainly not in every business relationship but you might have to risk a little vulnerability and see how the other person responds. If they show empathy or better yet take a risk back then you have the basis of a relationship. If they don’t you may not even want them as a referral partner anyway.

Attention: Its interesting in our culture we talk about “paying attention.” Attention is a valuable currency! Want to reward someone or thank them for sending you work? Pay attention to them! Give generously of your attention. (Learned this one from my friend Chris Marshall… I wonder if he has written about this anywhere online? Maybe if Chris reads this he’ll post a link in the comments below? Pretty please?)

Telling your story: This ties in with vulnerability but the power of story, YOUR story is stronger than you may think. People want to know how you ended up in the buisness you are in, what motivated you to start a non-profit, or why you changed careers when you were 33. Just write it out and share it with a few people and see what happens.

Listening We’ve probably all heard the old adage that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason and how important it is for us to listen twice as much as we talk. Well even though its now cliche, its still true. Developing the ability to really hear another person is so so hard and so so worth it. It will deepen every realtionship you have and help you build the ones you want to have. Whether in your family or business. Knowing what customers want is THE secret sauce of selling and all it involves is learning to ask really good questions and shutting up. I can’t tell you how many times salespeople had me on the line and by talking too much literally talked me out of the sale. Hundreds of times. It seems counter intuitive but the more you talk the less I’m likely to buy. I just want the abbreviated version, the raw facts and then the ability to ask a couple follow up questions. Then I just want to feel heard. Practice the “You had me at hello” sales. Don’t pontificate! Listen!

Empathy: Following closely on the heels on listening is the practice of empathy. Empathy is a habit, a skill that can be learned. It can’t be faked but it can be learned. If you truly don’t care about people, you don’t deserve to succeed in business. If you are truly in it just for yourself I hope you don’t succeed. The last thing the world needs is another narcissistic a-hole entrepreneur. However, if you have a genuine desire to do well and you’re willing to do well by treating people well, caring for them, understanding their needs and offering something of real value then I want you to do well. You WILL do well. I love the prayer of St Francis “Seek first to understand, not to be understood.” That is at the heart of good listening and empathy.


I’ve had many good mentors in learning about referring relationships. Some top mentions include BNI, Referral Institute, Andy Senowitz and John Jantsch.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012 12:26 pm

    You had the Kecks at hello…
    Even though we wrinkled up our cars nowhere near You…

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