As published on Forbes.com
You know how important referrals are in business. You might seek referrals to grow your business. Others might seek referrals for new career opportunities. In either case, how you make those requests can determine whether you are a networking and referral hero or zero.
Build A Network Of Value
It’s never too early or too late to build a valuable network. What is your goal in building a network? If your goal is to get something for yourself, you’ll work hard and create virtually no goodwill. Derek Coburn, author of Networking Is Not Working and co-founder of high-value Un-networking group, cadre says, “Effective networking happens when you never lose sight of your most important connections, and constantly seek where you can be of service to them.” When you serve others, they quickly see where you can be helpful.
Networks work best when the participants seek to understand and appreciate the unique value of others in the network. The quid-pro-quo nature of some networking groups is counterproductive in that it often leads to inappropriate and mistimed connections. In some groups, members are expected to trade referrals like old-school barter systems. You might expect to receive three referrals for every three you give to others. Instead, connect people who can help each other at the right time. Don’t make a referral out of obligation. Referrals are a waste of time if the parties are not a good fit at the right time.
I recently had the good fortune to interview Bill Cates on my podcast. Bill is known as The Referral Coach, and many top companies call on him to help their organizations earn more referrals. One of his first pieces of advice is to “be referable.” In other words, deliver exceptional value and results to your existing customers. You might have the best referral sources in the world. But, if you don’t deliver great results for your clients, then the word will spread fast. Doing a great job for existing customers is the best way to earn referrals. This holds true whether you are seeking a potential customer or a potential employer. If you were a bad employee, the new potential employer might not be interested if the word on the street is that you don’t do good work. Do great work, and referrals come easily.
Referral vs. Personal Introduction
Bill shares the difference between a personal introduction and a referral. A referral is often just a way to connect two people. What is often implied sounds like, “Here is Chris’s contact information. Feel free to harass them from now until the end of time.” On the other hand, a personal introduction comes from someone who has seen your work and feels it could benefit the other party: “We were facing XYZ challenge and it was costing us a fortune. Chris’s company swiftly solved the problem and we’ve never looked back. I sense you might be in a similar situation and would appreciate an introduction.” In the example of the personal introduction, the connection is of mutual interest to both parties.
Would Both Parties Thank You
Never make an introduction that is a blessing to one party and a curse to the other. Always ask yourself if your introduction would be welcome and appreciated by BOTH parties. If only the seller (or in the case of a job search– the candidate) would be appreciative, then you are burning your political capital. If you make an introduction that is not mutually beneficial, then one party will be thankful, and the other might just plot a course to get even with you. More importantly, they might question your judgment in the future.
Good referrals (or personal introductions) are not a favor for someone down on their luck. Rather, when done properly, both parties will be thankful you made the introduction. To ensure you make appropriate introductions, make a list of why each party would appreciate meeting the other. If you cannot determine why both parties would be happy with the introduction, then it’s not a good one to make. Similarly, if you are seeking an introduction, make a list of why the person you want to meet would be fortunate to meet with you. If you don’t know why it would be mutually beneficial, then don’t make the request – you’ll only put your contact in a bad situation.
It’s Your Turn
When has an introduction proved to be valuable? When have you felt “used” through an introduction?