At this month’s meeting of business owners and management executives at the United Regional Chamber of Commerce we had a lively discussion about the care and handling of referrals. There was an easy consensus that a referral is the most effective method of finding new business. We came up with an interesting list of dos and don’ts that we had found effective to maximize the value of the referrals that we receive.
- Do collaborate with the referrer on an introduction. Ask the referrer to make an introduction so that the person to whom you have been referred is expecting to hear from you. This can be a simple e-mail or phone call to inform them and maximize your chance of success in getting through to them when you reach out to make contact.
- Do collect some relevant information from your referrer in order to make the best use of your time following up on the referral. Get some information about the person, his or her business, why the referral is important and the expectations the referrer has for the referral. Be sure that you know whether the referral is to a potential client or a colleague in the business community who could offer additional chances for networking. Although anything can happen knowing where you’re starting is always a good idea.
- Do help your referrer make an interesting introduction. It can be effective to send the referrer an e-mail and in it you can offer them a draft of a two or three sentence introduction that describes the mutual interest that you would have in making contact. It’s the “second sentence” that makes all the difference. For instance, “I think it would be interesting for you to meet with Charlie. I’ve known Charlie for quite some time and he has been helpful in assisting business owners build leadership skills and make better decisions in order to enjoy a more successful business and the more satisfying personal life.”
- Do visit the Internet for general background information. Ten or fifteen minutes on the website of the person with whom you’re about to meet will add significantly to the value of the meeting and the results both of you get from investing your time together.
- Do take the responsibility for the referral seriously and with a high sense of priority. The person who is making the referral is doing so with a sense of confidence that you will handle it professionally. They are risking their own reputation and relationship with the third-party. To the extent that you handle the referral well you will be adding to their image in the business community; to the extent that you handle it poorly you will be detracting. If they had loaned you their brand-new sports car they would expect you to take excellent care of it; it’s the same with the referral of a valuable business associate. Don’t treat the referral like a rental car!
- Don’t hesitate. Take action within a very short time. The group agreed that no more than 24 to 48 hours should go by before you begin your follow-up. If for some reason it’s going to take longer to do a good job following up begin with a preliminary follow-up. Maybe an e-mail like: “Hi Jane and Jim, I’m pleased to have been introduced and I am looking forward to making contact with Jim soon. However, I’m on my way to the hospital for emergency surgery and won’t be able to follow-up for several days. I’ll be in touch as soon as possible.”
- Do keep the referrer advised of your progress in following up with the referral. And do follow-up with a thank you to the referrer. Taking the time to make the thank you a handwritten note delivered by snail mail underscores the value that you place on the referral.
- Don’t make any assumptions about where the referral may end up. A meeting with someone you might believe would be a lower value networking connection can easily turn into the discovery of a valuable client.
- Do circle back to the referrer in the case of a referral where you are not able to make any connection. Your referrer may be able to explain why or suggest a different approach that will be more effective.
- Don’t ever ignore a referral.
- Do follow-up with the referrer if the referral turns out to be a poor match. Explaining that you sincerely appreciate the referral and then describing why it turned out not to be a particularly good match will clarify the definition of a good referral in your referrer’s mind.
- Do consider a thank you gift for the referrer if the referral should turn into a particularly valuable business relationship. It doesn’t need to be anything big: a recent popular business paperback that you think would be particularly relevant to the referrers business, or, perhaps, a copy of the latest magazine that deals with his or her hobby. The more personalized – the better.
What can you add to this discussion so that we can all maximize the effectiveness of handling referrals?