The Levels of Referrals

A BNI member asked me the other day if it’s possible to learn to distinguish the difference between weak referrals and quality referrals. The answer is YES. Below are the things to consider in distinguishing between weak and strong referrals.

There are varying levels of referrals, starting at a level that’s just one step above a cold lead. These types of referrals are ranked in quality from lowest to highest. Number one is the lowest-ranked type of referral (the least desirable) to give and receive, and number eight is the highest (most desirable). You can use the referral level rankings below to help distinguish quality referrals from weaker ones.


1. Names and contact information only: Getting the name and contact information from a referral source is better than nothing—but not much.
2. Authorization to use name: This indicates you’ve established good credibility; however, the work of developing the prospect still rests with you.
3. General testimonial statement and/or letter of recommendation and introduction: This is a noteworthy accomplishment, and it demonstrates that the referral source trusts you.
4. Introduction call: This takes the effort on the part of the referral source up another notch and paves the way for communication from you.
5. Note or letter of introduction, call and promotion: This implies an even higher level of commitment on the part of the referral source. It is an outright recommendation of your business accompanied by a description of its features and benefits.
6. Arrange a Meeting: Here your referral source is acting as a facilitator for you. This conveys to your prospect that your referral source has a deep trust in and approval of your business.
7. Face-to-face introduction and promotion: Your referral source is now actively engaged in selling your product or business, rather than just being a meeting facilitator.
8. Closed deal: After your referral source has described the features and benefits of your product or business, he then closes the sale. This is the highest level of referral you can achieve.

So, You Know How to Network…But Do You Know How to Sell?

Sell is not a four-letter word. OK, it is a four letter word, but you know what I mean. …It’s not a “bad” word.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across businesspeople over the years who are fantastic networkers, but they think that just because they know how to network, they don’t need to know how to sell. They think that people will like them, and then their products or services will sell themselves. This kind of mentality is unfortunate because people who think this way may be leaving business on the table.

Anybody who’s experienced and successful in referral marketing will tell you that sales skills are needed in every part of the referral marketing process–not just in closing the sale with the prospect.

From the very beginning, you must sell yourself to your potential referral source. A referral is not a guaranteed sale; it’s the opportunity to do business with someone to whom you’ve been recommended. You still have to close the deal. You have to make it clear that you know how to sell, and that you can and will provide the products or services you’re expected to provide. If you can’t make that first “sale,” your potential referral source won’t become your referral provider.

Beyond selling yourself to the referral source, you have to sell yourself to the prospect to get that first appointment. Then, once you’ve made the appointment, you have to persuade the prospect to buy your product or service. This is the part that usually comes to mind when you hear the word “sell.” However, in referral marketing, closing the deal with your prospect is neither the beginning nor the end of the selling process. The sales process is all about keeping an ongoing relationship with the client or customer. This is something that the best referral marketers know and understand.

The Three Core Competencies of Referral Success

Last week, I met with my business partner in the Referral Institute, Mike Macedonio (seen below with me), and as we were discussing what it really takes to drive your business by referral, one of the first things Mike mentioned was that the first core competency of referral success is the need for correct knowledge.  It didn’t surprise me that Mike would start with this; after all, we co-authored Truth or Delusion–Busting Networking’s Biggest Myths which directly adresses what works and what doesn’t work in referral marketing.  In the book, Mike paraphrases Mark Twain’s statement about having correct knowledge, which appropriately says something to the effect of, It’s not what you know that will stand in the way of your success as much as what you know which isn’t so.

The second core competency in successful referral marketing is to stay engaged with your referral marketing plan.  This is harder than it sounds.  Many referral marketing concepts are counter intuitive.  It’s like telling a driver to turn into a skid.  This is not the natural reaction.  Even when the driver understands it’s in his best interest to turn into the skid, it’s only when he does it that he learns how it actually works.

Referral marketing is the same way.  When we’re going out looking for more business, it’s natural to look for qualified prospects and approach them.  However, referral marketing shows us that we will be even more effective if someone who has a credible relationship with the prospect sent them to us.  We understand this is in our best interest, however it may not be our natural reaction.

So, how do you get the business owner to network in a way that may not come naturally? Some of the solutions Mike and I discussed are to:

*  Stay connected to blogs and podcasts on networking
*  Participate in networking groups
*  Get involved in ongoing referral trainings

The first two core competencies, obtaining correct knowledge and staying engaged with your referral marketing plan, apply to any personal or professional development programs and it is important to keep in mind that though they may be “simple,” they’re not “easy.”

The third core competency, implementing a system to train your network on how to refer you business, is the missing piece that most business people do not have in place to create referral success.  No matter how brilliant you are in referral marketing, or how skillful you are in “leaning into the punch,” if your referral partners are inadequate your results will be insufficient.

Mike gave a great football analogy for this.  He said, “What if Tom Brady, the most successful quarterback at this time, were to get on the field with a team that was lacking skills and knowledge of the game?  Tom Brady would be throwing perfect spirals to players who can’t catch and don’t know their assignments.  It wouldn’t take long for Tom to recognize that he’s better off just keeping the ball and running.  This could be equated in business to direct prospecting.  It is hard work for short yardage.

So, what can we learn from this?  That if you make the three core competencies a priority, you will not only be on the right track for referral success, you will also be gaining much more “yardage” from your efforts!

What has your experience been and/or how do you think you can apply these ideas to your business?

Business Networking Trends (Part 3): Small Companies vs. Large

Here is the final installment of my thoughts about trends in 2008 for business networking.

Small companies will continue to have the edge over big companies relating to business networking.

For the most part, big companies are clueless about building sales through the networking process. They continue to teach salespeople traditional methodologies while relying heavily on advertising to create buzz. Mind you, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these strategies. The problem is–big companies don’t effectively incorporate referral marketing into the process.

When it comes to developing social capital and the networking process, small business is king. Big business is slow to move out of the mindset of splashy ad campaigns, big dollars spent on traditional marketing and the “same old, same old.”

If big business does ever get it, however, it is likely to run over the little guys. Big business will learn how to develop social capital and will teach its people how to do true relationship marketing. Most big business is just a notch or two above the universities in the “you can’t tell me anything new” department. For now, there are only a few forward-thinking big companies that consistently apply these concepts (and I mean very few–I’m working with one large insurance company that may be an exception). For the rest, it is a trend to watch for in the distant, distant future.

The trends I’ve talked about in my last three blogs are not just an American phenomenon but an international one. The introduction of “International Networking Week” is a prime example of how this approach to doing business is growing worldwide.

 

Small business development through the process of building social capital will continue to grow in the global market we are currently experiencing. No one has a crystal ball, but based on what I’m seeing and what I’ve seen in the past, I believe these are some of the key things to look for relating to networking and referral marketing over the next few years.

Finding the Right Referral Partner

Victoria Trafton, a Referral Institute partner and franchise owner in Arizona, shared with with me some ideas I’d like to discuss here. She said to me recently that, in her experience, the key to having a stream of referrals coming to you is finding the right referral partners. We all know people we like, people we want to help, but it can be difficult to give them referrals.

So then, what does the right referral partner look like? Victoria suggested that a successful referral partnership is mutually beneficial and self-sustaining. Both parties can easily generate referrals for each other as they develop their own business. If it takes extra effort or they have to go outside their normal business activities, business owners generally can’t afford to take the time.

How do you find the right partner without wasting a lot of time? First of all, start with someone who meets the criteria for a strong referral source:

  • Must have trust between you;
  • Must work with your exact target market;
  • Must have influence with your market;
  • Must be willing to be trained as your referral partner;
  • Must be willing to train you to be his or her referral partner;
  • Must have the time and means to work a referral system;
  • Must have a well-developed and organized client/contact database.

Quite a list. But if you both meet the requirements, you are well on your way to having a great referral partnership. There is clearly a lot of training involved. Both parties need knowledge about each other and about referral systems. When the partnership works well, each side knows when it will get referrals, how many it can expect and how the referral was given.

When you find someone you think can become a referral partner, you must get some education to generate referrals intentionally, not find them occassionally. Victoria recommends my book, Business by Referral, co-authored with Robert Davis. She also recommends both parties get trained by taking classes together.

Victoria said that part of the reason she loves being a part of the Referral Institute is because the programs provide the training and systems that enable people to develop productive referral partnerships. As she says, “When you mix education with good people and good intentions, great things happen.”

Referral Marketing–You Can’t Do it Alone!

At the BNI International Directors’ Conference in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Dawn Lyons, one of the Master Trainers for the Referral Institute, about the struggles many people face with referral marketing. As we exchanged ideas about various referral marketing issues, such as inconsistency, quality levels, lukewarm referral sources and, ultimately, the uncertainty that people can sometimes feel, Dawn told me about a new catch phrase she has been using. Her new phrase is, “Referral Marketing … You Can’t Do It Alone!” I thought, wow–it’s a pretty simple phrase, yet it’s so true that it really makes a powerful statement.

As entrepreneurs, one thing Dawn and I both know is how control-oriented most entrepreneurs are. We like to get things done ourselves, and we typically would rather go out and make something happen than wait for things to come our way. Unfortunately, those entrepreneurial tendencies don’t mesh very well with referral marketing because of an important theory that Dawn asserted people must understand. She said, “Where do referrals come from? They come from other people!” Certainly, nobody can debate that. This is exactly why Dawn’s catch phrase holds such power–referrals come from other people who trust us enough to refer us, and who have found someone in need of our services. Referrals will never be generated from an individually focused mindset.

As Dawn put it, “Suggesting that we, as individuals, can go out and make referrals happen for our business is just silly … You Can’t Do It Alone!” Other people are the key factor in helping anyone generate referral business. Dawn has written a more detailed article on this topic, which clearly explains the concept of where referrals come from and shows specific places to go in order to increase referral business. If you are out there trying to generate your own referrals, by all means, take a look at her article and stop wasting all that time and effort.

Remember, being a self-starter and possessing an entrepreneurial spirit are some of your biggest strengths; but when it comes to referral marketing … You Can’t Do It Alone!

Setting the Stage for a Successful Word of Mouth Program

During a conversation last week, one of our assistant directors for BNI in Michigan, Leslie Fiorenzo, made an interesting point of comparison between appreciating opera and learning to use word-of-mouth marketing in your business. She said, “The best way to experience opera is to see it on the stage, and the best way to use word of mouth is to put a referral marketing plan in place. The novice, in either case, may not know where to begin.”

We started talking about a system to generate business by referral and, just like opera, if you have little or no experience with referral marketing, it would be a mistake to jump into action without preparing yourself. Central to the referral-marketing process is getting people to send you referrals. To do so, they must know exactly what you do–what product or service you provide or make; how, and under what conditions, you provide it; how well you do it; and in what ways you are better at what you do than your competitors. You absolutely must communicate this information to your sources. And to communicate effectively, you must know the same things. Before business owners map out their referral marketing campaign, they must stop and get a clear picture of where their business currently stands.

Leslie commented that when people begin to learn and study opera, they begin with basic works by composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini before moving on to more complex works by composers such as Richard Wagner. In the same way, when marketing your business by word of mouth, there is a place to start before you meet with the people in your network. You begin by preparing answers to some basic questions about yourself and your business like:

1. Why are you in business?
2. What do you sell?
3. Who are your customers and
4. How well do you compete?

The ability to communicate this information to your sources and prospects will be invaluable as you begin to build your network and formulate your plan to gain more and more business the most effective way–through referrals.

Once you master some basic tools, you can move on to a deeper understanding of the process. For example, there are three laws of Notable Networking:

1. Have a positive and supportive attitude, and provide a positive and supportive environment for other business people.
2) Learn how to use networking tools efficiently, including business cards and an informative name badge, and have a business-card case to hold others’ cards.
3) Networking is an acquired skill that requires listening to tapes, reading books/articles, talking to great networks and practicing what you’ve learned.

One great place to get more information on this subject is www.bni.com. I highly recommend that you become familiar with the basic tools of word-of-mouth marketing and begin to implement them in your business so that you can begin to watch it grow. Because, just like appreciating opera, if you don’t begin with the basics, you won’t experience the optimum result.

Finding Good Referral Sources Is Like Kissing Frogs!

I was speaking with Sarah Owen, the master franchisee of The Referral Institute in the UK, and she told me that she often comes across people who are good at giving to others but don’t always get an equitable return from their relationships. Many people want to know how to discern whether a potential referral source is a good match, and what they can do to increase the likelihood that their time and efforts are being invested in relationships that will harvest a positive return.

Sarah shared a great metaphor that she uses in relation to referral sources that don’t pan out by saying, “When we are looking for a good relationship in life, we sometimes need to kiss some frogs to find our prince. People are searching for a way to avoid those slimy, slippery, drawn-out kisses, which can be prolonged over months–sometimes years–only to discover that the frog never turns into a handsome prince.” So how do people avoid those empty, disappointing referral relationships that turn out to be slimy frogs instead of princes? I think some of the questions below that Sarah and I discussed can definitely help qualify a potential referral source/alliance relationship sooner rather than later.

  • What are your goals?
  • What are your achievements?
  • What are your interests?
  • What do your networks look like?
  • What are your key skills?
  • Do you have time to invest in another relationship?
  • From what you know so far, do you like what I do?

By asking at the outset whether the individual has the resources, motivation and time to invest, and by then providing him or her permission to opt out, the only question left is whether the match is sufficient enough to ensure the relationship can be reciprocal in time. As our conversation came to a close, Sarah said that her clients are finding better results using these simple steps. Then, she smiled and happily reported that they are also kissing fewer frogs!

I love this metaphor. Thanks for sharing it with me, Sarah.

Recognizing Those Who Refer You

Ashley Misner and Galen Metz

This past weekend, I was at a gallery showing for my daughter’s artwork and I overheard a man saying to his wife,  “These paintings would make great thank you gifts for those two interior designers that have been sending so many people my way.”€

(Photo right is of Ashley and Galen Metz, owner of Azo Gallery)

My ears perked up when I heard this and I listened in as he continued laughingly,  “But, then again, giving art as thank-you gifts will probably put me in the poorhouse faster than it would generate more money.”

 

That man had a good point. And no–it wasn’t that buying a truckload of my daughter’s art would make him go broke; because we all know that the investment would be well worth it, even if he did have to sleep in a cardboard box. Okay, all joking aside, his point was that although thank you gifts and referral incentives are certainly an important part of building a business, it’s not always possible to give extravagant gifts that will surely keep us fresh in the minds of those who refer us.

So, what options do we have when it comes to giving good incentives to those who refer us? Well, first of all, we need to remember that incentives can range from simple recognition, such as a thank you, to monetary rewards based on business generated. However, creativity is the key to any good incentive program. Let your contact know when a referral he or she has made comes through and be as creative as you can.

There are many novel ways in which businesspeople can reward those who send them referrals. For example, a female business consultant could send bouquets of flowers to men, a music store owner could send concert tickets or a financial planner could send change purses and money clips.

To make it easier on yourself, get opinions and feedback from others who have significant interest in your success. There are lots of options for referral incentives, and you should consider all that come to mind because the value of recognizing the people who send you business should never be underestimated. A well-thought-out incentive program will add much to your word-of-mouth program.
By the way, you can see Ashley’s art at www.AshleyMisner.com. Sorry, I just had to do it.


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