Some people think about business networking as a game of Who is giving what to whom, always wondering how they can score more. I caution those people that there is no rule that says, “For every referral you give, you can expect one in return.” Similarly, when you hand out more referrals, it does not mean that other business professionals will automatically do the same. It just doesn’t work that way in referral marketing. A referral is not always reciprocal.
Effective business networking is about building deep relationships with referral partners. Entrepreneurs who focus on giving first and asking “What can I do to help you?” instead of “What’s in it for me?” are usually more successful in their networking efforts.
Talk to Them
If you find that you are giving someone a lot of referrals and you are not getting anything in return, the first thing to do is to sit down with them. Be tactful and respectful. Rather than saying, “I have given you all of these referrals. How come you have not given any to me?” you can instead sit down with them and review all the business referrals you have given them in a way that shows you care about their success. Remember, it is not an interrogation: “Hey, I have given you this. I have given you that.” It is a conversation.
A good way to start the conversation is like this. “I think I have given you three referrals this year. I want to talk about how they worked out for you. I gave you this one to the ABC Company. How was that referral? Oh, that turned into business for you? What did you think of working with that person?”
Ask them how each and every referral you’ve given worked out for them. Discuss one at a time and thoroughly review that referral; ask questions about what transpired after you gave it to them. This is important. Make sure that the referrals you gave were as good as you think they were. Don’t make assumptions about them. You may have thought it was platinum and it turned out to be dirt.
Sometimes we find out that none of the referrals worked out. They may not have worked out because they were not quite as good as you thought. If they didn’t turn out as well as you thought that they would, talk about it. Ask them how you could improve in giving them quality referrals. And then listen to what they say!
By the way, that is a good question to ask even if the referrals did work out. “I am really glad that the referrals worked out. How could I improve in giving you additional quality referrals?” This is all part of building and strengthening the relationship.
How to Talk About You
After you have invested the time to talk about each referral you’ve given AND you find that all the referrals you gave to your networking partner were good and beneficial for them, you can tell them how glad you are that you were able to help them.
Then and ONLY then, do you say this:
“I am pleased that the referrals worked out for you; that is what our networking group is all about- supporting one another and giving each other referrals.” Then you can say that sending business referrals your way would be helpful to you, too. Ask if they have a few minutes now to talk about how they could find good referrals to give to you.
This is a genuine, caring, and calm conversation that comes from the intention of helping someone else. It is not based on assumptions or filled with accusations that may put someone on the defensive.
If you discover those referrals you gave didn’t work out, then I wouldn’t even go down the road of asking for reciprocal referrals. I would ask, if those didn’t work out, how can I do a better job for you? If you are doing business with someone who truly believes in Givers Gain®, they are going to ask the same of you.
I am a realist. If there is someone in your business networking group that refuses to give you referrals, I can understand why you might not want to continue to refer them. However, that is rarely the case.
Remember – effective networking is about being relational, not transactional. What goes around comes around. And – it might not even come around from where you sent it. Sometimes you give a referral one place and receive a referral from someplace else. You might be getting referrals from people who you have never given a referral to.
We also want to be mindful of the value of the referrals. If we are talking about a florist and a real estate agent, the real estate agent is probably going to give the florist a whole lot more referrals than the florist is going to give to them. Although one good referral to the agent could be worth a lot of flowers for the florist. Keep in mind that it is not just the quantity, it is the quality, and the value of the referrals. All of these things have to go into the consideration.
As professionals, we must have these conversations with our networking partners. Only when you do, and find out that the referrals have, in fact, been good, can you then say, “I would love for you to be able to reciprocate if possible. Do you have time to talk about how you might be able to give referrals to me?”