Have you ever been solicited for a referral or for business by someone you didn’t even know? Asking for a referral before there is a business relationship is premature.
Years ago, I heard a BNI member from the U.S. call this “Premature Solicitation,” and I completely agreed. When you give a referral, you give away a little bit of your reputation. You certainly don’t want to put your own reputation on the line for a stranger.
I’ve been a victim of “premature solicitation” many times. One time, I was speaking at a business networking event, and before my presentation, someone came up to me and actually said, “Hi, it is a real pleasure to meet you. I understand you know Richard Branson. I offer specialized marketing services and I am sure his Virgin Enterprises could benefit from what I provide. Could you please introduce me to him so that I can show him how this would assist his companies?”
So… this is what I was thinking:
Are you completely insane? I’m going to introduce you, someone I don’t know and don’t have any relationship with, to Sir Richard, whom I’ve only met a few times (here is the story of the first meeting), so that you can proceed to attempt to sell him a product or service that I don’t know anything about and haven’t used myself? Yeah, right. That’s NEVER going to happen!
However, I am pleased to report, that with much effort, I was able to keep that little monologue inside my own head, opting instead for a much more subtle response.
I replied… “Hi, I’m Ivan, I’m sorry–I don’t think we’ve met before. What was your name again?“ My response surprised the man enough to make him realize that his “solicitation” might have been a bit “premature.” I explained to him that I regularly refer people to my contacts, but only after I’ve established a long-term strong relationship with the service provider first. He said thanks and moved on to his next victim. His approach was not networking, it was direct selling (and I would argue it was bad direct selling).
By the way, you are welcome to use my response if it happens to you, “Hi, I’m sorry – I don’t think we’ve met before. What was your name again?”
The way I look at it is that if it is somebody you know and they know you, and you have a relationship built with trust, and you’ve done business with them, I’m happy to put people together. That’s what my business is all about. That’s what much of my professional life has been about – connecting people I know and trust with someone who needs a product or service.
What I’m not okay with is connecting people I don’t know or trust; I’ve never used their product, I’ve never used their service, and I’m being asked to connect them with other people who I do know well. As I said above, when you give a referral, you give a little bit of your reputation away. If you give a good referral, it enhances your reputation. If you give a bad referral, it hurts your reputation, so you really don’t want to give those kinds of referrals away.
Remember, networking is not about hunting. It is about farming. It’s about cultivating relationships with other business professionals. Avoid “premature solicitation.” You’ll be a better networker if you remember that.
Have you experienced this, too? I invite you to share your story in the comment section below.