How to Handle Requests for Referrals from Strangers

What Do You Do When People You Don’t Know Ask For Business?

I received an e-mail this year from a man named Robert and it contained an excellent question.  The full message read:

Good morning, Dr. Misner.

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me.

When it comes to networking and being a connector, how do you handle requests from people you barely know (or don’t know at all) who ask you to give them the names of your contacts so they can connect with those people for their own ventures or projects?

For example, I received a message from a woman I met years ago via the Chamber of Commerce. She was laid off by the Chamber and now is attempting to find her niche. She sent me a message on LinkedIn that read:

“Hello and Happy summer! Do you know personally any life/disability agents or financial planners? I need to meet as many as possible in RVA to see if they can use our medical services at Portamedic to complete the medical portion of the insurance applications. Please forward any names to me if you do. Thank you.”

This is a great question, Robert.

When people contact me with requests like the one you’ve described, I refer them to my article on the VCP Process and explain to them that though I appreciate them reaching out to me, we’re not even at “visibility” yet.  In order for me to feel comfortable referring them, I would need to build a relationship over time that gets us to strong “credibility.”   When most people read the article, they move on to someone else because they think that networking is about “direct selling” and they don’t understand that it is about long-term relationship building.

How would you respond to this and what is your “policy” for giving referrals?  Please leave your feedback in the comment section.

 

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11 thoughts on “What Do You Do When People You Don’t Know Ask For Business?

  1. I always express the fact the networking is about building relationships. I explain how they need to meet people and see first how they can help them: and not even discuss their own buisness, unless asked. They need to take their time and build trust. Depending how they would respond to that, I would then decide if I personally wanted to meet with them to see if they were worthy of promoting to others. So in short, NO, I would NEVER endorse anyone else unless I was convinced they were worthy of it and that I trusted their Character and Competence level.

  2. As a Member and Director Consultant, I have been approached with this request quite often. As recommended by Dr Misner, I also cite the VCP factor, the importance of qualified referrals and the backlash I would experience if I gave a referral that was less than excellent. I tactfully explain that BNI is about trust, confidence and quality and therefore is not just a source of free referrals. BNI is dinner at The Ritz, not a soup kitchen.

  3. Dear Dr. Misner,
    This reminds me of ill mannered visitors to our BNI chapter meeting. They assume that because they got our business card out of our card box that we are fair game for spam. At one point it got so bad that we had to make an announcement discouraging spam prior to passing around the card box.
    Wishing You Plenty To Live,
    Tom Doiron
    Atlanta

  4. If someone were to refer me to a possible client, I feel I have an obligation to the person who referred me. What ever the result of my contact, it should have only positive implications for the person who provided me the reference.

    In the same vein, I would never give any names to someone about whom I know little or nothing.

  5. I am careful to remember this: people do what people know, and to DO better, they must KNOW better. Even the most undereducated networker still has a network, and within that network there could be people who could use my help solving a problem in their life. Beyond that, even though the “messenger” was a bit “rough,” I can also assume that someone in my network really COULD find benefit in meeting that individual. I respond to these kinds of requests by saying: “I would love to help you with your new endeavor, however it has been quite awhile since we’ve run into each other. Why don’t we have a cup of coffee for me to learn more about what you are doing now and how I can REALLY be of service to you.” I really feel that, as a master networker and Referral Institute franchise owner and trainer, it is truly my responsibility to initiate the VCP process, regardless of who initiates the contact and under what circumstances. Now, if said person does not respond to my invitation, I most definitely “let it go!”

  6. The above comments have it pretty well handled and I agree with all of them. I also talk about that dreaded four letter word “RISK” a lot. If I don’t know someone’s character, I encourage we move forward in the relationship building process-the risk is too great otherwise.
    People who ask for referrals with people they are at “Visilibilty” (or even worse, INvisibilty) with are very scary- they appear desperate and “desperation is not referrable”.

    Shawn McCarthy

  7. to refer me to a possible client, I feel I have an obligation to the person who referred me. What ever the result of my contact, it should have only positive implications for the person who provided me the reference.

    In the same vein, I would never give any names to someone about whom I know little or nothing.

  8. When you refer somebody, you put yourself on the line too. If the person your referring falls short, it reflects poorly on you. I really don’t need that stain on my reputation, so I carefully vet out the riff-raff before I say, “Call my guy,___”

    A bad referral is much worse that no referral.

  9. I agree completely. It takes and entire lifetime to build up a reputation and 5 minutes to destroy one. When we refer, it means we are personally putting our own credibility on the line to the customer. If the vendor delivers, then we’ve done a great thing for everyone, but if they don’t, we look as bad to our customer as the business who let them down. Therefore, I try to only refer when I have a personal relationship with a business that has been built over a long period of time.

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