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Stop Blaming Your Network

Not getting the referrals you want? Stop pointing fingers and start taking charge of your company's success.

One of the problems people often have when they establish a referral network is that once they feel unsatisfied with their referrals, they blame people in the network for not doing their jobs.

But the truth is that if your referral network isn't working the way you expect, it's your fault. When you find yourself pointing out other people's problems, it's time to ask if you're the reason your network isn't delivering.

"My network's not motivated."
Maybe so, but what are you doing to compel them to refer you? Do you follow up on a regular basis? Are you interested in what they do, or are you more concerned about how interested they are in what you do? In other words, are you helping them in the same way you want them to help you?

"They don't know my business."
What have you done to educate them about what you do? Have you kept them abreast of new products or services you've added? Have you given them digestible information so they're able to retain the vital points needed to promote your business? Finally, ask yourself if you've provided them with the right amount of collateral material--brochures, pamphlets, and web-based information--so they can not only educate themselves, but also educate those in their network.

You may cover these topics at business networking meetings. But do you set up additional times on top of the regular meetings to meet with your referral sources--either individually or in small groups?

"The referrals are fickle. They only used me once and never again."
You may think your referrals are fickle, but consider this: Did you remember to turn the single sale into a regular, loyal client relationship? Did you contact the prospect in a timely manner or ensure that the client saw the best you had to offer?

"They don't have the contacts I need."
If you've gone through their entire database of contacts and disqualified every one you may have underestimated your network's contacts, not to mention who their contacts' contacts and so on. By doing this you're missing out on an exponentially growing number of possible buyers of what you have to sell. With the explosion of internet marketing, the world is a lot smaller. Take advantage of contacts your sources may have not only in another city, but also in another state or even another country.

It's your obligation to teach your fellow networkers how to refer you. If they're not doing so, then you're not teaching them effectively. You're responsible for many of the actions people take on your behalf. It's up to you to choose the right people, set the tone for your business, educate your referral partners, demonstrate competence and integrity for those representing you, and maintain the effectiveness and strength of your referral relationships. If there's a breakdown in your referral system, you've probably overlooked something.

Instead of turning over the responsibility to others and blaming them when things don't turn out, work with your partners to prevent the same mistake again. Acknowledge responsibility to anyone who's been wronged, without equivocation. Don't say, "Mistakes were made." Say, "It's my fault that this happened. I apologize for the mistake, and I promise to set things right." This straightforward acceptance of blame has the added benefit of defusing the other person's anger. After all, you created the system that caused the problem. What the injured party wants to hear is acceptance of responsibility and a commitment to correcting the situation.

One of the strengths of a referral network is that everyone becomes friends. And one of the weaknesses of a referral network is that everyone becomes friends. Only those groups and individuals who recognize the need for responsibility and accountability can make this process work for them. Those who are constantly blaming someone else for what's going wrong and doing nothing to change or fix it, will not do well in referral marketing. Remember, if your referral-marketing program isn't working, it's your responsibility to make sure it does.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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