There's truly an unlimited supply of referrals. This may surprise you because most people who're new to referral marketing or who've had trouble getting referrals tend to think they're in for a struggle to gain access to a limited supply of good referrals. This mind-set is known as the "scarcity mentality," and those who have it often appear desperate to obtain business, which is not a good way to present yourself when you're trying to sell your products or services. Desperation is not referable.
It's true that you must compete for business, even within a referral-networking group. You may come in to such a group thinking all the other members will automatically refer all their business to you. What you have to realize, though, is that joining a referral group doesn't automatically entitle you to referrals--you have to earn them. For starters, you have to work to create relationships where none existed before. Fellow members must get to know you and your work, and be able to trust you to carry out your commitments and provide outstanding and memorable customer service to anyone they might refer you to. They've established relationships of their own, and they don't want to risk those relationships by referring them to someone they don't know.
But having to compete with established relationships doesn't cut you off from potential referrals. Suppose, for example, that you're the new chiropractor in your group and you want to get referrals from other members. You learn that one influential member has a long-established relationship with a chiropractor who's not in the group. Does this obligate the other member to stop doing business with her chiropractor and start doing business with you? Of course not, and if you try to make this happen, you'll quickly gain a reputation as a relationship assassin--not a good image.
If you nurture an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mentality, you'll realize there's plenty of business out there for you and many other chiropractors. There's also a way you can compete and, at the same time, collaborate with another vendor.
First, you know the other member likes chiropractic. This is a point in your favor because it means there's a strong chance that she'll advise friends and acquaintances to seek chiropractic help as well--perhaps from you--after she gets to know you better. When you talk with her, ask her what the other chiropractor does that she finds especially effective. Does the practitioner specialize in certain therapies?
Ask to be introduced to her chiropractor. Find out what kinds of cases your competitor likes to tackle. Back problems? Joint pain? Neck problems? Tell your competitor that you prefer to specialize in a different area and offer to refer cases in his chosen specialty to him. Suggest that the two of you could refer overflow patients to each other and help with each others' patients during vacations.
In other words, you can be genuinely helpful to each other and still be competitors. You can help each other build a customized practice with the kind of patients you prefer. Suppose he likes accident claims and you don't. You can begin the process by referring a flood of accident business to him--so much of it, in fact, that he may feel the need to send some of his other patients to you.
Even if the other chiropractor and you specialize in the same areas, you can benefit each other by referrals. His practice may be in a completely different part of town from yours. You can collaborate with him on joint screenings at intermediate sites, such as at natural foods co-ops, and give new prospects a choice of chiropractors. Many will choose on the basis of personal rapport or location.
I recommend Kim George's book Coaching Into Greatness. She writes about how a successful, healthy networking activity is what leads to having an abundance mentality. There's a ton of business out there, she points out, and all it takes to cultivate an abundance mentality is to become an active networker, build relationships and provide benefits for your networking partners. Joining a networking group because you expect it to immediately result in referrals, without any effort on your part, is lazy networking. It produces few or no referrals and leads you to believe that the number of referrals available is limited--the scarcity mentality.
There's also a way to make the flow of referrals predictable and adjustable. You and a referral partner can set up a system in which your partner sends you referrals as you need them--regularly, predictably, on request and on time. Creating such a structured system is like building a pipeline for referrals.
Think about it. What if you knew at all times when your referral partners were going to refer you, whom they were going to refer you to and how they were going to refer you? What if you knew in advance which product or service your next new customer was going to want to buy? You could plan ahead. You could schedule business to come in when you most needed it and were best able to handle it. You could select the kind of customers you wanted. You could project your cash flow and manage your inventory.
Selling with traditional marketing methods is like fishing with dynamite: You light a few sticks, throw them into the water and hope that something comes up. Structured, programmed referral marketing is more like fishing with the latest high-tech gear: You've got a boat that lets you move to where the fish are most likely to be hanging out; you've got sonar that lets you see where the best fish are; and you can say, "Forget those carp over here in the shallows. I'm going to catch those 30 big brown trout down at 18 feet."
How do you build such a structured, predictable referral system? First, you have to establish a close, mutually rewarding relationship of trust with your referral partner. In our program at the Referral Institute, we've found the best approach is to start off with some relationship-building activities to get to know each other better based on your behavioral styles and other factors. Next, determine how many and what kind of referrals you'll need each week to accomplish your financial sales goal. Then, one by one, you and your counterpart discuss the people in each others' databases and identify those you'd particularly like to contact. Once this is finished, you can decide when, where, and under what circumstances you'd like to meet each contact, and if your referral partner agrees, that contact goes into the pipeline. After contact is made, the results are evaluated and shared with your referral partner. It's about as detailed as you can get with a target market, and the timing couldn't be more precise.
The kind of proactive referral system we're talking about here is not intended for use with everyone you know. It's designed for key relationships you've already formed--that is, relationships of trust, in which you and your partner know each other well, along with the level of service each of you provides. The predictability comes from knowing that your partner is a trustworthy and skilled networker who can be relied upon to provide a steady stream of high-quality referrals.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.