When it comes to getting referrals from your network, confidence is a vital component -- not your confidence, but the confidence your fellow network members have in you. None of them wants to risk their personal reputation by referring business, information or contacts to a stranger. Even though you may have known many of your fellow networkers for quite some time, until they've gained a certain level of confidence that referring contacts to you won't harm their reputation with their clients, associates, friends or family, you're still a stranger.
How long will it take you to reach the critical level of confidence with your networking friends? Aside from the quality of your products or services, this depends on four main factors.
1. Your profession
The more significant the business being referred, the greater the risk to the referrer's reputation. If you're a florist, it may take only a week or two for people who try your services to recommend you on the basis of their experience with you. The risk associated with referring a florist is usually small, unless you're bidding on a large corporate account that also may be your referrer's top client. If you're a lawyer, accountant or investment advisor, it may take you six months or a year to reach the critical confidence level. However, since the stakes are higher, your referrer stands to gain more if the results are successful -- they'll enhance their reputation as someone who knows the right people to get things done.
No matter what line of work you're in, if you don't perform well, your referrer will learn of it and you may not get another referral from that source, but if you do, it will take longer the second time. Third time? Don't ask.
2. How well you educate others about your business
Don't assume your fellow networkers understand your company or industry well enough to refer you confidently. Most have enough of a job keeping up with their own business and personal concerns. You have to educate them and keep on educating them as long as you're in business.
The best way is to speak to large, receptive groups; a networking group is ideal, because everybody is expected to address the group at regular intervals. Make your presentation interesting and stimulating. Tell them how your product or service improves business or life. Tell them who, what, when, where, and how. Each time you speak, present a new aspect of your business. Let your knowledge and eloquence persuade them that you're very good at what you do. They'll grow confident that you can't seriously injure their reputations with their contacts, and your name will come to mind whenever a referral opportunity arises.
3. The help you give others by making referrals of their business
If you can endorse the quality of products or services offered by a networking partner -- that is, increase others' confidence in them -- your partner will be disposed to return the favor. Testimonials from one or two of your partners may, in turn, trigger a much larger and more valuable referral from another partner who was waiting for more evidence before taking a risk on you.
4. The time you Invest in learning about others' businesses
If you want someone to learn about the value of your products or services, you have to spend time learning about the value of theirs. The best way to do this is one-on-one: "John, I'd like to be able to refer more business to you, but I need a deeper understanding of what your company does and how you operate. Could we get together next week to discuss this?" Although you don't say so, John understands that he'll learn something more about your business at the same time. Serious master networkers meet regularly to raise each other's understanding of their businesses.
It's not always easy to know how confident your contacts are in referring you. Many networkers spend a lot of time and effort trying to build others' confidence in them, then on the brink of success, grow discouraged and stop attending meetings. How would you feel if someone found you a terrific referral about two weeks after you dropped out of sight?
Here's what you can do to gain perspective on your efforts and the results they're producing. Ask yourself the following four questions, and keep asking them over and over until you've attained success and the answers become obvious.
- Am I being realistic about the time it will take, in my profession, to gain the critical level of confidence?
- Am I regularly making stimulating, educational presentations to my fellow networkers about the value I provide to my clients?
- Am I doing business with others in my group so I can give them dynamic testimonials and steer business to them in hopes they'll return the favor?
- Am I meeting regularly with my networking colleagues to learn about their businesses so I can confidently refer my contacts to them?
If you're following these simple tactics, then you are well along the road to getting all the referrals from others' networks that you deserve.
This material was adapted from an article by Martin Lawson in Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul, by Ivan Misner and Don Morgan (Bard Press, 2000).