Referrals: The More You Give, the More You Get

Take the focus off <I>you</I> at networking events, and soon you'll be the talk of the town.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the October 2001 issue of Subscribe »

The fight-or-flight response in nature is well-documented. But it's also easy to see this behavior manifested in the act of selling, where there's such a high probability of ego damage. For homebased entrepreneurs with a personal and deeply emotional bond to their product or service, it may be even tougher. Every time you place an ad, send a proposal, fax a flyer, start a direct-marketing campaign, call a prospect-basically every time you open your mouth, there's the possibility of ego damage.

When it comes to getting new business, then, it's hard not to take flight. I hate cold calls-in fact, I avoid them like the plague. Any possible reason for not making a call, I'll take it. Of course, my ego remains healthy, but the success of my business as a sales trainer suffers as a result. Don't get me wrong: I still love meeting people, sharing new ideas and learning about other people's businesses. It just seems so much easier when I know I'm not trying to put food on a plate or clothes on my two kids-you know, when I'm not selling!

Since I hate cold-calling, I attend as many networking events as possible. Last week, I went to a monthly meeting of Internet professionals for the first time. By the time I got there, the meeting room was packed with more than 50 well-heeled professionals. The salesperson in me was excited because it looked like a new-business-rich environment. I briefly scanned the room, didn't see any of my "business acquaintances" and immediately knew I would have to be the one initiating some new connections.

No matter what style, tactics or strategies you use to engage another person in any kind of meaningful conversation, keep in mind the following observable things about human nature:

1. People are preoccupied with "things other than you"-this is called "preoccupation barrier."

2. People know you are trying to sell them something. This requires a "tension release."

Making new connections is easy when you use giving referrals as your primary strategy. Referrals leverage the natural psychology of meeting people and completely change the focus of a conversation, and they're the best way to connect with new customers and build your personal network. But there's also an unexpected bonus to referral-giving: The more you give, the more you get.

Learn more about referral-based sales and marketing with Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts Into Sales by Bob Burg.

Like a magic boomerang, if you give a good referral, you'll find more than one will come back. Referrals spread through communities, departments and companies. If done properly, you can build a business on referrals. Referrals are viral in nature, if done professionally. They are self-replicating, growing and evolving with you.

Referrals work because they open communication channels with new prospects. They engage the other person's attention (preoccupation barrier), and, if done honestly, start to build rapport with the other person (tension release). Looking for opportunities to refer one of your existing "business acquaintances" changes the very nature of any conversation in which you engage. When you focus on giving instead of getting, people respond in a genuine fashion to you and what you do.

Two things to remember about giving referrals:

1. Be congruent. Remember that funny math symbol from high school, the equal sign with the line through it? It means the equation isn't equal. Being incongruent personally means what you say and what you believe are not equal. If you are going to give a referral, make sure it really is a referral. Should the two parties be brought together at all? If not, don't give the referral.

2. Give a reason. Just telling someone to talk to one of your business friends isn't enough. Back up your referral. This means you should know enough about what the other person does and provide a valid reason for the two of them to discuss a business opportunity.

The salesperson in me wanted to talk to all 50 people in the room that day-tell people what I did, blurt out my USP (unique selling proposition), spew my elevator pitch. With another couple of hours, I may have even had the chance to introduce myself to half the group, hoping that I would meet the two or three people there that needed my services. Instead of "elevator pitching," though, I met as many interesting people as possible and gave two real referrals. Oddly enough, I now have three new opportunities that didn't exist last week.

James Maduk is one of North America's leading sales speakers. He is the creator and publisher of more than 80 streaming sales training courses and has just released his latest book, When Salespeople Learn to Dance. You can reach James at (613) 825-0651 or view his Web site at

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