Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Specialists Win More Referrals

If you claim to do everything, your clients won't rely on you for anything.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You may perform a variety of services or offer a range of products, but if you want a referral, your description of what you do should be detailed and focused on a single aspect of your .

Your referral sources will find it much easier to get you an appointment with a prospect if your sales message addresses the prospect's specific needs. You're an office-furniture wholesaler? No help. You specialize in custom-designed, made-to-order desks, shelves and file cabinets in large lots? Bingo. You've snagged an appointment.

It seems counterintuitive, but in reality the more specific your description, the more likely you will receive referrals. People tend to say they do everything because they want to throw as broad a net as possible, catching everyone.

The problem is, a really broad net has big holes in it. When you say, "I'm a full-service printer; I do everything," that doesn't mean anything to your prospects, or to those who refer you to them. What they're thinking is, I don't need a full-service job. All I need is a particular kind of print job.

If I've come down with a serious illness, it doesn't help me much to know that there are three hospitals in town. What I really want to know is which hospital employs the specialist who can cure me.

When you tell a referral partner you're a full-service provider, you ask her to mentally sort out all the people she knows and cross tabulate what they do against all the things you do. That doesn't work; people aren't computers. A referral partner needs to know the full range of your products or services--eventually. She needs to know, immediately and with some precision, the specific needs you can fill, because that's what the customer focuses on in any given instance.

If you say, "Who do you know who's a sports enthusiast? Here's how he can use my product," then you're letting your referral source do a simpler kind of mental sorting. The more you can educate people about the different things you do--one at a time--the more likely you'll get referrals in the long run. And getting referrals in a specific area doesn't mean you can't continue to offer other products or services.

When operating in a referral network, your immediate goal isn't to close a sale; it's to train a sales force. You're training people to refer you, and saying that you're a full-service provider and that you do everything doesn't train anyone. You wouldn't tell a salesperson for your company, "Just tell them we do it all." As the specialist, you can more thoroughly articulate to your referral sources what you do and how you do it, allowing them to present it readily to other people.

A professed generalist will likely be considered a "relationship assassin." Suppose an who's just joined your group comes up to you and says, "I can cover all of your insurance needs. I have , medical insurance, auto, home, business and every other kind of insurance you'll ever need. I'd like to be your one-stop insurance shop." But you already have coverage from five or six different agents, most of whom you have solid business and personal relationships with. And she's asking you to dump all your relationships and replace them with one relative unknown--herself.

A better approach for her would be to say to you, "I'm a life insurance agent who specializes in executive benefits, specifically for tradespeople. My passion, in my insurance practice, is to deliver executive benefits packages to owners and managers of contracting firms so that they're able to retire effectively with tax-protected investments and be able to sell that business."

This way, she addresses a specific need you may have, but she's not trying to assassinate all of your long-standing relationships. She presents herself as an expert in an area where you need expert advice, rather than a generalist with broad but superficial knowledge.

You may still not be convinced that narrowing your focus is a good idea. You may think that if you present yourself as a specialist, you limit your potential referrals and future business; that is, you can't do business outside your niche. The is, whether you're a true specialist or a generalist presenting yourself as a specialist in order to facilitate easy referral, you're not limiting yourself by doing so. People are actually more likely to refer a specialist than a generalist.

If you're like most specialists, although you generally do only one or a few kinds of business, you still offer related products or services. Yes, you've narrowed down your business to the things you like to do or do best, or bring you the most profit, but you can do other things. And one good way to attract long-term business is by stepping outside your niche and taking on the occasional odd job that can win you a loyal customer for future business.

One last point: If you sell everything, you're not selling on value; you're selling on price. That makes you a provider of commodities. And that strategy can work for you--but only if you're Wal-Mart.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks