How to Create a Referral Network That Actually Produces Referrals

Recently I had a conversation with a friend and networking partner about how to get more referrals for her business. While we were talking, she mentioned that she was feeling like she does a ton of networking but isn’t getting the referrals to show for all of her work.

Does this sound familiar?

It’s pretty common for those of us who rely on referrals as a primary aspect of our business development (myself included) to cast a really wide net to find those great referral partners. The problem with that is, while we might get a few solid referrals from that network, they’re going to be few and far between.

Why? Because you’re going a mile wide and an inch deep with your referral “partners”. This kind of shotgun approach to developing referrals isn’t sustainable because you don’t develop any depth in your relationships.

How Do I Develop Deeper Relationships That Lead to Referrals?

Well this part is simple (not easy, but simple). Developing relationships comes down to one thing: investing time. The only way that you’re going to create the relationships that will lead to referrals is to spend the time with the people that are going to refer you business.

Unless you have the singular solution for a very common problem, people aren’t just going to talk about you to others unless they know you, they like you and they trust you. And the only way to develop that level of trust in a relationship is to spend time with that person.

Yes, it’s time consuming. It’s difficult to stay consistent. And sure, there are a lot of people out there with whom you don’t want to spend that much time.

But it’s the only way you’re going to be able to build up a network that actually does produce referrals.

So How Do You Make Sure You’re Spending Time With the Right People?

Well again, this is simple but not easy. It’s one of those things that anyone can do but very few people actually do. Fortunately, I’ve developed a pretty simple process that makes it pretty straightforward if you can remain consistent with it.

I call it the Referral Bench.

There are plenty of details that go into this process but here are the basics:

  1. Come up with the different positions on your Referral Bench
  2. Identify the players for each of your Bench positions
  3. Work your Bench consistently
  4. Automate the process
  5. Refine the players on your Bench

The general idea of this process is to create different groupings of people from whom you might get referrals and start to develop stronger relationships with them by meeting with them regularly. The stronger partners you might meet with once a month, while some of the more ancillary referral partners you may only get together with once every six months.

The key here is consistency. This only works if you’re consistently getting together with these folks on a regular basis so that they can develop the trust that only comes over time and experience.

Let’s dive into the process now, shall we?

Know your Bench Positions

As with all things in life, the most important part of this process is to be able to identify the starting point. In this case, that means you need to know who your referral partners are.

I split my partners into three groupings:

  • Home Plate
  • Infield
  • Outfield

Home Plate

My Home Plate referral partners are the people with whom I have the most similarities in offerings and target audience. These are people who are having similar conversations to mine (i.e. revenue generation) and are having those conversations with the same people I want to be (business owners, sales leaders and marketing leaders). For me, those Home Plate partners tend to be sales trainers, sales consultants, marketing consultants, marketing agencies and business coaches.

Home Plate partners are great because they’re more likely to be able to refer you directly to clients. As a result, that also makes this group particularly small.

Infield

My Infield partners are people who meet one of the two criteria of my Home Plate partners. Either they’re talking to the same people (business owners, sales leaders and marketing leaders) OR they’re having similar conversations as I am.

A great example here could be a recruiting firm that specializes in recruiting sales people. The recruiter is going to be talking to my target contact (either the business owner or the sales leader) and, while they might be having a similar conversation (growing sales), their focus is very different from mine (they’re focusing on growing through people, I focus on growing through process).

Again, these people might be able to introduce you directly to clients but they’re also great for introducing me to more Home Plate partners. Because we work in such similar worlds, we probably try to stay connected to similar types of people.

Outfield

My Outfield partners are the people in my network who don’t really meet any of my Home Plate criteria but are still great people to know and to maintain a relationship with. They tend to be other professionals who are well networked and respected but they’re not talking to the same people that I am, nor are they having conversations anywhere close to mine.

For example, an HR consultant who works with the HR leadership in a company about employee issues. We don’t have anything in common when it comes to our clients but we’re both still actively networking and meeting others who might be great Home Plate partners for one another.

Obviously you have to use your time wisely so you’re not going to be meeting with these folks one on one every month but reconnecting every six months or so can offer a great opportunity to share new potential referral partners with one another.

Write out the players in your positions

Now that you have your positions defined, it’s time to write out the each of the players that you have available in those positions. This part’s pretty easy as long as you have a solid contact list. I like to keep my referral bench at least three players deep in each position.

Here’s what mine looks like. The great thing about having this list written out like this is that it helps you identify any holes you may have on your roster and work to get them filled.

  • Home Plate
    • Sales Trainers
      • Phil
      • Steve
      • Dan
    • Sales Consultants
      • Jay
    • Marketing Firms
      • Beth
      • Dan
      • Nancy
    • Marketing Consultants
      • Dean
      • Cindy
      • Janelle
    • Website Developers
      • Erin
      • Justin
  • Infield
    • Business Consultants
    • Attorneys
    • Commercial Insurance
    • Sales Recruiting
    • Bankers
      • Brian
    • Commercial Real Estate
      • Chris
    • IT
      • Shea
      • Justin
  • Outfield
    • Financial Advisors
    • Accountants
      • Kendall
    • HR Consultants

Work your bench

Ok so now that you know who you have in your referral network, it’s time to get to work! The entire point of this process is to be meeting with the people on your referral bench on a regular basis. So now you have to start reaching out to people and sit down with them!

Do breakfast, coffee, drinks, whatever. Just get together with them. And do it in person – phone calls are typically nowhere near as effective as in person meetings for generating referrals.

How often you reach out to meet with each level of partner is up to you. Personally, this is what my standard outreach cycles look like:

  • Home Plate every 6 weeks. Since these people are so closely related to me, I make sure that I’m reaching out to them once every six weeks to get together.
  • Infield every 3 months. Again, these are important people in my network with the opportunity to refer clients so I want to get together with them regularly. That said, they’re not so closely related that it bears getting together as often as my Home Plate partners.
  • Outfield every 6 months. Because these are people that I know and like, they have the potential to be a valuable part of my network and I want to get together with them, even though they’re not as likely to give me direct referrals. On the other hand, I want to make sure that I’m respecting the value of both of our networking time so I don’t want to keep reaching out to them as often as some others.

Automate the Process

OK you have your Bench built out and know how often you want to meet with these people. Now it’s time to automate the process.

Remember, the key to making this work is consistency. And if you’re being honest with yourself, if left to your own devices, consistency is going to be a problem.

Trust me, I get it. I had the same problem. When I was trying to manage this on my own, I would go back and forth on my consistency with this process. I would get busy, not feel like sending out the emails, second guess myself as to whether or not it was “too soon” to reach back out.

As a result, I never ended up building the depth of the relationships that I was looking for. And, what’s more, I never got referrals.

Automating the process takes all of this out of your hands. You simply add the people you want to add to your bench into your list and let your automated system take it from there.

No more second guessing, no more business related amnesia, just meetings with people you’ve identified as potentially strong referral partners.

Refine your players

As much as I’d sometimes like to believe otherwise, not everyone in my network is going to want to develop as deep of a relationship with me as I’d hope to with them.

It’s ok, I’m a big boy and I only cried a little when I made this realization.

Given that, as you go through this process and start to refine your network, you’re going to find people who just aren’t that into developing referral relationships. That’s ok, that’s why we keep networking. It’s our job to find the strongest referral relationships that we can.

So as you keep working your referral bench, make sure you’re continually refining it. Replace the people who aren’t responding to your message with people who stay engaged. And if after a the “get to know you” time is up, these players show no interest in making introductions for you, remove them from your list and replace them with new potential referral partners.

Remember, this is your network that you’re supposed to be using to build your business. If the people that you have there aren’t doing the trick, replace them with people who are.

Now it’s your turn

Ok so now it’s up to you to start working the process. Start by writing out your bench and see where you stand. Once you’ve done that, start reaching out to these people for initial coffee meetings.

We’ve actually already built out this system inside of new Mission Suite accounts to make it even easier for you. If you’re ready to start working your referral network to really generate referrals, take a look at the way our system works. Register for a demo here and we’ll walk you through it!

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