Networking For Referrals: It Makes Business Easier And Life Simpler

Jim Blasingame

The act and practice of networking – for business or any other endeavor – is one of the great intangibles in life. Networking can help you get into a college, a new job, a business prospect – you get the picture. But none of this happens until you actually meet people.

In the marketplace, the business reason for networking is to get referrals. Ivan Misner is the Founder of Business Network International (BNI), the world’s guru of networking, and the author of a wheelbarrow-full of books on the subject. He thinks people who don’t get enough referrals just don’t know how to ask for them. I agree. Ivan has an excellent suggestion to help with this, and it revolves around the person called the “center-of-influence,” or COI for short. The COI is the connection between you and the person you want/need to meet, and whom you likely met while networking.

Ivan says, “Don’t make your COI do all your work for you. Help them out by asking this question, ‘Who do you know who...?’ and then finish the sentence with a description that fits what you need: your business, industry, product, service, etc.” Here’s an example: John, let me ask you a question, who do you know who buys advertising? ...truck tires? ...owns apartments?

Here’s a concept I call, “Blasingame’s Entrée Spectrum.” The Entrée Spectrum quantifies the value of the method used to get in front of a prospect. On the low-percentage end of the spectrum, “1”, is the Cold Call. On the high percentage end of the spectrum, “10”, is the Referral you got from networking. Setting up an appointment on your own is in the middle.

The difference between having a referral and making a cold call is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. (I stole that from Mark Twain.) Sometimes you have to make cold calls, but they will wear you out, mentally, physically, and emotionally. A cold call is like being hungry and foraging for roots and nuts in the woods. Having a referral is like going on a picnic with a basket full of food. Here’s an immutable: if you want more referrals, do more networking.

You can’t talk about referrals without mentioning credibility, which you’ll need to get referrals. The first time someone refers a prospect to you, they need to believe that they have a reasonable expectation of positive performance. But until you’ve delivered on at least one referral, the first time someone sends you (Dave) a prospect might sound like this, “You might give Dave a call. My instincts tell me he will deliver, but I can’t give you an unqualified recommendation. So be sure to let me know how things work out.”

Fair enough, right? Congratulations, Dave. You got yourself a referral, albeit a qualified one. Now your top priority is to make sure that the next time that COI refers you, it’s unqualified, and sounds something like this: “Yeah, I know someone who can handle that for you. Call Dave at this number and tell him I sent you. You can count on him to get the job done.”

On the Blasingame Entrée Spectrum, the first referral is a 6 or a 7. Just above an appointment, you got on your own. The last example is a 10. Top of the line. Almost money in the bank (if you don’t mess it up). By turning networking into a referral, business just got easier and your life got a lot simpler.

Here’s a way to get someone to move that initial referral up a notch on the Blasingame Entrée Spectrum. When I meet someone who could be a COI, I promise them that if they give me a referral, they won’t regret doing it. I say this to them – out loud: “If you refer me to a friend, they’ll still be your friend after I leave. I promise I’ll take good care of them.”

There’s one last step you must take when you know you’ve gotten a referral: You must contact your COI after the first contact and thank them, regardless of the relative success of the referral. Getting the referral is a success. A phone call is minimum. A written note – including digital – is better. And if time permits, lunch on you.

Now, let’s talk about giving referrals. One excellent way to gain credibility is to become a center of influence yourself. You do this by being seen as someone who knows the best people to do business with. My own referral success grew exponentially when I gave as many referrals as I got. It’s a beautiful thing.

Ivan has Yoda-like wisdom on this. He says, “Givers gain”, and it’s the essence of what they do at BNI. Like me channeling Twain, Ivan wasn’t the first to say that. Another wise man, and author of a pretty important book, Ecclesiastes, once said, “Cast your bread upon the water, and in time it will come back to you.” Ivan’s message is handier, but King Solomon said it prettier.

Write this on a rock ... If you want to be more successful, network for referrals early and often. It will make business easier and life simpler. And don’t forget about that bread.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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