Avoiding Referral Remorse

Referrals are the life’s blood of your business (I hope) and they are the “golden ticket” that you are looking for when you’re working with clients and when you’re out networking. In fact, most one person per profession networking groups put a huge emphasis on giving referrals.

One thing most of us learn after awhile is that, just as every person is not your favorite client, not every referral will go perfectly. It’s important to remember that when you give a referral there are multiple reputations on the line. The person who you are referring, the person to whom you are referring them AND your own.

Whenever you’re working with people in a referral situation it can feel like that old game you may have played while sitting around the campfire. One person starts with a message and whispers that message into the ear of the person next to her. This message is passed along the line until the last person receives it and announces to the group what she thinks she heard. Of course it’s never what the message started out to be and usually it’s so comical that hysterical laughter is what follows.

But it’s not so funny when communication between referrer, referree and you breaks down. The truth about this is that it’s not whether or not something will go wrong in a referral situation, it’s how you handle it that is most important.

“But I know everyone involved in this referral…what could go wrong?”

I’ll give you an example.

Bob joined a networking group that encourages regular, qualified referrals. He joined this group because the others he visited either fined people for failing to bring a referral or were really just glorified lead brainstorming sessions.

Bob is happy in his group, but feels a little self imposed pressure to refer because everyone else is giving and receiving referrals and he wants to “do his fair share”

Every week in Bob’s networking group, Betty stands up and says she does coaching and she’s looking for solo entrepreneurs who want to take their business “to the next level” (whatever that means, more on that in another issue). After a few meetings with Betty, Bob feels like he can trust her and has an understanding of who she is looking for as a client.

One day, Bob runs into a client who is frustrated with the state of his business and wants to “amp it up”. Excitedly Bob refers the client to Betty and waits ever so patiently for the huge “thank you” he know he’ll receive from both Betty and his client. So far so good – right?

Here’s where things go bad:

Betty calls Bob two weeks later. “What’s with this referral you gave me? He was really hard to get ahold of. When I finally did, we met and all he wanted was a bunch of free advice. I couldn’t answer some of his questions because I really don’t specialize Real Estate Professionals. So, after I stopped answering his questions, he had the nerve to ask me out on a date! That really wasn’t a very good referral for me, Bob.”

(say “ouch”)

A few minutes later the client calls. “Bob, I was interested in solving that problem I was complaining to you about, but that person you sent to me was really pushy. She must have contacted me a dozen times. We did set up a consultation, but I wasn’t able to get the kind of information I was looking for. She kept telling me that we needed to establish a formal relationship and sign a contract and all. I kept telling her I wasn’t ready to do that but she was really pushy. I wanted to meet with her again later, but she got all offended and stormed out of the coffee shop. Sheesh!”

Meanwhile Bob is thinking, “Did these two people actually meet with EACH OTHER???

Here’s the deal. Neither the client or Betty are very happy with the situation and most likely both are upset with Bob on some level. If Bob were to offer either person another contact, both would likely be very very cautious. It’s impossible to know what actually happened in the conversation, however Bob could have either avoided or prevented the situation by laying the proper groundwork before making the referral.

Here are my referral remorse avoidance tips:

1. Make sure the person you want to refer really wants to solve the problem. People love to complain. It’s one of those things where people mistake complaining for building intimacy or community with others. The problem is if you make a referral before asking the question, “Are you serious about solving that problem?” the person to whom you referred them is really stuck with a warm (or even cold) lead. Not so much fun to try to convince a referral that they really did want to spend money with you. This doesn’t raise your image in the eyes of the referree or the referrer. If you’re not sure if the person really wants the problem solved ask, “May I have Betty call you to see if she can help you?” If there’s any hesitation, chances are, they’re not ready – yet.

2. Be clear on what the professional you are referring actually is able to do. Geez it’s frustrating to get a referral for something that I don’t (and never have) done. “Well I figured you did that since you’re a writer.” Have a conversation with the person first if you are at all unsure. “Hey I have a potential referral for you and I want to make sure this is something you’re looking for.” I then describe the situation and let them decide if this fits. If it doesn’t – no worries. I ask if they know someone who does that if I don’t.

3. Remember that you are loaning your reputation to both of the parties involved in the referral. If either side becomes unhappy it could reflect negatively on you. Conversely, if both sides are delighted, this is great for you and could lead to additional business. Stay in the loop at all times and make sure things are going as they should.

The moral of the story is just because you may feel obligated or pressured to pass a referral at your networking group, this is almost never a good idea without pre-qualifying the situation. Your reputation is on the line and without a good reputation – your business life is much harder than it needs to be.

A quality referral is golden, but a botched one is much worse than no referral at all.

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