As they started talking to me, I knew this conversation was going to end badly. No, they hadn’t thrust their business card in my face. They weren't even overtly selling to me… It was just that I knew they would ask me the question I dreaded.
Then it happened, the question popped out of their mouth and there was no going back now. I stuttered, I stumbled and lamely said, let me think about that and get back to you.
But, we both knew I wasn’t going to get back to them. We also knew that this was probably going to be the brutal end of a young and promising new relationship.
It was, as Ivan Misner delicately puts it, a case of premature solicitation. We hardly knew each other, and they were already asking me ‘who did I know, who needed their services…’
To use the networker’s phrase, even if I did ‘know, like and trust’ them, I’d have probably struggled to answer this question. In fact, anyone who is asked this question out of the blue, will find it tough to answer.
The reason is simply that we don’t make referrals on request. We make referrals when we spot an opportunity for someone in our network.
We then proceed to actively make the referral because we firstly want to help out someone we know, and secondly enjoy the status, recognition and appreciation, which goes along with being helpful.
When you understand how and why people like to give referrals, then it becomes much easier to help them find referrals for you. There are three easy ways of asking for a referral without it becoming a relationship-limiting move.
1. Ask for an introduction
Previously, the contents of our network’s little black books were pretty hard to read. LinkedIn has changed all that, however, and made our network’s network pretty transparent.
Therefore, you shouldn't need to ask, ‘who do you know’, because if you are connected on LinkedIn, you know most of whom they know already.
When asking for an introduction, you need to have a genuine reason that will benefit the other person.
Saying ‘it's because I believe they have need of my services' isn't going to work. It’s too one-sided and heavily skewed towards your own needs. However, if this is rephrased to, ‘I believe that I could help them save a significant amount of money on their recruitment costs', this will be more effective.
The best time to ask for an introduction is when a client of yours is saying nice things about you. All you need to do to get the introduction is to then ask them how well they know ‘person x,' and whether they feel able to give you an introduction.
2. Provide a valuable piece of content to start the introduction
Being introduced is no guarantee that a relationship will then start to build. (Being an award-winning writer of several books doesn’t always mean my calls get returned either!) Therefore, you need to provide value and credibility before you actually meet. Never assume that the other person will take you up on your introduction:
- Could you write an article that demonstrates your credibility, and is seen to be valuable content – rather than self-serving marketing literature?
- Is your LinkedIn profile and website up to date?
- Have you got a paragraph about you which the other person can use in the introduction?
- What blog posts or articles have you written which can be shared with the other person and help facilitate a meeting?
3. Ask for their advice
Earlier in the article, I mentioned people make referrals, not because they are asked, but because they want to be helpful. So, instead of asking for a referral, ask for their advice. Instead of using the clichéd phrase:
“I love working with people like you, who do you know similar to you that I should be working with?”
Turn it into:
“I love working with people like you, particularly people who have x challenge. If you were in my position, what would you do to find more clients like you?”
Then stop, listen, and brainstorm your ideas with your client (or introducer). You may find that what comes out of this conversation is a suggestion about introducing you to a potential prospect.
There is never a good time to ask for a referral. Always ask for help and advice. You never know, this may lead to a referral or valuable introduction coming your way without any need to risk damaging your relationship.