Networking how-to: build a referral partner team

The other day I had lunch with a networking friend, Pamela Horton, and we discussed the value of having referral partners to build new business. Pamela is a marketing maven who works for Arbella/Bearingstar Insurance. She has brought significant new business to her company by leveraging her network to bring greater value and more resources to her clients. I wish you could have been there to witness the energy, passion and integrity with which Pamela spoke. I’m not the only person who thinks she is terrific. Check out the number of recommendations that Pamela has on Linkedin.

During our conversation, I shared with Pamela my vision for building a referral partner team for my business. I have both given and received referrals in the past, but it has never been very consistent or strategic. After studying the subject for a new program that I just launched for a client called Networking 401: Accelerated Networking for New Business Development, I realize how valuable referral partners could be to my business. It’s time to build an action plan to put this strategy into play.

What are your thoughts on the value of referral partners?

When the topic of referral partners came up, Pamela had a lot to say on the subject. So I asked her if she would be so kind as to share her insights and secrets for creating and managing referral partner relationships on my blog. Below is her contribution. I marked in BOLD the sections that I found to be particularly illuminating.

Pamela Horton, Affinity Marketing Director, Arbella/Bearingstar Insurance

“My thought process when referring business always involves what is best for the individual and or company that has asked for the referral, regardless of the industry in question.  Whether they are looking for a massage therapist, plumber, an accountant, or health insurance for example, I provide them with a list of several options and an explanation as to why they are on “my list.”  After permission is granted, I send out an email to the listed professionals with client contact information and state, “may the best person win!”

As you get to know your resources, your referral list becomes more specific depending on the audience. Shopping for any given industry is difficult and can be a full time job.  Shopping for a professional service provider is like buying a pair of jeans, you have to make sure “they fit.” Ultimately, it is not my job, to determine who fits whom.  That decision resides between client and provider.

Your referral list should be thorough, yet never overwhelming.  I make it known to all the professionals that I connect with over the years that this is how I practice the art of referring.  I am upfront and honest so that there is no room for interpretation or hard feelings.  The world keeps getting smaller and smaller the longer you are in a profession and this is how I have chosen to work.  I have created mini networking groups, that are active, emphasizing my philosophy and none of them have taken issue with my practice.

I sometimes feel like the hub of professional services, a role that I truly enjoy, because I am able to be a knowledgeable resourceful service provider to all those I come in contact with.   I am blessed to know well the professionals that I refer and comfortably provide their contact info to anyone who asks me.  I am comfortable referring busines to them because I have seen them in action and always follow up with the client afterwards asking for feedback.  Feedback not only on the “winner” of the account, but on all those that decided to put their hat into the ring as well.  It is imperative that I continue to take the temperature of the referred that I am sending business to.  I share with them what I learn for their own personal and professional development and ask for the same in return.  If one considers themselves a true professional, they take the feedback well, grow from it, and we are all better for it.

Some professionals pay for referrals and some do not.  This is not a driving force for me.  The most important factors to me are providing a great service, doing the right thing for my colleague (the person or company shopping AND the referral source), while remaining true to my core being.

At the end of any given day, our reputation is paramount.  As I tell my 14 year old daughter, we are whom we hang out with.  Choose your colleagues wisely, listen to your gut and research the options that you provide to others.  Don’t just research them once, but research them often, as things change and the information that you provide to your client who is shopping, should be accurate in fairness to all.”

- Pamela Horton, Affinity Marketing Director, Arbella/Bearingstar Insurance, Hartford, Connecticut

Your Networking Goal for this Week

Think about the professionals whom you have enthusiastically referred in the past. Why did you do that? What gave you the confidence to refer them to your clients, friends, neighbors? Now, think about the professionals who have referred you in the past. Why did they do that? How did you benefit from their referral? Would you like this happen more frequently? Of course you would!

If you see the value and power of referrals working to help build you new business, consider the strategy of formalizing your referral partner network. Here’s a few steps you can take to begin this exploration…

  1. Download and listen to the free audio chapter and workshop on Building a Referral Partner Team. Do the workbook exercises on page 3 and make a list of 5 industries and professions that would complement yours. Then make a list of 3 individuals who meet your criteria for a potential referral partner.
  2. Once you have these lists written down, reach out to those professionals and open the discussion about working together in the capacity of a referral partner team to help each other grow your business. Some will be interested and others will not. That’s okay. Work with those who are willing and able to help you grow your business and vice versa.

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