Monday, September 04, 2006

Referrals – Feeding Your Circle of Influence

Every now and then, and regularly enough that one might think I’d be less surprised by it, I get smacked in the face with a Flash Of The Bleeding Obvious (‘FBO’).But it catches me off-guard every time! I experience surprise every time I encounter another one of those obvious things that was as if invisible to me, and apparently, invisible to others, as we go about doing what we do all day.

One of those recent FBO’s concerned ‘invisible but obvious’ items relating to the way that we can work with business clients, and yet never develop a reliable systematic method for generating referrals from those closest to our business. While we can lament that we don’t get more referrals from them, if we even think about it at all, or wile away the time lamenting that lack of regular referrals, or dreaming up complicated, devious and covert plans to get referrals from clients (but never put into action), we overlook the two most obvious facts.

1. We’ve never actually gone through the exercise to explain to clients in detail the full range of services we can provide and the contexts where we can help and

2. We’ve been terrible at passing on good quality, well qualified and regular referrals for THEIR business.

I bumped into this latest one as I was relating to a client about a networking group that I’d happily stumbled upon somewhat by happy accident. Business Network International is a group that was set up over 20 years ago in the US, in what was I suppose, a BFO for the founder Ivan Misner. As fate would have it, BNI was operating in Australia, and even more fortuitously, I was invited to attend a meeting close to home to investigate first hand how BNI works.

Now here’s the thing. I’ve been to enough so-called networking events, and staged more than a few myself. I’ve banged the drum trying to get referral networks working and without exception, they have been largely unproductive. The idea was great, yes, everyone was interested, but when push came to shove, nada. Oh, some referrals but nothing that sustainable and all too often, only one way. What was different with the BNI methodology was a strict criterion on selection, critical evaluation of the proposed members, a formal structure that is enforced – which has the effect of installing that thing that is most often missing – accountability! And a financial and time commitment at the outset that each member must make, if they wish to participate and be accepted.
So you’ve joined…and what happens? Now you have at least 15, but more probably 20+ business owners, who are influential within their circle of colleagues and clients, who know what you do, and how to communicate that to others, and have been trained to identify a possible client for you. Imagine that! More than two dozen people respected in their field, trained to recognize opportunities for your business, and committed and able to communicate your point of difference to someone who needs what you do. That takes my breath away.

Now, this is where it gets even sillier. Just suppose for a moment, that you are an accountant, or a business advisor of some kind, or indeed anyone who deals with other businesses in the course of your business. And while you’re thinking about how you’d like to get more referrals from your clients too… think about what it would be like if your job was not just to do what you do for your clients, but what if you were to adopt an attitude of care for your clients that included a commitment to help those people to develop their business too. Can you possibly imagine how strong would become the relationship with your clients? You know, even if you never thought about it until now, that nobody cares about our business like we do. And you’ll know that it is true, when I say that when someone else takes an interest in my business, and my success, then I am genuinely interested in finding out more about that person. Because they have demonstrated values that are important to me. They mark themselves as a person that is important to me, and because I value people who are important to me, then this relationship will develop and get stronger over time. So you are a business advisor taking an interest in your clients business, beyond just serving their regular business needs as you’ve always done, now you are doing something that money cannot buy. Do you think that this client who is now a part of your success team, is going to be loyal to you?

Of course they are.

But let me say, this is possible. This is doable. And this is not something to even attempt to fake. If you cannot genuinely be interested in your clients’ business, then this is not something to even consider. If, on the other hand, you have an attitude to others that allows for the development of an authentic and caring relationship between your clients and yourself with a view toward growing each business to its fullest potential, then start making a list of people who you know care about their business enough to want to get active too. Do it now and keep adding to it. Then do what you have to do, to get your message clear about what you do in your business, who you do it for, and how you do it. And while you’re at it, think about what purpose this business that you’ve put your heart and soul into is supposed to serve for you. Think about whether it is meeting that objective and if there is a gap, then get some help to get you back on track to reach the target you set for yourself when you started.

And get excited!


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