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Networking Tips: How to Give a Good Referral

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


Big Hug or Big Shrug?

I'm so honored when a networking contact refers me to someone. I just want to give them a big hug to thank them for thinking of me and, in some cases, steering some sales opportunities my way.

But for some referrals, I hate to say that I really don't want them. Really, I don't. And it's not that I don't want referrals. I just don't want bad referrals that will only waste my time, as well as possibly ruin my reputation and that of the referring party.

So what is a good referral?

What Is a Referral?

Many networking groups and associations differentiate between "leads" and "referrals."

A lead is considered an unsubstantiated opportunity that merely points out the potential for another. For example, someone notices that a new restaurant is opening, and he alerts a marketing consultant in his network of the new restaurant. Typically, no personal introductions are made. The person who receives the lead often pursues it blindly. This is one step up from a cold call. As well, the person passing the lead may not even have permission to share any information with the salesperson. Later, we'll discuss why that's a problem, too.

A referral is considered a genuine, identified sales opportunity where someone knows of a current and real need of a friend, family member, or colleague that could be handled by a networking partner. In these cases, the two parties are introduced to each other, identifying the need to be addressed. Consent to introduce is a key element of these introductions and is the first element in the following formula for more successful referrals.

The C.A.R.E. Formula for a Good Referral

Giving a referral is a sign that you care about the people you are referring to each other. But a referral must meet some criteria in order to be of value to everyone. So here is a quick formula to test a potential referral opportunity before you engage anyone.

Using C.A.R.E. as an acronym, here are the elements of a good referral:

"C" is for Consent. Before you blindly blast off an email or social media connection to two potential referral connections, get consent from both. For example, say that you know Referral Partner A would be an excellent supplier or resource for Referral Partner B. Before you email contact info to either partner, you'll want to ask both separately and privately if they are interested in connecting. If both agree, then a connection is warranted. Additionally, in today's era of concern over data privacy and sharing of personal information, this aspect of sharing referrals is critical and cannot be ignored!

You might be thinking, "Why wouldn't Partner A be interested in connecting with Partner B as a potential customer?" Seriously, I have received innumerable forced referrals over the years that were totally inappropriate potential clients for me. These junk referrals not only wasted my time but had the potential to harm my reputation since I was seen as someone who was unable to serve the prospective Partner B customer's needs. As well, Partner B could peg the person who made the referral as someone who doesn't have a competent network and/or who can't professionally evaluate sales opportunities. Which brings us to the next element in the formula...

"A" is for Actual. Sometimes people want to impress either the person they're referring or the person who will receive the referral. So they connect colleagues in their network, regardless of whether an actual opportunity exists or not. Can these lead to sales at some point in the future? Sure, it's possible. But sometimes it's a long shot. If no immediate or imminent need exists, don't personally connect the parties.

"R" is for Relevant. Just as with actual need, a referral must be relevant for both parties. For example, I offer a blog, podcast, books, and online courses for authors interested in self-publishing. So inquiries for people who are looking for an author agent for fiction are not relevant to me, even though the author agent and I work with authors on books. Make sure that you understand both the needs of your friends or colleagues and the source you are referring to them.

"E" is for Exit and Evaluate. Once you have properly introduced two parties, it's usually best for you to exit the transaction picture and let them explore the potential opportunity themselves. However, it doesn't hurt to follow up and evaluate whether the referral was a success after a sufficient amount of time has passed for the type of business and people you are referring. You do want to know whether you should refer these people to others in the future. As well, you want to get an idea if your referral radar is working properly. If it isn't, you'll want to get to know your network a whole lot better!

Checklist for a Good Referral

Here's a checklist of items that make up a good referral.

  • Name of person(s) being referred.
  • Preferred method of contact for all parties (email, phone, social media, etc.).
  • Contact info for preferred method.
  • Best time to reach (if known).
  • Exact product or service of interest and/or other reason for contact.
  • Best way to schedule appointment (if known).
  • Budget for purchase (if applicable and known).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 17, 2016:

Thanks again, Larry, for taking some moments of your weekend to read my latest posts! Have a great day!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 17, 2016:

Great tips!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 10, 2016:

You are sooooo right FlourishAnyway! Especially for sensitive issues such as health and finance, consent is critical. Sorry you had to be on the receiving end of a bad referral situation. But hope your New Year is starting out great! Thanks for your friendship and support!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 10, 2016:

Getting consent from both parties is important. My information was recently passed on to someone through a mutual friend and I only needed help with a small ortfolio issue not rolling over my entire 401k. The person saw dollar signs when they looked at me. They had helped my friend but our problems were not the same.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 07, 2016:

Happy New Year, purl3agony! True, the consent issue never used to be a problem until all the privacy and data breaches came along. Now everyone's a little more cautious... and with good reason. When I don't feel there's enough potential to warrant an official referral, I usually just pass along the potential vendor's website address and let the prospect decide whether it's a good fit or not. Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 07, 2016:

Yep, billybuc, you can take us teachers out of the classroom, but you can't take the teaching out of us. It's a reflex, eh? Thanks for your kind words. Have a beautiful and relaxing weekend ahead!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 07, 2016:

You are an extension of my college courses, and I appreciate you greatly. I just wish I knew how to increase your readership.....sigh...have a great Thursday.

Donna Herron from USA on January 07, 2016:

Great hub, Heidi! I don't think a lot of people (including me) think about getting consent from BOTH parties both passing along contact information, but this is definitely a wise suggestion that I will follow in the future. This will certainly save some wasted time and some awkward situations. Thanks for sharing and posting!