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Sunday, July 25, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: Walking in Other People's Shoes

Connecting Is Not Enough with Andy Lopata

In another extract from his forthcoming book on referrals strategy, Andy Lopata looks at how to make it as easy as possible for your 'champions' to refer you effectively.

Andy looks at:

- How other people view your prospects and recognise opportunities for you
- Whether someone is having the right conversations to be able to refer you
- How to recognise natural champions for your business

Once you have a clear understanding of the introductions and the support you are looking for, it's now time to take the other perspective. The flow and the quality of referrals that you receive depends a lot upon the quality of the message you communicate to your network and, in particular, their ability to recognise ideal opportunities to introduce you.

Having recognised the opportunity, your champions then need to be able to raise the prospect of a conversation with you and get the other party interested in taking your call.

Very often the way we see our customers and the work we do is different from the way other people see them. It can be a tough task to step out of our shoes and into other people's but that is precisely what you need to do.

Over the years I have heard many people ask for referrals to people who have specific issues that only others in their industry would understand. The over-use of jargon, the focus on technical detail and the in depth detail often serve to intimidate, or even just bore, potential referrers who don't have the expertise to understand the message.

If you are working with potential champions from within your own industry or sector, that is not a problem. They will expect to attain a deeper level of understanding of your clients' issues and the processes you use to deal with them. It certainly pays to look for people dealing with similar clients or resolving issues associated with those you resolve as they will be far better placed than most to refer you. We will look in more detail at this shortly.

If you'd like to develop a wider referral network, however, you need to change your tune.

Keep it simple and focus on the key messages people need to hear. Start to think how people in your network will recognise your potential clients; what clues can you give them?

It may be that you are connected to someone through personal or family ties, rather than through business connections. If that's the case they will be having different conversations with the people who might refer you than those they might have with your professional introducers.

If you deal with people's personal or financial problems, that might not be something that they share with everyone in their network, but there might be clues to the problems they will be facing.

If, for example, their business has grown rapidly, they've recently downsized, or they've set up on their own for the first time, they will be experiencing problems that everyone in that position faces. Use these obvious clues to help people in your network understand how to recognise the opportunities, then give them the information they need to take the next step.

The opportunity to refer

As previously indicated, identifying those people who are well placed to refer you, either because of their understanding of your marketplace or due to their exposure to your prospective clients, will help you develop strong sources of new opportunities.

People who understand your marketplace are able to speak the same language and recognise opportunities for you with ease. As hard as you may work to help your wider network be aware of who you help and how, those with experience of what you do will always have a greater depth of understanding.

I’m not suggesting that you simply write-off people who want to refer you, understand how but who might not be speaking with the right people. However, once you have confirmed that they really don’t have the opportunities to refer you, it may be better to focus your attention elsewhere.

At the beginning of a Referral Strategy coaching programme I asked one of my clients to identify five people who he felt would be good champions for him. By the third session it became clear that one of the five was simply not in the position to refer regularly. He had spent a lot of time with her, succeeded in building her trust, but she was not having the conversations that would lead to referral opportunities frequently enough.

He quickly came to the decision to keep in touch with her but focus his referral strategy activity elsewhere. It would be very difficult to commercially justify the time invested in building the relationship with her in terms of the referrals she would be in a position to provide.

Think about former colleagues who have moved onto other roles, suppliers who specialize in your market or complementary businesses sharing the same customer base for example.

If you want to get the edge on your competitors, you need to be creative about this. There will be obvious introducers in your industry whom everyone approaches. For example, within professional services there exists what I call ‘The Holy Quadruplicate’ of solicitors, accountants, financial advisers and banks.

Depending upon their area of expertise (for example, property lawyers may look more to architects and surveyors for introductions), when asked who is most likely to refer them, each of the four professions above will typically mention the other three.

That means that each of the four is continually being approached by the others with a view to establishing a referral relationship.

You can still stand out from the crowd when looking for referrals from obvious sources. As we have discussed, few of your competitors will have a referrals strategy and if they do, depending on the industry, they are unlikely to be focused on building deep relationships. While they may approach introducers occasionally, you can be speaking to them continually, getting well known within their companies and winning their loyally.

If you can think differently to your competitors, however, you can identify potential sources of referrals who they will never think of.

The process and the people

Why do people buy your products or services? What has driven that need?

Depending on the nature of your business, the chances are that you are part of a bigger process driven by a change in their business or their life. Needs often arise out of change and those changes can drive more than one need.

If, for example, you install telecom systems, you may have clients who need your services because they are moving offices. The process they are involved in, moving offices, demands more services than just a new phone system.

They may also require the services of commercial estate agents, property lawyers, surveyors, architects, office furniture providers, an office stationery company, printers, sign writers, IT network engineers, contract cleaners and more.

All of these businesses are talking to potential clients of yours at a time when they are most likely to need your help. Therefore, all of those businesses are potential champions for your business. They have the opportunity to refer you and are in a position to do so just as the need arises.

Some will be better placed than others to refer you, others will be more trusted. In the example above, the IT network engineer or the architect are probably best placed to refer the telecoms company in terms of their expertise being relevant and trusted or because of the timing of their work.

Run through this exercise across your business. Above is just one example of why someone might call in a telecom systems provider. List every reason why someone uses your products or services and why that reason may have come about. Then try to identify as many companies as possible who also service that need.

Once you have done that you will start to see some companies who come up time and time again. Those will be the people you most want to speak to and try to come to a referral relationship with.

An additional benefit of this exercise is that it will help you to recognise areas of industry or types of clients in whom you specialize. Once you are aware of your niche markets, it becomes a simple step to identify other suppliers to those markets with whom you can develop a cross-referral relationship. As your reputation in that market grows, so other suppliers will want to work more closely with you.

Another approach is to think of the people you deal with within your client companies and ask yourself who else deals with people in that position. If, for example, you tend to deal directly with the Finance Director of an organisation, if you can identify who else deals with finance directors, you know that they are in a position to refer you.

As with the example above, look for those who are most trusted and whose advice is most relevant to what you do.


Are you struggling to put an effective networking or referral strategy into place? Do you want to know more about how to ensure you get the maximum possible return from your networking?

Visit Andy's brand new website at for more resources and ideas about how Andy can help you.

Andy's Audio program, "Networking in Ninety Minutes," will give you the tools you need to make the most from your networking. Available in CD or mp3 format here.

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For more information, please visit Andy's TNNWC Bio.

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