By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

Identifying those people who are well placed to refer you, either because of their understanding of your marketplace or owing 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.

A graphic designer, for example, may find it much easier to generate referrals from printers and website developers than from someone not involved in related industries.

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.

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 that everyone approaches. For example, within professional services there exists what I call ‘The Holy Quadruplicate’ of solicitors, accountants, financial advisors 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. After all, they tend to be talking to similar clients with similar issues, but have different expertise. They are also all in positions where they are trusted by their clients.

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. 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 your competitors may approach introducers occasionally; you can be speaking to them continually, getting well known within their companies and winning their loyalty.

If you can think differently from your competitors, however, you can identify potential sources of referrals who they will never think of. There are a couple of approaches that will help you identify less obvious introducers.

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 arise often out of change and those changes can drive more than one need.

Imagine, for example, that you install telecom systems for a living, you may have customers 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.

Those customers 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 these businesses are talking to potential customers of yours at a time when they are most likely to need your help. Therefore, all 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 owing to their relevant and trusted expertise or the appropriate timing of their work.

Run through this exercise as you consider your own 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 identify some types of companies that come up time and 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 specialise. Once you are aware of your niche markets, it becomes an effortless 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, then, 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.

Competitive advantage

Your competitors are another group of people with the ideal opportunity to refer you. A group that is often automatically overlooked. After all, why would your rivals refer you?

However, there are many examples of competitors working together and feeding each other’s business. Many believe that having strong competitors boosts their own business by raising both the profile of and standards in their industry.

Cavett Robert founded The National Speakers’ Association in the United States in 1972. At the time only a small proportion of organisations in the US used outside speakers. Robert wanted to change that, both by raising the quality within the speaking profession and by raising awareness of speaking as a profession itself.

He had a vision of an organisation where speakers could improve their performance and their business through shared knowledge, encouragement and experiences.

Robert’s motto was "don't worry about how we divide up the pie, there is enough for everybody. Let's just build a bigger pie!"

Additionally, there are a number of reasons why you might want to refer competitors, and why they might be willing to refer you. You may not be best positioned to look after a client’s needs because of location or the expertise required for example. In such cases it is arguably better to refer them to a competitor and retain their good will for the future than to either provide a poor service or to apologise and leave them to source their own solution.

Establishing a referral relationship with your competitors can also offer you economies of scale. Many business consultants and trainers will create a system of associates to help them take on contracts that may otherwise be too large, or develop regionally or internationally when they are unable to travel. Outside of that associate relationship they may still compete with the people with whom they work closely at other times.

If you understand who deals with your market and how they fit with your own offering, you can set up a series of collaborations and joint ventures that will see businesses that otherwise compete with you, bring customers to your door.

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488

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