The other day I found myself visiting a business networking group and thinking about the meaning of referrals. For those of you who are not familiar with this particular marketing beast, networking groups are social gatherings in which business people meet, practice their elevator speeches on each other, and (hopefully) pass on a referral or two. These groups can range from (in my sister’s oh so appropriate words) “micro-managed, by-law abiding exercises in pedaling in place” to useful opportunities to build one’s referral network.
The $64,000 question that comes with every referral comes down to “can I vouch for this person?”A referral says that I trust this person, that I know this person is competent. Since my referrals are going to reflect on me – the rural grapevine will be quick to remind you of the time the plumber you referred Joe Bob to caused Joe Bob’s drains to all run backwards – I want to have a track record with my referrals; these are people who pass the “mom test” – someone so reliable, competent and trustworthy I’d have no trouble recommending them to my mother.
Sure there are non-referral referrals – you know the ones where a client asks “do you know someone who…” and you hand them 3 or 4 names of “guys who might be able to help” in an effort more to promote good will with your client than to actually foster a business relationship. The non-referral referral lacks the implied warranty of an actual referral, is much more polite than a curt “can’t help, go away”, and seems the reason d’être for these business networking groups – a 60 second elevator speech, even if given on a weekly schedule, is not a foundation for a true referral.