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The ABC’s of Asking for Referrals

There was once a member in a Chapter who sold computer equipment. Just before joining the organization, he had sold dozens of computers to a local school system. Apparently, the state legislature had earmarked a billion dollars for school systems to upgrade their computer equipment and this particular member had come across an opportunity to tap into a small piece of these allocated funds.

After joining, this individual was eager to use the contacts in the organization to identify more school systems that he could sell upgraded computers. As these opportunities represented major transactions for him, each week he focused his infomercials on seeking contacts and inroads into local school systems.

Although articulately said, nothing came from his requests. The problem was that no one had legitimate contacts into school systems (partially because most Chapter members did not have school-aged children). After a year of trying, the member stood at the Chapter meeting when it was his time to speak and proceeded to resign his membership, stating that he had just not gotten any referrals.

This announcement troubled much of the Chapter. This individual was a good member. He had consistent attendance. He got a respectable amount of great referrals. And he was well liked. Several people expressed their feelings.

With regret a member said, “I am sorry to hear that you are leaving the group – you will be missed. I wish you could have got you some referrals, but I just don’t know anyone in a school system and I don’t know anyone that needs 50 computers. I would have loved to have used you – you just bought a new printer last week.”

Others echoed this sentiment and indicated where they thought about using their fellow member.  “I would have loved to have got a replacement monitor from you”… “we would have liked to purchased our two new computers from you.”

The resigning computer salesperson was stunned.  Momentarily, he was silenced, when he was able to speak he instinctively replied, “I could have sold you any of that. In fact, a good part of my business is selling a single computer or an individual peripheral, like printers and monitors.”

The story has a happy ending, however. The member did not leave the Chapter. He did, however, stop focusing entirely on selling computers to school systems and did quite well asking for and getting referrals for a computer here and a printer there.

The moral of the story is that you should not get so caught up asking for that referral that will make your month (or year), that you forget that most of your success in business is achieved by making lots of relatively small sales. In fact, from week to week there are three general categories of referrals you should be seeking, graded as A, B or C.

  • Grade A: This is the referral you realistically hope for when you have an opportunity to daydream about your business. That is to say that it is entirely possible that you could receive a referral like this, but they do not come around everyday and you certainly should not pin the existence of your business on them. From time to time, you should ask for these types of referrals as it is not beyond the realm of possibility that you would get one and so it is important that you let your network know that you would be interested.
  • Grade B: These referrals represent the types of business and clients that you generally see from day to day and week to week in your business. A great majority of the time, you should be asking for referrals that fit in this classification.
  • Grade C: These referrals represent the bear minimum type of business that you are willing to accept. In essence, when you ask for these types of referrals you are saying to your fellow members “although I am not going to build my business long term on these types of clients, I am willing to work with them as a means of establishing a relationship and hoping that it leads to more and better business down the road.” Like the Grade A referral, this should not be the focus of your periodic request for referrals. You should remind your fellow members, however, from time to time about these potential opportunities that you seek.

Although there is nothing wrong with asking for those once-in-a-lifetime referral opportunities, you need to make these requests sparingly (and the same holds true for those referrals you are willing to work for, but not overly eager to have).  Remember, success in requesting referrals is as simple as A,B,C.

Frank Agin is the founder and president of AmSpirit Business Connections and is the author of Foundational Networking: Building Know, Like And Trust To Create A Lifetime Of Extraordinary Success and Linked Working: Generating Success On The World’s Largest Professional Networking Website.
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8 Responses to The ABC’s of Asking for Referrals

  1. Kyle Cantrell July 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    Frank – great article. Two questions: How do you determine who your A's, B's, and C's are? How would you approach requesting and following-up with the different types of referrals?

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