When speaking at conferences and in working with professional services and technology companies, the most frequent request I get is "How can I get more referrals?" The alternative is cold calling. Although I could write extensively about the art and science of cold calling, a good referral can accelerate the process.
Why Referrals Are Not Optional
During spring break, I had the pleasure of spending time with many visiting relatives. As it turns out, my brother-in-law Steve and brother-in-law Barry each hold senior positions within large organizations. Each purchases over $100 million annually. They share one common belief (among many): Someone who calls them without a solid introduction is not worth their time. As much as it pained me to hear it, I could understand and appreciate their perspective. They are busy people, and feel that if they need something, their network can find it. They feel that taking cold calls is a waste of time.
Each was proud of the fact that they ignored dozens of phone messages in their voicemail box each day. If you want to reach them, you need a referral.
What Is Wrong With the Typical Referral Request?
Those who know my contacts (LinkedIn makes that pretty easy) will often ask for introductions. As I have written before, I guard those contacts fiercely. But, here's the thing. Why would I expend my political capital making an introduction if you simply want to try to sell them something? There has to be something in it for them.
A Powerful Alternative
My friend, Tom Cooper with BrightHill Group, recently contacted me to explain a unique challenge they had identified, along with a solution to address it. Tom used to work at Marriott, and was often tasked with managing multiple projects simultaneously. The challenge, as Tom explained, was everyone planned their project for their own resources, and assumed the other departments would be available as needed. In large companies, everyone seems to start big projects around the same time. By the time the second project arrives in the queue, the service organizations are without resources. Tom devised an approach to help organizations manage complex projects across departments with dependent resources. Tom asked if I knew anyone facing that challenge.
I contacted one of the previously mentioned relatives and described the issues. I asked "How common is that?" He replied "That's the exact challenge we are facing today. Would you mind making an introduction?" Because Tom could carefully articulate WHY they would want to speak with him, I was able to help.
Here Is the Big Lesson
Tom did not ask for introductions to anyone with over 1,000 employees. He did not ask for introductions to companies with three or more locations. Rather, Tom was very specific with the problem he helped companies overcome. Whether it was a $50 million company or a $20 billion company, this issue would resonate for them. Anyone struggling with that issue would welcome the opportunity to meet with him -- just as was the case with my brother-in-law.
How to Ensure a Receptive Audience
In describing his approach, Tom explains that their approach does not work for everyone. This indicates to the referring party (me) and to the potential client (my brother-in-law) that Tom is there to determine if there is a fit, not just pitch whatever he is selling.
When you want an introduction, ask yourself "Are you solving an important problem, or just trying to sell something?" My brother-in-law is excited to meet someone who might be able to solve this important issue. Tom is happy to meet with a good potential client. Both of them are happy I made the introduction. If you make an introduction that doesn't provide mutual value, rethink the approach, or run the risk of being seen as a troll.
It's Your Turn
How do you feel about the importance of introductions? What's your best introduction story (good or bad)?