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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Is your referral partnership broken?

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If you haven’t had a successful referral partnership in a while, you may be asking yourself what you’re doing wrong. It could be, though, that it’s not you. Oftentimes, it’s what the other person or company is or isn’t doing.

When business alliances don’t produce referrals, it’s disappointing and frustrating. However, in the research we have done on cases of successful and not-so-successful alliances, failure seems to be caused a few clear issues. So before we throw in the towel on referral partnerships with other professionals, it may be worthwhile to address these key issues.

Here are 3 reasons your referral partnership might not be working:

1.    The wrong professional. You may be attempting to have a referral partnership with the wrong professional. Some people are simply not inclined to refer their clients to other professionals. They are slow to trust or are solely focused on their own business situation. This alliance will likely never work. Just because someone has a client base that’s a good fit for what you do, doesn’t mean that person will be proactive in sharing you with those clients. It’s time to take these people off your list and find others.

2.    The wrong message. If you have not clearly described what you do so that your potential partner can understand, he may not find a reason to refer you. A vague description of what you do may not be memorable enough. You need to not only quickly build credibility, establish areas of specialty and show you have the expertise his clients need but also sound unique and stand out in a clear and compelling way. He needs to be able to think of specific clients who need to talk to you. Your unique value proposition needs to stand out in his mind.

3.    The wrong firm. Research shows that referrals tend to come from firms that are themselves actively seeking new clients. When firms are well established, they are often not interested in alliances or new clients. When a firm is young and in a growth mode, its representatives tend to me more open to referral partnerships. Look for firms focused on acquiring new clients; they often have the opportunity to refer someone to you.

Give your referral partnership plan a chance by zeroing in on the right people, the right message and the right firm. It may mean making some adjustments, but finding the right alliance can be a highly profitable win-win situation.

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Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. For more information, go to


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