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How to Get More Referrals From a Business Networking Group

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I was inspired by a question asked of me by a financial advisor — a top producer at, well, a top producers meeting. (Always best to go to the top.)

“I belong to a networking group that has met once a week for the past four months,” the advisor asked me. “No sales yet. What could I be missing?”

It’s hard to say what is missing, since I’m not attending the events. 

(Related: 12 Ways to Handle Awkward Business Networking Moments)

That said, I answered his question with a few more questions. (I’m funny like that.) Only he knows the answers — which led to yet another discussion.

If you’re a part of a business networking group, chamber, association, or whatever, ask yourself the following questions.

1. What is your definition of a referral?

The meaning of a referral is in the eye of the beholder. We use the word “referral” in a number of different contexts. I need a referral from my primary care physician. I need a referral to a good plumber — do you have his phone number?

2. Are you attending every meeting?

You can’t just show up to networking meetings when you feel like it. (I’m tempted to use the term willy-nilly.) You must be an active and frequent attendee in an effort to put your time in. And it’s way more than just being there — you have to participate. Contribute. Give of yourself. Get involved. Be a presence. A connector. Remember, it’s all about the relationship. If you focus on giving and developing relationships, the business will be there. And how can you focus on developing relationships if you’re not attending (and participating in) enough meetings?

3. Are you paying attention to other members of the group when they’re speaking?

If the meeting is structured and attendees get an opportunity to deliver a presentation (some groups offer 30 seconds or a minute to deliver a “commercial”), it’s time for you to take note (yes, literally take notes!) so you can potentially help. If you (and other members) are more focused on the bagels, coffee, and Facebook, there are missed opportunities — for everyone!

4. Are fellow members paying attention to you?

You can only expect this privilege if you pay attention to them. (See above.) That said, you must deliver a meaningful presentation (elevator speech or “commercial”) that is articulate, a bit entertaining, planned, focused, and with a call to action. 

Conversation (Photo: iStock)

(Photo: iStock)

A good model I discuss often is the PEEC Statement — your Profession, Expertise, Environments (target market), and Call to Action (who you want to meet or be connected to). If you can do this and change it up slightly for every meeting, you’re on your way. HINT: Costumes, props, and the occasional poem work well!

5. Are you meeting with other members’ one-on-one or in small groups?

Why? So you can learn more about them and their businesses. So you can learn how to refer them business. So you can get to know what they do when they’re not talking business. So you can build solid relationships. So they can get to know you too and refer you lots of business. Focus on the relationships and the business will be there. (Are you seeing a theme?) By the way, you don’t need to meet with everyone you connect with at an event for a “coffee meeting” or even a phone meeting. Pick your battles carefully — only meet if there is a good reason. Be choosy!

6. Are you generating referral business to other members?

One of the best ways to establish trust and build relationships is to refer business to other group members. But first, you must make sure they are absolutely awesome at what they do. Speak to their clients and get their feedback. Truth be told, I’ve been burned in the past, recently in fact, by establishing a referral (“Call my client — he’s expecting your call so he can hire you!”) for someone that wasn’t ready or capable of handling the business. Lesson: Do your homework. Also, when you generate referrals, insure they are sound — as in they have a great chance of turning into closed business. Otherwise, they may not technically be referrals.

7. Are you likeable (loaded question I know)?

This is tough. Do you like talking to other people? And do they like talking to you? Typically these dynamics go hand-in-hand. If you like hanging out with others and you find yourself laughing a lot, getting introduced to others, and being invited to outside events (like golf), this is a good sign. If this is not the case, you want to be honest with yourself. Ask for direct feedback from those you trust to determine how you might come across to other people. Although it may not be the thing you want to hear, it might be what you need to hear. And then — work on that!

8. Do you like the other members?

Again, kind of relatable to the above but it’s important that you have chemistry with most of the members of any given group otherwise they won’t refer you business. It’s just that simple. It might be a good approach to focus on venues that attract those with common interests — becoming active at a fundraiser because you’re passionate about helping those with Parkinson’s. Typically, true networkers like true networkers so try to go where they go.

9. Are you clearly communicating about the type of business you want?

Again, this might come back to your elevator speech or how you typically talk about you and your business or practice. You must be specific about what you do and with whom. Give examples of the perfect client, project, or problem you solve. This way, your network can help connect you with all the right people. The more specific you are about communicating your message, the easier it will be to get connected.

10. Do some of the other members of the group represent potential referral partners?

Are there successful centers of influence or referral sources (CPA’s, attorneys, property and casualty brokers, mortgage bankers, etc.) in the group that you’re building positive relationships with? If not, why? Should there be? Can you invite them and get them to become members? Who do you know that can benefit from the group and from getting to know you better? Invite them to the next event!

If you’re attending networking meetings, chamber mixers, association functions, speed networking events, and other venues, ask yourself these questions and be honest with your answers. Can you look at yourself in the mirror and say you’re taking all of these approaches? Networking requires work — as in net-work.

Is it time to get to work?

—Read How to Network at a Party on ThinkAdvisor.

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