What Does a Good Referral Look Like?

[Ed: Jeff Hexter, our CNO, has been writing a series of posts about networking techniques and mindsets.]

Here are some examples of referrals that I think are well done. They are more likely to result in the desired outcome because they properly and warmly introduce both parties to each other, and they properly set expectations for contact.

In Person Referrals

An actual, face-to-face introduction, whenever it is possible, is generally the best type of referral you can give. It still should be more than "Al, meet Bob and Bob, meet Al".

Better would be "Chris, you mentioned to me that you were looking for someone who could power wash your deck. My friend Dan here has a company that did an excellent job on my deck which was looking a sickly shade of beige and is now back to its original, bright brown. I think he'd be able to do an excellent job on your deck as well.”

It this way, I've built up Dan in Chris's eyes, and I've shown Dan that I value him and the job he did for me.

Telephone Referrals (and set up so you’re not playing tag)

Three Steps

1. More often, the two people you want to connect are not together in the same place at the same time. So now you get the chance to reconnect with one or both of the parties in your referral before you make the introduction. I have found that a good way to do this is to ask each person some form of an "if I... would you..." question.

This is a question of the form "Cindy, if I knew a good dog walking service that would fit your budget, would you like me to have them contact you?" and "Frank, you mentioned you were looking to hire mid-level tech people for your firm. I have some people I've got in mind who might be right for the job; If they are interested, can I have them text you?"

2. Next step is to contact the person I have in mind and ask the corresponding questions:
"George, are you still taking on dog walking clients in the area? I've met someone I think might be a good customer for you, but I wanted to make sure you were still available." and "Helen, when we last talked, you mentioned you were looking to get back into the tech field, and I've got a friend who is currently looking for people with your skill set. Are you still available an interested?"

3. Finally, share the contact information and, if appropriate express urgency:
"Cindy, my friend George runs a terrific dog walking service and he is still growing his book of business. He can be reached at... and I've shared your contact info with him so he may be calling you" and "George, my friend Cindy is too busy to walk her dog on certain days. I've told her about you and she'd like to know more about what you can do to help. She can be reached at..."

"Frank, I've talked to my friend Helen, and she is interested in learning more about the position you have available. She can be reached at ...." and "Helen, Frank told me he'd like to talk with you about his available position. He can be reached at..."

These referrals look like real work

Essentially, I am confirming with both sides of the referral that:

A.     I know what you are looking for.

B.     You are still looking for it.

C.      This is a good time for the connection to be made.

If any one of those conditions is not met, one or both people in the referral could be annoyed or frustrated.

The benefits of staying top of mind (and warm in heart) are worth it.

By asking the questions of both people, I accomplish four other valuable things:

1.      I further build my relationship with them by increasing the number of touch points I have with them

2.      I show by example that I care about them.

3.      I allow them to update me about their current needs.

4.      I reduce the risk to my reputation if the referral should turn out not be a good one.

How to make a referral in an email

Since electronically mediated messaging is the current mode many of us use to communicate, I want to express some concerns to be aware of along with a template for how to email well.

As you know, messages sent electronically lack vocal tone and facial expression, two important cues to one’s enthusiasm, concern, or interest. The way you accommodate for this loss in an email is to OVER COMMUNICATE your messages. This means you will be better served to express the same information multiple ways in your interaction.

Here is an example email showing what I mean by this:

Example Email
To: Ivan, Jessica
Subject: Ivan, meet Jessica Rabbit; Jessica, meet Ivan Drago
Message Body:
Ivan, when we talked you mentioned you were looking to meet... <explain details of why I believe Ivan would benefit from meeting Jessica>

Jessica, I told you I network with a person who... <explain details of why I believe Jessica would benefit from meeting with Ivan>

Ivan can be reached at 212-555-1212 and Jessica can be reached at 212-555-2121. Please let me know if you have trouble connecting.

Ivan is on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ivandrago and Jessica is on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jessicarabbit

And please let me know if this is not a good referral. The only way I can get better at this is with your feedback.

As always, the details matter

Those placeholders for <explanation of details> are, of course, the most important part of the email. Their form can vary, and greatly depends on your own personal style (I tend toward friendly, joking introductions - you might prefer to simply lay out the facts in bullet points) and on the time and focus you have to produce your message.

Adding the contact phone numbers allows one party to easily reach the other offline without having to look up the info - but I'd not share phone numbers without first getting their consent. The LinkedIn profiles are public, and sharing that also simplifies the research process.

That last line inserts the sender further into the introduction process. Do not use it unless you are sincerely looking for feedback.

So that wraps up our take on what a good referral looks like. Of course we’d love to hear your feedback, criticism, complaints, encouragement, high praise… anything. Let us know what would help you in your networking, business development or job search. We’re here to help. -ed