When I started out in networking I was calling businesses to invite them to attend weekly breakfast meetings designed to generate referrals between the members. The most common objection I heard, other than the early start time of the meetings, was, “how can I refer people I don’t know?”

by Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

There’s no doubt that this is a valid response. After all, as we’ve established, referrals are primarily based on trust between two parties, a trust that is then assumed by the third party who may be parting with their money.

If you refer people you don’t know, or with whom you don’t have an established relationship, there will be natural concerns about losing trusted contacts if something goes wrong, being made to look foolish if the person you refer is incompetent or, worst of all, referring someone who subsequently defrauds the person you introduced.

If you are going to build a marketing strategy based on referral-generation and looking to broaden your network to maximise the potential from that strategy, you need to be aware of these concerns, both when you refer others and if you expect them to refer you.

To begin with we need to be open to the concept of meeting new people with the expectation of being able to refer them. While a valid objection, the problem for people who asked how they could refer people they didn’t know was that they perceived that doing so would lead to expectations of referrals being passed as soon as they joined a group.

Life isn’t as simple as that. We can’t be expected to automatically refer people we have just met; just as we can’t operate from the basis that we can only expect to give and receive referrals from the people with whom we currently have trusted relationships.

After all, if there are people you refer now, then surely there was a time when you didn’t know them and a time when you started to refer them.

What happened between those two points was that you developed a relationship where you felt comfortable referring them. You built a level of trust between yourself and the other party.

When you are building new relationships, you can still offer support and connect people while recognising that you are not yet in a place where you feel able to refer them without qualification. To do that, it is important to understand that there are different types of referral you can pass.

Qualified referrals

When you first meet someone, or in the early stages of a relationship, you should still be able to connect them using what I call ‘qualified referrals’. By this, I mean that you are not giving your unqualified backing to the person you are referring, but that they still might be a useful contact.

In Recommended I talk about an electrician I employed after my thermostat at home broke, leaving me with no hot water. When I asked my friend if she could recommend someone to help me, she made it clear that she hadn’t met the electrician personally and that he was the son-in-law of a friend of hers.

By using language very carefully, she qualified the referral. “I don’t know him but I know his father-in-law and he’s a trustworthy person,” she said. That made it clear to me that she wasn’t in a position to personally vouch for the electrician, but I still felt more comfortable using him than by looking for someone in the phone book.

The key was that I understood the referral came with qualifications and took on the risk of things going awry.

You can pass qualified referrals by using language very carefully, using phrases such as:

“I’ve just met someone who . . .”

“I don’t know if they can help but . . . “

“I know X does this but haven’t used her myself . . . ”

Offer a potential solution to someone’s needs while distancing yourself sufficiently from the outcome. Always be clear about your relationship with the person you are referring and the terms of referral and let the buyer take responsibility for making the decision. Always ask for feedback if business is done though, as this will help you build the trust you need to give that person stronger referrals in the future.

Unqualified referrals

When you have built strong relationships with people and are comfortable that they will do a good job, you are more likely to Champion their services without any qualification.

Such strong advocacy requires much greater levels of trust; after all, you are putting your reputation behind the referral. This doesn’t happen overnight, in most cases you will progress gradually from passing or receiving qualified referrals to passing them with no qualification whatsoever.

That progression can depend on a number of factors. You may have used their services personally, know people who have and who constantly sing their praises, or have complete faith in their personality and integrity.

If you are relying on third party experience and testimonials, a lot will also depend on how well you know and trust that third party and the quality of the testimonials you hear. Stories from one or two people whose opinion you trust may be enough for you to have faith in the person you are referring, or it may be that you hear a lot of good things about him from a range of people.

When you pass such strong referrals, you would usually want to have both the faith in their integrity and knowledge of their ability to deliver.

Unqualified referrals of this nature are much more likely to be acted upon by the prospect. After all, if they trust you and you speak so positively about a potential supplier, why would they want to go somewhere else? While we may be hesitant to pass strong unqualified referrals, however, they carry such weight that they play a key role in any referrals strategy.

If you’d want to be the recipient of unqualified referrals that are more likely to win you new business, you need to be prepared to offer similar recommendations to others too.


To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488.

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