What is the Definition of a Referral?

What is the Definition of a Referral?

An open door to discuss your business.

By Dr. Ivan Misner

A BNI member recently asked me to define a legitimate referral. It’s been a long time since I wrote about this, so I thought I’d share it with everyone in this month’s column.

What is a referral? It’s not as simple as it’s sometimes made out to be. We leave college and go into business knowing little about referrals, because referral marketing is rarely part of the curriculum. We know what a great thing it is to get a referral, because it generally means lucrative business with a reliable client.

We understand that referrals are the best kind of business. What we don’t fully understand is how to make them happen.

In the BNI Member Success Program training we state that a referral is the opportunity to do business with someone who is in the market to buy your product or service. It’s not a guaranteed sale, but an open door to discuss your business.

The whole process of giving referrals can be somewhat subjective. Our goal is to make a “subjective” process as “objective” as possible. Here are six points to generally follow when giving a referral***:

  1. Listen for a need from someone you’ve met. A good networker has two ears and one mouth and uses them proportionately.

  2. Tell the individual that you know someone who can provide that service.

  3. If you’ve done business with the member, share your experience.

  4. Give out the business card of the person you are referring and ask for the individual’s card.

  5. Ask if it’s okay to have the member call.

  6. If the answer is yes, fill out a referral slip and give it to the chapter member at the next meeting.

So, a referral is a referral right? Once a referral source has given you the name of a person to call, it’s up to you to do the rest. A referral is better than a cold call, because you have the name of the prospect. And if you’re fortunate, you can use the name of the referral source to open the door. What more could you hope for?

Grade-A Referrals
Actually, there’s quite a bit more you can expect from referrals that have been properly developed by their sources.

Referrals come in many different grades. On one end of the spectrum they may go from simply a name and number of someone who’s expecting your call all the way to an in-person introduction that follows a serious commitment of time and energy from your referral partner.

Both may be legitimate referrals. However, the latter is much more likely to lead to closed business. The further along the referral spectrum that you can follow in your referral giving – the more likely you are giving truly high quality referrals to your networking partners.

*** Please note – some professions have different ethical guidelines about referrals (for example medical practitioners, counselors, and attorneys). Formal professional standards for any profession supersede the information outlined above.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization and the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com.

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