10 Ways to Strengthen Referral Relationships

By Ivan Misner
updated 2/23/2011 4:47:13 AM ET 2011-02-23T09:47:13

To be an effective networker, you should constantly be strengthening your relationships with referral sources. The best way to go about this, of course, depends on each individual referral source and what he or she responds to.

So while there isn’t one “best” way to solidify your connections with referral sources, you can take a number of actions to build good will and credibility in those relationships. Here, I offer my top 10 examples that should give you some ideas and get you off on the right foot. This list isn't exhaustive, so please feel free to add your own actions to it.

1. Arrange a one-to-one meeting. Meeting a referral source in person is an excellent opportunity to learn more about his or her business and interests. Prepare questions in advance so that the conversation flows smoothly. Be ready to give an update on your business and to ask lots of questions about your source’s interests.

After you’ve met at least once, you may also consider inviting him or her to participate in some type of recreational activity, such as a golf outing, fishing trip, concert or play. This can be a good opportunity to let your referral source see a different side of you in an informal setting.

2. Send a thank-you card. A handwritten thank-you card makes a great impression, especially in this age of electronic communication. Be sure to write a personalized note that mentions what you’re thanking your referral source for. If you’d rather send something online, SendOutCards.com is a useful resource.

3. Send a gift. Like a thank-you card, a gift -- however small or inexpensive -- can help build visibility and credibility with your referral source. Try to find out what his or her likes are (such as favorite foods, hobbies, etc.), and send a gift that is personalized.

4. Call a referral source. An occasional, casual phone call is a good way to keep the relationship strong -- when you take care to call only when it’s least likely to be an unwelcome interruption. It’s also a good idea to have a piece of news or some tidbit of information to pass along that will benefit or interest your source. You can set up a file for holding newspaper and magazine clippings that may be of interest to people you would like to be your referral sources. Sending an article, especially one that is pertinent to your source’s current business or personal circumstances, reaffirms that you are thinking about his or her needs.

5. Display a source’s brochure. Doing a bit of sales work on behalf of a referral source can only enhance your relationship. If you have a public area for your business, offer to place your source’s materials where your clients can read them.

6. Extend an invitation. Invite a referral source to a networking event. Introducing him or her to other businesspeople you know gives your source an opportunity to meet others in your target market. It may also provide new business opportunities for you both.

7. Nominate them for an award. Watch for these types of opportunities. Local service and civic organizations often present annual awards recognizing contributions to a particular cause, and local periodicals often sponsor awards contests for businesspeople. Find out which groups and interests your referral source is involved in and check to see if there is a form of recognition associated with them.

8. Include a source in your newsletter. Even a brief mention of a referral source in your newsletter can pay dividends down the road, including the opportunity for them to reciprocate the favor in their own newsletter.

9. Arrange a speaking engagement. Help your referral source get in front of a group that would be interested in his or her business or area of expertise. Local chapters of service organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, are always looking for good speakers. If you belong to a group that invites people to speak, use your contacts to help your source make the rounds among various chapters.

10. Turn the table. Offer your referral source a referral he or she might find useful. It’s often a wonderful way to build your relationship. By helping build your source’s business, you help create a debt of gratitude that will encourage your source to respond in kind.

Have you had success incorporating other techniques that aren’t listed here? If so, I’d love for you to share them in the comments section below.

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