Creating A Referral Marketing Plan For Strategic Partners

Referral Marketing Plan

Business and Marketing Podcast

Welcome to episode 7 of the Select Business Team podcast.  We are mixing up the format today and instead of interviewing one of our members, we are going to talk about creating a referral marketing plan focused on generating referrals from strategic partners. You can create a referral marketing plan that is focused on your clients or just the general public, but I think focusing on strategic partners will expand your opportunities for generating business.

At Select Business Team, part of what we focus on with our clients is creating business opportunities and this is usually done through other members on the team, which could be considered strategic partners.  We frequently discuss strategies to make this happen and as you’ll discover in some of our other podcasts, the more you help your strategic partners, which we refer to as your ‘Team,” the more they will help you.  If you just put your hand out and ask for something, you won’t reap the rewards of this type of program.

First I want to lay the foundation and suggest you create a plan. I’ve always believed that when you have a plan, you have a guide….it’s like having a road map. Having a plan is also a tool that allows you to measure your results. When it comes to creating business opportunities from referrals, having a plan is no different. Without the plan, it’s easy to digress, get lost or even not do anything at all.

Some people think that a plan takes a lot of work. In some ways, it does, but the type of plan I am referring to isn’t one that needs to be pages long or researched to death; A simple excel spreadsheet can work. It can be as detailed or simplistic as you want. Ultimately, it needs to be one that works for you. One that you feel excited about and one that you will keep working. Remember, fail to plan….plan to fail!

One thing to keep in mind as you are creating your referral marketing plan is that the plan doesn’t have to be etched in stone. You can modify as you go along. Keep track of your efforts and focus on what is working. Don’t over complicate things.

Before you get started, identify what you want to accomplish. Build the plan with the end goal in mind. Initially, I would recommend that you keep things realistic…maybe even stretch your goals a bit, but don’t go overboard right away because it is easy to get overwhelmed when you do and then, you might abandon the project altogether or nothing might happen.

Your overall referral marketing plan should include identifying your strategic partners, then building out the plan by mapping out how will you approach them, how will you educate them on what you do, who you are looking for and how will you stay in touch with them.

If you are in a service type of industry, one of the best areas to focus when creating your referral marketing plan is building a network of strategic partners. These are people that are in non-competing industries but who go after the same customer base as you. Here are two examples:

  • Perhaps you are a business attorney. Your strategic partners might be accountants, financial advisors that implement 401k plans, business bankers, business insurance agents, consultants and web designers. Each of these professions deals with business owners which is the same profession that the business attorney would be working with. 
  • What if you were an electrical contractor that focused on residential homes. Strategic partners for you might be plumbing, flooring, painting, carpentry, landscaping and drywall contractors.  They are non-competing professions but their customer base is the same as yours, homeowners.

Make a list of strategic partners for your industry. Then think about how many people you know in each of those professions. Look at:

  • Your LinkedIn connections,
  • Your social media connections and
  • The current clients you or your company already has
  • Friends and family
  • Past clients of your company
  • Past clients you have worked from other companies
  • Local Chamber of Commerce or other relevant associations 

If your strategic partners are already clients, they’ll know how good your company is and it will be a lot easier to get them to refer you. If you don’t know anyone, you might want to look online or ask your clients who they use and would recommend. Start with a small list at first, maybe 5 in each industry – then build as necessary.

One thing you will discover is that not everyone on your original list will be a good fit for your business and not everyone will be willing to give you business. As you meet with strategic partners, you’ll weed a few out and probably add a few more.

Once you have your list narrowed, you’ll need a marketing plan specifically for your strategic partners.  In it’s simplest form, you are creating a system for keeping in touch…

  • how often will you call them,
  • how often will you meet with them,
  • will you correspond with them via email,
    • if so, what will you send and
    • how frequently will you send them something.
  • Don’t rule out some sort of snail mail – focus on items that are genuine and valuable.

The goal is to stay top of mind and come up with creative ways to keep them involved. Ideally you want to put these steps into a system and the more you can automate the system, the greater results you will see.

Another key component to the success of a plan is having some sort of database. A database can be as simple as an excel spread sheet, but I would encourage you to look at different CRM’s;  also known as client relationship management.

These tools are designed to keep all of your contacts in one place and allow you to sort and filter information as you need to. They will also help you keep track of things like birthdays, family members, anniversaries and hobbies/interests. You can do this in outlook, but a CRM usually has other functions built in like reminders, tasks, notes, etc. and it’s all in one location. 

As you meet with your strategic partners, you might learn about their interests and keep track of them in your database.  If something pops up, you’ll have an easy reference. You can also track what you’ve done for them in your database as well so you don’t duplicate your efforts.

It is up to you how detailed you want to get with the marketing portion of your plan. Part of what you do will depend on your budget and the amount of time and support you have. Build your plan around both. 

For example, if you have $1000. to spend for the year, make sure the mailing, meetings and gifts will work within that budget. If $1000 seems like a stretch then find things that don’t cost much.  For example, a lot of your meetings might be coffee instead of lunch, email instead of snail mail and a lot of phone calls.  The goal is to keep in touch within your budget. Build your plan accordingly and as your budget increases,  increase the amount of activity in your plan.

Another area for you to consider, is rewarding your strategic partners for referrals. There are some industries that can’t receive any type of reward for their referrals.  There are also some industries that can’t give any type of incentives for referrals. Check with your strategic partner and also with your tax advisor.  Make sure you are doing this properly for IRS purposes or any other regulatory body. If you are rewarding for referrals, include that in your plan.

While this episode is about creating a referral marketing plan, there is one critical area you need to look at before you implement your plan. Ask yourself “ARE YOU REFERRABLE?”

This is where you need to take a look inside your company  – Is it one that someone would be comfortable referring? When someone refers you and your company, their reputation is on the line and you want to do everything you can to make them look good!  How do you deal with customers and prospects? How do you handle problems? What is the customer service process that WOW’s everyone? Make sure your internal systems are working, to increase the referrals you receive over the long term.

Also, what type of customers are you looking for? We hear all the time that “I can help anyone’ but the reality is the more you focus on the type of client you want to work with , the easier it will be to help your strategic partners  identify clients for you. You might also want to help them identify what your ideal customer might say to signal them as a lead and educate them on what to tell a prospect about you.

We’ve outlined some really important steps here for creating a referral marketing plan that is focused on strategic partners. Your plan doesn’t need to be complicated, it should identify your partners and most importantly, how you’ll stay top of mind with them. I’d love to hear your ideas for generating referrals from your partners. Share them in iTunes or comment on our website below.


Below is a list of some of my favorite books for building a referral marketing plan.

Check out some of these books and you’ll get great inspiration for building a business through referrals.

Select Business Team has been helping people create referral opportunities for over 20 years.  If you are struggling with developing a plan to create opportunities with your strategic partners, or if you need help creating a system to stay in touch with your strategic partners, let us help you.  Check out our website for ideas on how we can help, send me an email at or call at 301-924-3662.

Get your plan created and you’ll begin to see your business grow!

Until next time, keep creating referral opportunities!


Debbie DeChambeau is the founder of Select Business Team, LLC.  She is also a speaker, trainer and passionate about helping business owners expand their operations. Learn more about Debbie’s professional experience on LinkedIn or read about her journey.