If you follow business leaders in your social media news feed, you’ll often see the question “Where does the majority of your new business come from?” Generally, the number one response to this question is from referrals. How does someone who is new in business get the majority of their business from referrals?
While it might take a little bit of time to develop, investing time in building relationships with people who can refer business is one of the easiest ways to get referrals. If you don’t have clients yet, build a referral base from strategic partners.
Before I dive into how to make this happen, let me clarify the terminology. Strategic partners, referral partners, power partners, and referral sources all mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably. Basically, these are people who are working with the same customer base as you, but are in non-competing industries. For example, a strategic partner for an insurance agent might be an accountant, business attorney, or banker. Another insurance agent could also be a strategic partner if they were selling a non-competing product. For a painting contractor, strategic partners may be drywall, plumbing, and roofing contractors.
Once the strategic partners for your industry are identified, the next question is often “where do I meet them?” Start by attending networking events. Your strategic partners are usually attending those meetings as well. If your customer base is high tech, attend their meetings. As you are talking to people, let them know who you are looking for. Once you meet, connect with them on social media and invite them for a ‘get to know you’ session. During this session, learn about the type of clients they work with, how they work with their clients and then see if there is a fit for you to refer business.
If you feel the relationship is worth developing, you will want to establish a plan where you can get together regularly to talk about the various clients you are working with and discuss ways to create introductions for each other. This is an important key to making a strategic partnership flourish. People you meet will have good intentions, but when they don’t see you, they don’t always think about you. If you are serious about developing referrals from your strategic partners, you need to be the one to schedule the meetings and keep the process moving forward. You also need to make sure you are finding ways to help your strategic partners, and you are not just meeting to find business for yourself. If you are perceived as someone who is a taker and not a giver, you will dry up your referral well quickly.
Not every person you meet will be a good strategic partner for you. Some people don’t need additional business, some people already have a network of strategic partners in place and aren’t looking to add additional partners, and some people just don’t understand getting referrals as part of a business model. Initially, you will want to seek out 10-20 people. You will eventually narrow it down to 3-5 people with whom you have a strong connection. As you build your relationships, you will reap the benefits of referrals and the quality of new clients will be better than from any other source.