Strategic Referral Groups

Introduction from Alana:
In a continuing set of guest posts by several interesting people with whom I have had the privilege to connect over the last many years, I am pleased to share some thoughts from Kit Mair, head of business development for a well-respected staffing company. During a recent coffee meeting with Kit, she told me about something her company has created, “Strategic Referral Groups.” In some ways, these types of groups are similar to BNI or RLI professional groups, but what made this one unique was the do-it-yourself, ad-hoc nature and proactive approach that Kit took to find the “right” people for her group. In the paragraphs that follow, you will read about themes such as “connecting with people you like” and the importance of referrals to any business. You will learn about Kit’s virtual team and the ground rules they have agreed upon to help expand one another’s businesses. Enjoy the post and take heed to the important lessons she shares. Thanks, Kit, for your contribution to the CLC community!

Guest post from Kit Mair:

Our company realizes the benefits of doing business with people we like. Through our business and the services offered, we strive to get to know our clients. As a result of the bond we form with our clients, they are the primary source of referrals.

Getting referred to a potential new client is handled in many ways. Lots of introductory emails go around among like-minded folks. Once we receive referrals, we prefer to take time to have conversations through face-to-face meetings, though, as you might imagine, this approach takes more effort than any other form of connecting with others.

Over the years, given the relationships that I have formed, it has become clear to me that while I can provide a great many services to my clients, I can provide even more value to them if I can connect them with other service providers who can address the needs to which I cannot attend. With that in mind, I decided to take a team approach and to seek like-minded people who are looking to service the same companies as my firm.

Making the decision to find a group was the easy part. Identifying specific people to join me was more of a challenge.

Number 12 was a charm! Through a series of twelve conversations, I was finally referred to Brian, a financial services professional who develops accounts like I do. The person who referred me to Brian listened carefully to my request and knew he would be a good connection. She was right!

After receiving an email introduction to Brian, we agreed to meet. Though the meeting lasted for a full hour, in retrospect, we both knew within 15 minutes that we were interested in approaching people in the same manner, and serious about getting introductions into the same businesses. As we continued to talk, we realized the enormous benefit of finding others who are not competing but who are following the same model. We agreed to recruit others to join our “team.”

Enter Chris. It was Brian who brought Chris into the fold through a connection that he made. Together, we met Chris for lunch. Instantly, the three of us banded together to begin referring each other to current clients, developing a list of prospective clients who we could jointly approach and created a wish list of other potential clients. Today, the three of us continue to look for other like-minded people to add to our group.

The Ground Rules. One of the aspects of our Strategic Referral Group of which I am proudest is that we laid out a series of ground rules by which to operate and set the stage for us to begin referring business to one another.

  • Know and understand one another’s businesses. This is crucial. It would be difficult to refer business out if we don’t really have a sense for the value our partners can provide.
  • Commit to meet regularly and schedule our next meeting each time we get together. Getting together with some regularity and knowing when we will next come together helps to keep us all on track and on task.
  • Transparency. Not only have we made a commitment to one another, but we each have ensured that our managers understand that these gatherings are important business meetings that beget additional business.
  • Exclusivity. As others come into the Strategic Referral Group, they cannot be direct competitors with established team members in any way. This helps to eliminate awkward, uncomfortable, unnecessary competition among members.
  • Track results. We’ve all heard the adage, “what gets measured gets done” or “what gets measured gets managed.” Tracking results such as number of meetings scheduled and number of new clients helps us to know whether we are achieving success and advancing our efforts as intended.

Implementing Strategic Referral Partners in such an organized manner is a new approach, but we have already started to begin making new connections. I recommend this concept to all business development professionals – not only does it help to grow business, but the camaraderie among team members is particularly gratifying.

2 thoughts on “Strategic Referral Groups

  1. This is a great story, but I particularly commend Kit for establishing groundrules for the group. Groundrules are a powerful tool that any group (whether it’s two, or many more) should consider using to establish an agreed upon structure for how the members will work together. As Kit alludes, it’s one of the keys to building a powerful and effective group.

    In the training work I do with clients, I often refer to groundrules as agreements. Agreements are a special type of what we call a meta-conversation. A meta-conversation is simply a “conversation about the main conversation”. The unique thing about agreements is that they are a meta-conversation that occurs before the normal flow of conversation (i.e., the meeting) starts.

    Agreements are powerful for two main reasons. First, they let you address problems (that you believe may occur based on past history) before they show up. Second, they give anyone permission to speak up if someone isn’t following what was agreed to.

    A wonderful feature of agreements is that they work well at home and in the workplace!

    Kit, thanks for this reminder about the power of groundrules (agreements)!

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