When I'm promoting our referral marketing methods, I stress the need to have deep relationships with key people in order to get success. Very frequently, people come back at me with an anecdote ...
This is usually along the lines of the amazing referral they got from the stranger they sat next to on the plane, or who they met just once when networking or someone they had lost touch with who suddenly phoned with an introduction.
Now some people tell these stories to test out this experience with me as it seems to be counter to what I advise. For others, it is justification that they were right all along.
They believe referral marketing is just about putting their pitch out there, connecting with people on social media and waiting for the referrals to come. My response is that unexpected referrals coming out of the blue do happen, and they are great, but do you really want to build your business on chance?
Yet for many people, relying on serendipity to deliver business still feels rational; after all, they know it works because it has. Actually, it is totally irrational and comes from our poor intuition with statistics. Don't feel offended if you think I'm talking about you, as making irrational decisions and getting the maths wrong is actually what we humans do best a lot of the time. You can read Stuart Sutherland 'Irrationality' for some of the research behind this.
Firstly we humans have a strong tendency to seek data that supports our beliefs and ignore that which doesn't. We really do like to be right, so if you believe that referrals just come out of the blue, then you'll collect examples where that appears to happen.
Unsurprisingly, if those are your beliefs then you're much more likely to spot the examples as it is reinforced by our tendency to commit the 'availability error'. We tend to make decisions and act on what makes the deepest impression or what comes first to mind.
And we tend to remember exciting, but rare events rather than the routine and expected, so the stranger who introduced me to a contact nearly 10 years ago that turned into £50K worth of business gets remembered - and mentioned - more often than all the referrals I have had from people where I have built a strong relationship.
The piece of information missing in these anecdotes is all those times an unexpected referral didn't happen.
How many networking events they attended where a stranger did not introduce them to an amazing new opportunity? How many plane or train journeys did the person sitting in the next seat not offer to introduce them to their contacts? How many people they have lost touch with who haven't phoned up out of the blue with a great proposition for them?
And how many times has that stranger referred again? I suspect if they have it is because they have gone on to build a deeper relationship. I also suspect that the reality of that unexpected referral should be seen as less of a surprise than it appeared when recounting the story to me.
If the referral came from a networking meeting you've probably had the opportunity to talk to new people, make that vital first impression and get across a clear and inspirational message about what you do and who you want to meet. You may have also offered to help these new people, so you're increasing the odds that they will help you in return.
If your social media profile is up to date and you're active in staying in touch with people in your network, then the likelihood of someone remembering you when an opportunity comes up are greater than chance. What you have done is make yourself visible to people new and old in your network. You've made it more likely that you fall into their availability recall. After all, that is what marketing is, surely?
So returning to my tellers of anecdotes, who just need to understand how this fits with my strategic approach to networking, there is no paradox. I advocate having a wide and diverse network of contacts and to have a strategy to keep 'front of mind' with them on a regular basis.
Make sure your image and reputation gives this wide range of people confidence in referring to you. Bear in mind that these surprise introductions can be wonderful, but remember that they are still merely reactive responses when someone notices an opportunity for you.
So it's certainly in your best interests to make sure it is only one strand of your referral marketing strategy and complements your main source of referrals through your close referral partners.
If you'd like to learn more about referral marketing then do give me a call on 07970 638857 and let's have a chat and see how I can help you.