I talk to many people who are nervous about giving referrals. The kind of questions they ask is, ''What if it rebounds on me?'' or, ''How will you know when to trust someone to provide a good service to my valued client or friend?''. Both are worthy questions ...
According to Daniel Kahneman, nobel prize winning psychologist and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, you should trust your instincts, at least most of the time.
The acronym WYSIATI, reminds us that our brains can only go on the information available to us and we get pretty good at jumping to conclusions on very little information with surprisingly accurate results.
He talks about our brain working in two complementary ways: firstly as a storyteller and secondly as a moderator (he calls them System 1 and 2). It is the storyteller (System 1) we use in the first instance.
We devise a story based on the coherence of the evidence in front of us and we do it without consciously thinking it through. The infamous 'first impression' followed up with just enough extra data to support our emerging story that this is someone we can trust.
When you think about what makes you trust someone, it's a combination of feelings and intuition rather than a list of carefully researched evidence that influences us. "I had a gut feeling I could trust him" is a common thing to hear.
And most of the time we are right. Maybe that's because most people are trustworthy. Are you getting a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach? You may be itching to respond to me with "but ..." If so, it's probably because you are remembering the person who you trusted and who let you down. It's worth putting that experience into the perspective of all the other people you trust every day with very little evidence they warrant that trust.
We are prepared to venture out onto the roads in our cars every day because we trust the vast majority of others - very few of whom we know anything about - to obey the rules of the road enough to avoid collisions. We are vindicated as we don't have a collision every day and the idiot who puts us at risk is still rare enough for us to comment when it happens.
Daniel, in an interview about his book, does point out that sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusion with people. Fortunately, we have another ability. Our brain acts as a moderator and will search for additional information and then analyse the situation further to check our conclusions (his System 2). He cautions that moderation is slow and takes a lot of effort so we use it sparingly when in his words "the stakes are high".
Returning to the car driver analogy, we would surely seek more information about a driver if we were a passenger with them in the Dakar Rally. How can we use this insight into ourselves to decide when to trust someone with a referral? I suspect that will differ for each of you as to the nature of the referral. A good rule of thumb is to trust your instincts ... up to a point.
Recommending your local printer to someone wanting business cards is very different to recommending a consultant to help your client restructure their multi-million-pound business, isn't it?
In both circumstances, your storytelling brain will already have jumped to a conclusion, so check how are you feeling about this person. Any doubts? Find yourself saying "but ..." or maybe you can't put your finger on what is making you hesitate? It's time to activate your moderator.
Daniel makes the point in his book that most of the time, we seek information that supports our story. Your moderator's brain takes a lot more effort to seek new information that contradicts your instinct and then to analyse it to decide whether to change the plot.
So is it worth the effort? Consider that other famous acronym of 'What's In It For Me?' (WIIFM). How much do you want to build a referral relationship with this person?
If you do, then seek out what will fill the gaps and satisfy your doubts. Can you get some testimonials or opinions from others? What is their story about this person? Does it fit with your version?
Then do some analysis to check their story is congruent. So, for instance, are they asking for introductions to deliver major change programmes, but when you check, their only clients are small micro-businesses?
My referral tip for you today is to take the time to build informed relationships with people in your network, constantly adding to your story about them. Then you will have the confidence to refer them appropriately whilst protecting your own reputation.
After all, your contacts have their story about you based on what they see is all there is!
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.