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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Referrals: Have You Heard Of 'Garbage In Garbage Out'?

It comes from IT, but applies just as well to referral marketing ...


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 29/09/2021 @ 8:00AM

It's not a term I've heard recently. Those of you who hate sloppy management expressions are probably quite grateful for that. I remember first being introduced to the term at the same time as I was introduced to databases way back in the 1980's ...

'Garbage In Garbage Out' applies just as well to Referral Marketing!

'Garbage In Garbage Out' applies just as well to Referral Marketing!

copyright: fotyma / 123rf stock photo

Ah, the memories I have of punching in requests for information from the primitive NHS hospital waiting list database and seeing reams and reams of paper pour out of the printer covered in lines of patients' names and numbers, none of which was usable.

"The advice from the IT department to be more specific in my request was scuppered by my motivation to throw the whole kit and caboodle straight out the window!"

At about the same time, I was also doing my MSc and learning how to conduct research surveys. Here I was introduced to the concept of data validation. For those of you professionally involved with research and surveys will know there is a whole science behind collecting accurate data and interpreting what it is telling you.

Those in the know may like to skip a couple of paragraphs or share with me some of your own examples. For those of you who don't know the term, it means: "Are you actually collecting the right data to answer the question you're asking?"

It's really easy to get that wrong when writing questions for a survey. I remember the frustration of asking, what to me at the time was a simple question: "Do you think women should get the same pay as men?"

I asked for a simple Yes or No answer but to my dismay, I got a lot of blank responses often with a note in the margin reading "it depends" or "sometimes".

Adding "for doing the same job" to the end of the question got a much better response rate, so I learnt to be more specific and didn't throw the whole lot out the window.

I'm sure, like me, you've filled in lots of customer satisfaction surveys and either haven't been able to answer some questions because you didn't understand them or somehow, they just didn't ask a question that covered what you were concerned about. If only they had been more specific.

Maybe you've conducted your own survey and found yourself wishing you had asked different questions when you looked at the answers people put?

"Those of you who write or use databases will also know that being specific about what data can be entered into which field is essential!"

Steffi and I were discussing this recently when looking at the early data from my new weekly blog newsletter. I asked her for a report on how many times the mailer was opened.

She had set it up so that it recorded an 'open' each and every time the message was seen in the inbox and I was interpreting it as unique readers. Once I was more specific in my request, she was able to provide the correct data.

But what's this got to do with referral marketing? I'm sure you know where this is going, don't you? Yes! It's the old "Garbage In, Garbage out" adage once more.

If your message on who you want to meet is muddled, unclear or - worst of all - couched in a general term of 'anybody' then you shouldn't be surprised if the people receiving the message give you muddled, unclear referrals to anybody who they believe could use what they think are your services and get it horribly wrong.

You know those referrals, don't you? When you phone up the person is reluctant to meet with you. If they do see you at all it quickly becomes apparent that it is just because their friend asked them to, they have no idea what you provide and it becomes apparent that they just don't have a need for your services.

The easiest thing to do in such circumstances is to blame the person who referred you. How many of you felt your referrers were either game playing or stupid? Some people I was talking to recently felt so. They were exactly where I was in 1983 when I wanted to throw the computer out the window.

Their plans were to abandon networking altogether though I believed they should be grateful that their contacts were bothering at all, they obviously liked them and wanted to help.

Think about the time you gave up on a questionnaire halfway through because the questions were so badly worded. It's the same with referrals! If your message isn't clear, most people just don't bother to look for you. Be honest, would you?

So be specific and lose the muddle. Clearly describe the type of person you want to be introduced to. Test it out on a few friends and, if you've got it right, a name should pop into their head.

Now what's the opposite of garbage? Let's go for 'Gold Dust in, Gold Dust out'.

Until next time ...



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If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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