Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


Jacky Sherman

Tips From The Referral Institute Northamptonshire

Referral Relationship Boundaries ...

Posted on: 15/01/2014   By: Jacky Sherman

Over the last few weeks, several people in my network have asked me for advice after they had run into trouble with a referral relationship. It's not uncommon because we are, after all, those most irascible of creatures, the ambitious business owner as well as being fallible human beings ...

Be careful of your referral relationship boundaries or you could run into trouble with your referral partners! It's not uncommon!

Be careful of your referral relationship boundaries or you could run into trouble with your referral partners! It's not uncommon!

As I listen to what the issues are, so often it is where people have blurred the boundaries between different parts of their relationship each other.

Hang on a minute! Just before Christmas, I actively encouraged people to blur the boundaries and have a social relationship with their referral partners. Well, like all relationships, it's not in the clearcut areas, but in the fuzzy overlaps and the subtleties, where the problems usually occur.

Our referral relationships overlap three main types of relationship.

  1. As part of your referral network

  2. You are very likely to be each other's customer or supplier

  3. Friendships that evolve from working so closely together

When this all gels together it is a potent formula for success. However, each relationship still has boundaries and many behaviours and expectations fall outside of the overlaps.

Your personal relationships have a degree of familiarity and openness that may not be appropriate for the other two relationships. You can challenge your sister or tell your best friend they are an idiot in a way that might offend a business colleague and certainly would lose you a customer. You may go to the football and swear at the ref, tell smutty jokes, drink too much when out for the evening with your mates, but what about when out with your referrer and the prospect they're introducing you to?

You may also give away advice and free services to your close friends and family. If your brother needs legal advice and you're a lawyer would you charge him? You would be quite clear that you would charge a customer, what about someone in your network who refers you? Giving and receiving advice is a powerful way of building a relationship and motivating others to refer you. However there is a line after which you should expect to pay or be paid. So whilst some general legal advice might be appropriate, to expect the lawyers in your network to give you detailed advice that they would normally charge for is completely inappropriate.

Perhaps where the most problems arise is the blurring of the referral relationship with that of customer/supplier. The Referral relationship is semi-formal and based on trust. There is no formal contract or terms and conditions. The customer/supplier contract, on the other hand, is a formal business transaction. I see more problems when the line between these two areas is transgressed than any other. Frequently, when providing services to a member of your network, informality wins. This is even more likely if you add in a dash of personal friendship too! Suddenly everyone makes assumptions that they know what the other person expects and wants and how much leeway will be given.

Client's briefings become very brief and terms and conditions aren't laid out. If at all possible, discussions on price are avoided or discounts expected and payment terms get stretched. "He won't mind if I delay payment this month, he's my friend" or even "I referred him three clients this month, so it’s alright to miss deadlines because I'm busy." So, what does that say about your relationship?

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't cut your referral source some slack. What I am saying is "don't assume people should, so set out the expectations in advance". If you can't pay on time then talk to your supplier/friend/referral partner. Same goes for deadline and service standards. Don't assume they won't mind!

So my tip this week is to be very clear about where your line is with each area of overlap in your referral relationships. With each person, know in your own head which relationship is most important to you and where your boundaries are.

Be sure your customer/referral source/friend knows this too and stays within your boundaries. Find out what their expectations are as they may be very different from yours! If in doubt, with a new relationship, put the customer relationships first, referrals second and friendship assumptions third.

Whatever you do, don't guess unless you're willing to be wrong!

Maintaining productive business relationships is always a messy business and I know that it is difficult to notice when you are transgressing the boundaries in your own relationships and risk running awry.

My Referrals for Life programme helps my clients to keep an objective view of their relationships and stop them running into trouble. I do this through one-to-one coaching and the peer support that comes from being part of a referral community who meets regularly to review, challenge and learn from each other.

Are you feeling your referral relationship boundaries are getting a little fuzzy? If you call me today on 07970 638857, I can show you how to keep those boundaries clear and focussed thanks to my Referrals For Life programme!

Until next time ...


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