To Ask or Not to Ask — for a Referral or Introduction — That is The Question

What does it mean “to network”?

Some people think it means to attend an event and work the room, collect many cards and then follow up.  The events industry is booming because this form of networking works.  It’s also very expensive and that type of relationship building takes time.  That first meeting at the event was just the first step, it could be months or years until something comes out of it, unless you got lucky and sat at dinner with a person looking for what you have to offer just now.

Perhaps networking means going on to LinkedIn and sharing “content” to show that you are a smart, knowledgeable person.  But LinkedIn is a seller’s market — most people there have something to sell.  It’s either themselves (looking for a better job, either passively or actively), or a product/service.  So, most people visiting your content will be there to sell you something not to buy from you.  If you want buyers on LinkedIn, you need to buy an ad, cold email them via InMail, or ask for an introduction.

So, even on LinkedIn, despite the hoopla about Social Selling, to generate business it’s back to basics: ads, emails or intros.  In these domains LinkedIn is not the definitive answer and it has a lot of drawbacks associated with conducting business on a public social network that encourages sharing lots of data about what you do at work and who you connect with.  (People should care about Privacy but enterprises should care about Trade Secrets…)

Going back to basics for a moment, let’s remember that the currency of business is Trust.  

If you are looking for a service provider, what do you do?  You call around to find someone who can recommend someone they liked.  When you hire a new employee, you ask for references from the candidate and then find other references from your network to get more trustworthy references.  Can you compare the length of a sales process via a reference route to via an outbound cold call?  There is no comparison.  Nanoseconds compared to eternity (figuratively speaking).

But not so fast.  Getting a referral is not something you can control,  The phone rings, your buddy Claire is on the other side and she says “my former co-worker Suzie now runs ABC Co, and she asked if I knew a great [fill the blank], so of course I thought of you.”  You can build a business like that but it’s not the way that companies that want to grow rapidly now to meet investor requirements or to preempt competitors do it.  They hire sales teams and they call and email to set up meetings to make sales pitches — it’s the law of big numbers: if they call enough people, even with a small success rate, they could hit their numbers.  May be.

There is another way.

You could try to meet your goals by “asking” for referrals.  If you think about it, referrals and introductions are the two sides of the same coin.  But usually, people think of getting a referral (an uncontrollable mana from heaven) and asking for an introduction (an action you need to take).  But asking for an intro is fraught with social discomfort.

Some people think asking for intros is awkward, like asking for a favor.  That’s really self-defeating, if you don’t mind me saying so.  I don’t know if “working the network” is the key to success of all the successful people in the business magazines.  But if you look at their business trajectories you can see the bread crumbs and how they were collected along the way.  (Unless they just inherited the money, in which case you need to do that with their parents, or grandparents, or great grandparents…).

There are simple rules to making the referral request process acceptable and natural.  They work all the time.

  • Ask for a specific referral:  If you ask “I am looking for investors, do you know any?” then even a person with a full rolodex of investors won’t help.  Why? Too much work for them to figure out who to connect you to.  You need to do your homework, figure out a list of investors you want to talk to, and ask for a specific intro to these people.
  • Ask the right people:  Ask people who trust you in the context of the request.  You know thousands of people.  Which one of them would be comfortable introducing you to this type of person?
  • Be transparent:  You need to tell the person why you need the intro because they need to be able to assess several things.  Does the person on the other side of the intro request need the thing you are offering, and are you credible in providing the product/service?

Anybody can do this.

First, you need to know who you want to reach: you need a list of prospects.  Second, you need to understand to whom your contacts might be able to introduce you: you need a list of all your contacts, their work history, and estimate their ability to make a useful introduction to everyone on your list of prospects.  Third, you need to narrowcast to the relevant contacts that you need an intro, to whom and why.  Fourth, you need to keep track of all this.

OK, it’s a lot of work.

Then let Reachable do it for you in seconds.  

All you need is to invest less than 3 minutes of your time upfront, and tend to it from time to it.  You don’t need to connect to anyone and you don’t need to join a new social network.  There is a version for individuals and there is a version for enterprises that allows creating Teams of people who want to work off a collective Rolodex.

Reachable is more Google than LinkedIn but it has the best of both.

Reachable is for everybody.  But if you are in sales, business development, professional services or any business activity that relies on Trust and Relationships, then Reachable is a must have.

You can get started for free.  We do offer paid tiers of service to pay our data partners which are some of the leading database providers on the planet, and of course pay our data team that makes all this magic happen (and the rest of the Reachable team that makes it all look easy).