Joining referral networks or local chamber groups can be a great way to help you network and generate referrals. The most powerful way to use this strategy, however, is to grow your own.
Almost any business can benefit from having a group of trusted providers effectively marketing your business like a referral sales force. When you build your own private referral network your business benefits in two very powerful ways: you experience an increase in leads and you have additional resource to bring to your client relationships. In some cases, this second benefit may produce the greatest long-term impact of this approach.
How to build it
The key to building your own referral network is to focus on developing relationships with businesses you can believe in thoroughly. I would suggest that the first consideration should always be – what can this business bring to my client and not what can they bring to me. You might start by identifying the top products and services you know your current clientele need and use.
There are many ways to build a “formal” referral network. Let me explain the idea of formal. To me that means there is an agreement between the parties that explains what each party will do. There is a process where each party educates the other on the best way to refer each other. There are marketing materials of some form that help each business cross promote. Once this basis framework is in place, creativity can come into play in many ways.
The one place I see these efforts trip up is when the focus is on compensation. In other words, if everyone in the group is concerned about keeping score, the group is bound to fail. You must focus on the benefit to your clients. If you do that, the universe will take care of the rest. There will always be members that only want to take; you’ve got to be ready to move them out of your network.
Let me give you an example
This financial planner created his very own referral and lead network by sending a letter to 10 other professionals that he had worked with and felt comfortable referring business to. This letter informed them that he was creating a unique referral network of 100 of the area’s top professional service providers. He invited them to become members and explained that he needed them to recommend 10 others who belonged in this exclusive group. He then created a resource directory and website that featured all 100 professionals. The entire group promoted the directory and web site and referred business to each other. As a result, other professionals begged to be allowed into the group. The strategy was so powerful that many of network members did no other form of marketing.
Once you put your group together there are many ways to take advantage of power of this new sales force.
Create a blog network
If ten or fifteen related businesses were to get together and create a blog focused on a specific target market, in a specific geographic location, they could easily create a very valuable local resource. With very little effort this blog would rank very highly for local search engines terms related to the blog topics. Even with the mainstream recognition of blogs, this is still a wide-open opportunity.
Interview each member for a teleseminar series
Host a monthly interview with an expert and feature one of your network members. You can conduct these interviews over the phone and have all the members invite attendees to the teleseminar series. Record each session and you’ve also created some killer content for other marketing efforts. Keep these calls non-sales, high impact, and information rich.
Create co-branded white papers
You should be creating and using white papers in your lead generation efforts anyway, so take those educational pieces to other members of your network and let them start offering them to their clients and prospects. Put their logo on the cover with your logo and you’ve got an instant hit.
Do endorsed mailings
One of the simplest ways to promote members of your referral network is to mail a letter to your clients endorsing another member’s work. If every member of the group were to do this same thing, you could experience an instant flood of new business.
Put on a group workshop
Once you have built a strong group, you should consider hosting an all day workshop covering the hottest topics of concern to your target market. Each member of the group can present a topic, and all parties invite participants. For some groups, this could turn into a profit center above and beyond referrals.
Distribute marketing materials and offers
It’s pretty simple to create little leave behind marketing pieces so that when the plumber makes a house call he can leave a special offer from the heating and cooling and electrical members of the group.
Bundle each others products and services
In some cases partnering with your referral network can help you make a much more competitive offer. Putting your products and services together with two or three other providers might give your firm the ability to compete with much larger organizations.
With some careful consideration and a little effort you could build a referral network that would rival any sales force.