We've all seen them. Those giant pumpkins with the big blue ribbons on them. Did you know there was a specific process they follow to grow them? They just don't plant a seed and hope they grow a winner. One of my favorite books is "The Pumpkin Plan" by Mike Michalowicz. In his book, he walks through how business owners can use the sames process to help their business grow more successful. I've found that this process works equally as great at developing your referral network. Think about it. Would you rather have a lot of referral partners each giving you a referral here and there that you have to spend a lot of time maintaining; or a few GREAT referral partners that are consistently passing referrals to you and don't require as much time to maintain? I want the latter.
So how do you pumpkin plan your network? Before we talk about that process let's review how pumpkin farmers grow giant championship pumpkins.
1. Plant Promising Seeds
2. Water Water Water
3. Remove Diseased Pumpkins
4. Weed Like a Mad Dog
5. Identify Stronger Pumpkins
6. Focus on the Big Pumpkin
7. Watch it Grow!
When we talk about growing your network these seven steps look like this:
1. Identify Referral Partners
You need to understand who is a good referral partner for you. Is it a certain profession? Is it businesses that work with certain types of clients? When you grow pumpkins you need to plant seeds from other championship pumpkins. The same is true for building a referral network, you need to identify the right potential referral partners or you won't get the results you want.
2. Network Network Network
It's time to start growing your network. Get out an meet potential referral partners by going to events that they will be at. Going to a technology meeting in the hopes of meeting accountants won't be as effective use of your time. You want to meet as many as you can so you have a great pool of potential referral partners to work with.
You also want to start building relationships with the potential referral partners you've met. Learn how you can pass them referrals and start to teach them about passing referrals to you.
3. Remove Non-Giving Partners
This is your chance to evaluate your network. Who are the givers? Who are the takers? Who has the same values as you? Who "gets" you and vice versa? If a partner is not a good fit for you because all they do is take or their values are at odds with yours, there is nothing that says you have to keep them around. But be careful not to burn bridges when pruning your network. Just because they aren't a good referral fit doesn't mean they are a bad person.
4. Beware of Distractions
As business owners, there are always multiple items competing for your attention so it is easy to get distracted from spending time with your network. In the early development of your partnerships, it is key you remember that everything you say or do is going to impact how your relationship develops. Are you slow following up on referrals or do you follow up with in 24 hours? Do you proactively give positive feedback or is reactive? You want your new network to keep you top of mind for the right reasons.
5. Identify Powerful Partners
Over time you are going to notice that certain referral partners are more profitable than others. They may give higher quality referrals or introduce you to larger clients. Or they may just give you more qualified referrals. These partners understand the value you give their clients and how introducing you elevates their standing as well as helping their referral.
6. Nurture Your Network
These key referral partners are the ones you want to spend more time with and find more impactful ways to promote each other. Maybe you hold a co-branded event for all your clients or send out an email blast to your clients for the other. My key referral partners will run sales calls with me to show the client how hiring both of us will multiply their success. But these are activities you don't do with all your network, only the ones that are the cream of the crop.
7. Track Your Results
Once you have established your high performing referral team, you need to understand the extent of your time. How many referral partners can you maintain effectively? At what point are you starting to neglect your partners due solely to only have so many hours in a day?
Just like in sales you need to keep your referral partner pipeline full as you look for your next best referral partner. Also, relationships are always changing so you need to continue to track your success with your partners against the new referral partners that you have recently met.
Who was once your best referral partner may not be the best fit for your business anymore. Again this doesn't mean they are a bad person or that you need to cut ties with them completely, you don't want to burn bridges. It just means that your are going to reallocate your time to a different partner.
Remember, building a blue ribbon referral team is not a one time activity. It is a ongoing process that allows you to keep your sales pipeline full with qualified referrals that are waiting to work with you.