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Scheduling your next steps

"If you hear of anyone who could benefit from my services, I would appreciate the referral."

How many times have each of us used this expression? It sounds like a good way to generate referrals. It is not too aggressive, it is broad enough to encompass all of the services we provide and it expresses appreciation for the act of making the referral.

In general, however, requests like this are unlikely to produce the referrals we want. With e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn,  advertising, traditional media and even the old-fashioned telephone, we are all inundated with a lot of "noise." General requests for referrals have a hard time cutting through all that noise. General requests do little to differentiate you from anyone else who might provide similar services.

If you have one meeting with another professional and understand what that individual does, you may remember what they do for a day, a week or perhaps a month. But if no opportunity to make a referral happens in that relatively short period of time, it is unlikely that you will think of that individual unless you do something to continue to cultivate the relationship.

The general rules of relationship building apply here. The better you get to know someone, the more likely it is that you will think of that individual at the appropriate moment (i.e. when you hear about someone who may need those services -- and of course, visa versa).

The way to overcome this problem is that you should always be thinking of a next step. What can you do to continue to cultivate your relationship with that individual and when will you do it?

What that next step is depends largely on where your common interests lie and how it is that you think that you can be helpful to each other.

On a personal level, for example, if you both enjoy doing something recreational, make a point of scheduling that activity on a regular basis so that you have the opportunity to connect with the individual. If your common interests simply rely on having common sets of clients that you would like to share with each other, make sure to mark on your calendar a date to follow up within two months. In the meantime, continue to think of ways that you can be helpful to that individual. Be aware of their interests. Forward them articles or links of interest.

In the short run you may simply be following up on making an introduction that you promised to make in your initial meeting. Two months down the road it may be following up to see if that initial introduction was of any help to that individual.

Come up with specific ways to cross-market together (co-author articles, give joint presentations or participate together in trade association activities). It is critical to mark something in your calendar that reminds you to circle back to the individual so that you can continue working on that activity. Real work has a way of derailing us from our marketing and relationship building activities.

Writing an article together or giving a presentation to a common set of potential clients, can be an effective way to cultivate your relationship with each other and get to better understand each other's capabilities. Of course the expectation is that you may end up finding opportunities to identify clients for each other. But just as important, you are spending time getting to know each other and doing this will dramatically increase your chances of thinking of that individual at the appropriate moment.

It is very easy to make broad sweeping promises about making referrals. But in general they are not effective. Look for specific ways to connect with the individuals in your network  and  over time your opportunity for leads will grow significantly. If you leave it to chance, "let me know how I can be of help to you" becomes a platitude that has little effect on your marketing success.

Tip courtesy of Stephen Seckler, president, Seckler Legal Consulting and Coaching.

Published June 13, 2013

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