Saturday, January 28, 2012

How NOT to handle an internal referral

We think of referrals as something that comes from an external source, that is, someone outside of our organization*. And, generally, people know how to handle these.

1) Keep your referrer in the loop. Do not let them hear of your success (or lack thereof) from a third party.
2) Show appreciation regardless of the end result.
3) If the referral is not in your sweet spot, use this an an opportunity to help the referrer better understand what a sweet spot referral might look like – and make sure you also understand their specific needs & wants (which might not be a quid pro quo referral.)

That being said, I notice that most people are far weaker when it comes to internal referrals, that is, referrals that come from people within your organization. I can easily guess why these are treated differently ("It's their job to bring me referrals," ... "What? Do they think I can't do my job without their help?" ... Etc.), but guessing at this reason is not the point of this post.

The point of this post is what often seems to happen next:
1) a lengthy dissertation on how well the professional is already connected to the prospect,
2) a long sigh about this now being added to an already full work load,
3) twenty questions (a la Reservoir Dogs) about the path or opportunity,
4) a complete lack of response, leaving the referrer wondering if the recipient has fallen off a cliff. (And when the recipient is toggled, the internal referrer sometimes receives a snippy "Will look at this when I get a chance" e-mail in response.)

What the internal referrer almost NEVER receives is the following: "Thanks." Or "Great work." Or "Appreciate it." Or etc.

What the internal referrer also RARELY receives is any follow-up information on what happened next, if anything.

Since the internal referrer frequently receives no value from the referral (other than a self-applied gold star he/she can use on a future performance review), this strikes me as short sighted on behalf of the recipient of the referral (read: the last referral you will get from this source) and debilitating to the organization as a whole. Not to mention brutal to the referrer who now has nothing to report back to his/her network contact. Does the recipient think the internal referrer lives in a vacuum?

Anyway, this is kind of like the star running back failing to acknowledge a good block that set him free for a touchdown run or a long pick up. Sure, it's the blocker's job to do so, but why not take the second to acknowledge it?

However, unlike the blocking analogy above, you will never know when the internal referrer missed (or ignored, or avoided) an opportunity to help your organization gain a few open yards. Also unlike the analogy, it's often not this internal referrer's job to find referrals. It's just something he/she was doing to help rise the tide at your organization. And they were treated poorly for doing so.

To end: Perhaps you should assess how your organization responds to and recognizes internal referrals from all parties, even those who are not incentivized to do so.

*Can't stop myself from mentioning that current customers/clients should be a strong source of external referrals. If this is not the case with your business, then, well, fix that, too.

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