How to Identify a Great Referral Source

How to Identify a Great Referral Source

Do you ever struggle with the question of which business person will refer you or not? If you feel confused from time to time about which centers of influence, i.e., introducers, you should be spending time with, then this article might be for you. If your frustration level is rising because you know you’re wasting a lot of your time, it’s likely you need a stronger series of questions to help you filter through your groups.

While it’s not a hard science and all relationships vary, these questions will help you better separate the tire kickers from the serious folk. We all know that business professionals can all talk a good game when you meet them for coffee, so here are some question to think about. Some of these have been useful to me and advisors I work with. Also, if you keep in mind the strategy at the end of the article, you just might see a noticeable improvement in referrals sooner than you ever thought possible.


Ask What Type of Work You Do With Your Clients?

Yes, I know, it is a simple question. But it helps you learn more about the other person’s network and whether you can help with referrals to prospects, and how often do you forget to ask.

With all these questions, it’s likely you want to dig deeper for lots of reasons. If you feel unclear or unconvinced, don’t be afraid to ask more about their typical clients, dream clients, areas of specialization, and even what a typical week looks like.


Ask Where They Get New Business

This is a fabulous question once they trust you enough to get past “it’s mostly word of mouth.” You can learn so much about their network. You can quickly learn which parts are profitable, and where they meet people during their week. Most importantly, you can learn how important referrals from outside their company and the subsequent referral relationships actually are to them.

The best sign, of course, is when the other person already has some key referral relationships with other business professionals, some perhaps even people you know. If you are lucky, you can be next. One red flag to look out for is the person who gets most of his or her business internally from colleagues, unless something is changing at their company that is putting pressure on them to develop new relationships. Their network outside of work is not typically strong since they have never had the need to develop it.

You also want to get a strong sense from these questions about how important getting referrals and bringing in new business is to them.


Always Ask What Type of Business Are They Seeking

Anyone who really wants referrals is dying to be asked this question, including you! In general, people share once they have been answered. So be ready with a clear response that makes it easy for them to see how to help you. And be ready to walk politely away if they don’t have a clear answer.

I hope you see how this important this question is early on in relationships. Just like your work with your clients and referral partners, if you can’t quickly bring value to the table with this new person, why would they want to meet with you again? Yes, there are lots of ways to add value to business relationships and it is not just about whether you each immediately identify prospects for the other. But if you draw a blank on this question, then the next two questions are very important to you.


What Kind of Professionals Refer You the Most Business?

This is a terrific question for you to introduce them to other professionals in your network that could be good referral sources for them.

Remember, in the worst-case scenario, while you might not know anyone yourself, through your network you can contact people and get helpful names from them. Recently someone asked me if I knew a title attorney in Houston. I didn’t, but I do have some strong contacts here and there, and I was able to make an introduction that turned out to be good for both them and the attorney.


What Are They Planning To Accomplish This Year?

This is a great question and helps give you another way to possibly help someone. Who knows what their goals are? Use open-ended questions and don’t interrupt.

Now with people I don’t know well or am meeting for the first time, I preface the question by saying, “I know this next question is really none of my business, so you don’t have to answer it, but I am really curious about you: “What are your goals for the next one- to three years?”


You’ll be surprised to discover that most people start telling you about changes they are considering in their work lives rather than their production goals. But maybe you will get different responses. I like the question also because it gives me more opportunities to connect them to others and make a positive contribution to their life.


How Do You Work With Advisors or Financial Planners?

Yep, this one takes some courage to ask, but it can save you lots of time. Most professionals waste time trying to build a relationship where the other person already has other loyal referral partners who do what you do. Of course, they are always happy get good referrals from you but are they likely to work hard to help you in return?

That being said, try to and remain open minded. This really can be a gray area, but definitely step carefully here. Some professionals are more than open to reconsidering their current relationships and helping you if you start helping them. You just never know the nature and quality of their other relationships.


May I Share a Little About What I’m Looking For?

Spoiler Alert: It’s not a good sign if you must raise this question yourself. If you’ve shown enough genuine interest in the other person and their goals, they ought to have enough emotional intelligence to ask you what you’re looking for in return.

Still, there are exceptions to every rule. Perhaps the person you’re meeting thinks they know what you “do.” Who knows, maybe your personality is that much stronger than theirs and they fall into that age-old trap of just loving the moment, and talking about themselves. Or maybe they have previously met hundreds of less professional versions of you and seeing your business card, they clam up, fearing a sales pitch or a question they’re not prepared to discuss.

Obviously, the point of the question is for you to unmistakably communicate to the person in front of you what you want. If you are really prepared, you’ll have a prospect list in your pocket, otherwise you can just describe the “people in [abc] situation” who you help or that you hope to meet.


Test the Waters! Give it a Try

As simple as this sounds, testing the waters will definitely help you filter through your growing network and better focus on those people you want to spend more time with. When you get to the end of a meeting, be sure you have a small task that you have said you’ll undertake and one for them also. You might as well see how serious they are from the get-go.

Something like this might work:

It would be helpful to get together again and discuss,

for example, how I can help you can help your business, owner, clients.

I’ll get back to you with info on that upcoming seminar at the Hyatt if you could let me know the title of that book you mentioned.

How does that sound?

Oh yes, and be sure to have fun at the [thing he told you about] this weekend!”


The lion’s share of the time people show their true self only after the meeting. How rapidly they get back to you tells you a bunch of things about how interested they are in building a relationship of some kind with you. It also will let you know how well they follow through on what they say. It is a good thing to know early.

You already know that when someone sends an enthusiastic email one or two days later, that bodes very well. You can feel safe that they “get it.” However, if three weeks go by and finally an email drips into your inbox with a lukewarm greeting, that speaks volumes too, unless they had some challenging life event occur in the past three weeks, or some other reasonable explanation…hey it happens.

So, go on about your business day and these questions to test the waters. Once you know the depth and temperature of these waters, you will see your focus increase on who matters most in your network and who, at least for now, is a waste of your time.r

How do you go about finding great referral sources?

Give me a call and let me know how you do it!