Cultivate & Invest: My no-nonsense guide to referrals & introductions

Business Buzz for Birmingham & Warwickshire

It’s time to renew your car insurance, & a few providers are offering a cheaper option than your current policy. Do you switch provider, & if so, which one do you switch to? After scouring Google, what do you do? You ask around – have any of your friends or family had experience of any of these insurance companies? When we look to invest in a product, a service, or anything that requires our time, our commitment or our hard earn money, having a reliable recommendation makes us feel more at ease about entering into a new transaction. With someone we trust making a recommendation, we gain a certain level of confidence that what we’re about to invest in is going to be worthwhile. With the theme of recommendations at hand, today, I want to talk to you about referrals & introductions in the networking world: what they are, how they differ & what influences them.  


So, let’s start with the basics: an introduction is ‘a formal presentation of one person to another, in which each is told the other's name’. When it comes to networking, an introduction is when two people are brought together by a third person, who knows both of them, but has not necessarily made use of either’s business, products or services.  The person making the introduction will have a good idea of why he or she is helping to make this connection, have a fair understanding of the businesses on both sides & a good idea about the potential benefits. The person introducing them is a ‘business connector’ & will have mastered their active listening skills & knowledge & understanding about various sectors by applying the Business Buzz 3-2-1 principle


In contrast to an introduction, a referral is much more personal. The person making the referral will have used the business, their service or products & will have genuine, positive, first-hand experience. Referrals are most commonly made from the connector’s inner circle of business relationships.

Although the concepts of referral & introduction are similar, there are clear nuances between the two. It is significant when making a referral that the “t” word comes into play. The personal experience, a common understanding about customer service & nurturing relationships means a certain level of trust has been established with the person, their business, their product & their service. Where I make a referral, I am confident that my contact will have the same values as me.

The Trust Factor

With this in mind, we can safely say that a greater transfer of trust is required to make a referral compared to making an introduction. Of course, in networking, introductions & referrals aren’t made blindly. The person offering to make either will have established a good understanding of your business, your needs & some of your challenges. They will have applied thought & logic to exactly who they suggest you should talk to further.  Introductions & referrals should be genuine & made for the right reasons. As a super-connector myself, I do not take any referrer fees, kick-backs or gifts. This is because I can assure my contacts that when I make a referral that it is for the right reason, & that I do not have an ulterior motive. Making a good referral to the right person for the right reason will have a positive impact on your credibility, help affirm your status as a key connector & have lasting impact on your reputation, so you don’t really want to muddy the waters?

Which To Make: A Referral or An Introduction?

So what influences whether we make an introduction or a referral? We’ve established that referrals require a greater transfer of trust than introductions. Few of you would disagree that it is absolutely necessary to know & trust someone before you send a peer to work or do business with them. Having first-hand experience of the proficiency of the product or service you’re referring might come from being a customer personally, or from seeing this person’s product or service in action or sometimes through reputation, where the whole world speaks of nothing but the kindness, the generosity, the value adds or the positive knowledge that another person brings to the table. Why is this so fundamental? Well, as a business owner, I don’t need to tell you about the importance of your reputation. It takes a very long time to build, & a very short time to destroy, so we, understandably, want to nurture it at all times.  When you make a referral, the person you refer needs to trust your judgement. If the referral proves to them that they can trust you, this strengthens your profile as a connector, & reinforces their faith in you. If the referral has a negative outcome for them, your judgement, validity, & critically, your reputation, are in jeopardy. So, it is important to explain to both parties why you are making the introduction or referral & what the potential benefits are. If you make a referral to your trusted “inner circle”, they should, without question, pick-up the conversation.

Regardless of how long you’ve been networking, there should be no pressure to make either a referral or an introduction. A referral that isn’t relevant could have a detrimental impact on your reputation. It is best to be sure & selective – fewer, well positioned referrals will have a far more positive impact on you, & the people you are connecting than lots of unsuitable ones.  

Now we’ve talked about what introductions & referrals are, & what influences how you make them, let’s turn our thoughts to how you get them. A referral is a powerful business tool – someone referring your product or service provides an opportunity to potentially do business with a new client who wants, needs or desires the products or services you offer.

I Want Referrals – How Do I Make That Happen?

So, how do you get a referral? There’s no quick solution. Instead, you must invest effort & commitment to consistently provide a reliable product or service. You also need to demonstrate your knowledge, enthusiasm & adaptability in a way that is engaging & approachable – avoid acronyms, being too technical or implying any lack of understanding lies with the listener. Keeping what you do accessible to all, whether they are your customer or not is fundamental in trust. If I don’t understand what you do, how can I tell the next person? This is where getting out from behind your desk to go networking really pays dividends.  Through being consistent in doing a little networking really well & by becoming the face of your sector, product or service in your favourite networking event, you will gain credibility & trust. Even though you may not talk to the same person every time, if you have applied the 3-2- 1 principle & they see you & you acknowledge one another, this all adds to your trust factor. It takes time to build trust & this is best achieved by doing what you say you will & in a timely manner, especially when it comes to making introductions.  

Let’s not forget, if referrals require the connector trusting in your product or service, then they need to be confident you can provide it. This is where you can play your part in getting a referral. If you use your networking time & 1-2-1 follow up meetings to their potential, you can communicate exactly what you’re looking for in a client & what your capacity is to take on new business. When your trusted network understands who your ideal client is, & how you can accommodate them, they are well placed to refer potential customers to you, but not all referrals need to be client orientated. Building trust can also be established by being seen as a super connector. Expect to have 1-2-1s with people who are not your ideal customer base. What you want to achieve is other business owners knowing who you are & what you do so that they advocate on your behalf, then half your sales job is done!  As I often say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ & nor will your network be. It takes time for referrals to happen, & as with the rest of networking, the focus is always on quality over quantity. Be patient & hold out for a referral that’s based on genuine belief in your business, your product or your service, & in the suitability of the client to you. I promise it’ll be worth the wait.

My Experience Won’t Necessarily Be Your Experience

What about when you have had a poor referral? In the networking world, I cannot guarantee that my experience will be the same as the next person’s. However, rather than berating someone or over dramatizing an outcome where you were not happy, my approach is to neither make an introduction nor a referral to that particular person in future.

Try to not get obsessed or get stuck at that moment where you received a poor outcome. It’s all too easy to tell people how bad something is. But, if you are negative about another business owner, their product or service, that will be the takeaway that others remember not only about them but also about you. Always try to have a positive spin. Of course, if I am asked directly about my experience of working with another business owner, where it has not been what I expected, then I will be honest. I would choose to explain my perspective, but quantify what I am saying, in stating that it is “my personal experience”. It is OK for one person to have a different outcome from the next. We cannot please all of the people all of the time, but as a super-connector I need to navigate the field of Introductions & referrals with a balanced approach.

A Quick Round-Up

We have covered quite a lot in this blog, so, let’s round up the key takeaways from today’s discussion.:

  • Both introductions & referrals benefit your business.
  • They work in different ways, requiring different levels of trust – whereas introductions involve a connector putting two people in touch, referrals are vouching for & recommending your business.
  • Referrals are powerful tools for your business but there is no quick fix to getting them.
  • With time & a consistent approach, you will build those all-important trusted relationships within your network.
  • Referrals will happen organically.
  • It takes time & practice to be a competent active listener, & in turn to build an understanding about other business owners at the core of your trusted network.
  • To increase your chances of getting a referral, focus on engaging with your network fully – both during networking sessions & in your 1-2-1 follow-ups.
  • The more your network know about you, your product or your service & your availability, the more likely they are to refer you.
  • Needless to say, we are far more likely to refer business to people we know, like & trust.  

If you’d like to know more about the power behind referrals & introductions or simply have a question, then please do not hesitate to reach-out to me in my capacity as the Regional lead for Business Buzz across Birmingham & Warwickshire by dropping me an email at I believe that nothing ventured is nothing gained so start a conversation today – you never know where it might lead.