James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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How to Turn Referrals Into Introductions

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

Referrals by themselves are worthless. That’s the bold statement made by our guest this week, Bill Cates. Bill is an author and the president of Referral Coach International, a company dedicated to training organizations and individuals to acquire more customers through word of mouth, referral, and personal introductions. Much like word of mouth, Bill believes that referrals in and of themselves are worthless unless they lead to introductions and connections. There is a lot of clutter in today’s world of emails and tweets, so just having a prospect know your name or the name of your company is not enough. You need to be thinking in terms of introductions and building relationships with prospective clients.

In this episode, Bill walks us through how to turn a referral into a connection, how to bake referrals into your company’s culture, and how to cultivate a new prospect relationship past a simple connection.

Turning Referrals Into Connections

There are three steps to what Bill calls his Referral Advantage Marketing System that take referrals to the next level: Engagement, Leverage, and Connection.


This is the first measure you need to take to ensure that your prospect has a great onboarding experience.  If you are engaged with your prospect by communicating your company’s value, your company becomes much more referable.  The prospect needs to feel like this engagement is an ongoing process and that they are receiving the attention they need for their business.


Loyalty creates incremental growth, but real exponential growth occurs when you leverage that loyalty.  By promoting referrals (such as reminding clients, “Don’t keep us a secret!”) you are encouraging clients to share the great experience they have had with your company.  Even asking clients directly for referrals is a proven way to get them to do just that! By promoting referrals (such as reminding clients, “Don’t keep us a secret!”) you are…



The key to this step is to formalize referrals.  This is where the process breaks down for many companies – they have clients willing and able to refer them, they just don’t make it happen!  You need to be able to walk your clients through how they can refer you and what that process looks like.

Baking Referrals Into Culture

It’s not just about asking for referrals, it’s about creating a culture that thrives on connections.  It needs to be hard-wired into your company’s DNA.  Part of this effort swings the other way – you have to be the one giving referrals at some points as well.

Knowing when to be assumptive

Once you have been referred by a client to another prospect, you can be assumptive about creating a connection.  It is best to ask a question like, “How would you like to introduce us (referring to the new prospect)?” This gives the client a clear path to introduce you to their referral and gets your foot in the door.

It is best to be assumptive about making an introduction only if you have received referrals from this particular individual in the past.  If you have not received referrals in the past, you can make it clear that you have come prepared with questions about referrals.

These kinds of questions include, “Who do you have in mind that could be a potentially good match for us to do business with?” and “How can we craft an introduction that feels comfortable for all parties?”

This approach is bold and assertive but also allows for collaboration.  It allows you to move the conversation forward, but it allows the individual who is referring you to control the first interaction.  The person doing the referring will want to buy into the introduction in order to protect their name by demonstrating you are a worthwhile person to introduce.

Cultivating Connections Into Relationships


Learning about your prospect before speaking with them officially for the first time is critical – this includes both “warm” and “cold” research.  You want to make sure that you are aware of some of the challenges and opportunities of their business as well as a glimpse into what their online presence looks like.  “Cold Research” includes looking up information on Google, LinkedIn, etc., and “Warm Research” involves asking your mutual contacts for some details that aren’t available online.

Getting on the phone

It is important to craft an approach to cultivating connections that feels comfortable.  For example, meeting someone in person is best (on the golf course or out for dinner), but asking someone to meetup too quickly is a mistake.  It is easy for someone to get scared off when they are asked to commit to too much too quickly.

Setting up a quick phone call is often the best way to meet in the middle.  It is assertive enough to get your point across, but it is not asking for the prospect to invest a large amount of time to see if your company is a good fit.

Email tips

Email introductions are often far too long.  Don’t send your prospect an email with your full bio and list of accomplishments!  Make sure it is short and to the point.  You want to make sure the first question you ask (“Do you have a few minutes to hop on the phone this week?”) results in an easy “yes”.

Using “PS” after your signature can also be very powerful.  Including a note such as, “In the meantime, check out some videos demonstrating our product” alongside a YouTube link is a great way to encourage your prospect to do some digging themselves!

Linkedin Referral Optimizer

Bill has developed a Linkedin Referral Optimizer tool and made it available for your use.  This is a brief, 2-page checklist that helps you turn LinkedIn conversations into real business relationships.

People often are afraid a prospect will think you are “stalking” them if you view their LinkedIn Profile, but this is just not the case.  People like to see that you have done a little research and viewed their LinkedIn Profile – it shows that you are a real person.  Finally, it’s important to eventually move the conversation off of LinkedIn.  Don’t hide behind these tools.  Make the real life connection.

More Tools And Information

Referrals alone won’t get the job done… engaging with and leveraging those connections are the key.  Once a culture of referrals is baked into your company, it becomes second nature to cultivate relationships with prospects and fully engage with them throughout the onboarding process.

This post is based on an interview with Bill Cates from Referral Coach International.  Make sure you check out Bill’s Linkedin Referral Optimizer tool that is referenced in the closing minutes of the episode.  You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the B2B Growth Show on iTunes.