Episode 212: The 8-Step Referral Process

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Today’s podcast is drawn from Networking Like a Pro, pages 155-164 (first printing).

The referral process is a system with feedback built into it. There are 8 steps.

  1. Your source discovers a referral opportunity for you.
  2. Research the referral. (Very few people do this, but it pays off.)
  3. Check back in with your referral source to complete the research.
  4. Meet with the referral.
  5. Report back to your referral source on the outcome of the meeting.
  6. Your source gets feedback from the referral. (This is priceless.)
  7. Your referral source reports back to you.
  8. You close the deal.

If every BNI group listened to this episode, the quantity and quality of referrals passed in the group will grow exponentially. Try it and report back in the comments.

Brought to you by Networking Now.

Complete Transcript of BNI Podcast Episode 212 –

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Official BNI Podcast brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. I am Priscilla Rice, and I am coming to you from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkeley, CA. I am joined on the phone today by the Founder and Chairman of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner. Hello Ivan, how are you?

I am doing great, Priscilla. I am going to be talking about a topic that I think is really an important topic. Much of what I write about and do podcasts about in networking and referrals emphasizes the sometimes mysterious nature of referral marketing. In kind of a deep broad based mature referral network where you’re spending a lot of time doing good things for others, givers gain, and you’re not really looking for a direct reward, it seems maybe a little odd to describe the referral marketing process as a system, but it is a system. That’s what it is. Although it really is about giving business to others, it’s important to have a system in place and in mind and actions in place in order to generate those referrals and close deals.

What I wanted to do in this phone call is really drill down to members and talk about what I think is an eight step process. Now, you can make it less than this, but this is a sort of comprehensive overview of what I consider to be the whole process. You can find a lot of this material in the book that I did called Networking Like a Pro. It’s on pages 155 through 164 of Networking Like a Pro, the first printing. Check that out if you want to follow along with what I am talking about.

To begin with, what is a referral? It’s not as simple as we sometimes make it out to be. We leave college and go into business knowing little about referrals. We don’t teach it in school because referral marketing is rarely part of the curriculum. We know what a great thing it is to get a referral because it generally means a lucrative business without a lot of expense. We often think of it simply as the connection we can call on to do business with.

It’s really important to understand not only that referrals are the best kind of business but also how to make them happen when we want them to happen and when they come in, how to get the best results from them. The referral process is really a system that should, if it is done right, have a lot of feedback built into it. If you follow up on your referrals, you’ll be able to get some predictable results. There are eight steps that I want to give you now.

Step one begins with your source in discovering a referral. The referral begins with an event. It is kind of outside your direct involvement. Your referral source- in BNI it’s a fellow BNI member- uncovers a referral opportunity for you. This occurs without your direct involvement. You are generally not standing there when it happens. It would be great if you were, but generally, you are not standing there. You lay the groundwork for it by cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship with that person in BNI who is going to be motivated in BNI to provide you with the business prospects so that you can get that referral. That is step one. A source discovers a referral.

Step two. Research the referral. This is the step that very few people do. When the referral source tells you that they have a referral for you- at this stage, your impulse might be to call the prospect immediately and strike while the iron is hot. That really could be a mistake. In fact, it’s probably the most common mistake that people make. I have a referral. I’m going to call them right now. Don’t let your excitement cloud your judgment about your opportunities. As soon as you get the call from your referral source, you need to be doing a little research. Find out information about the prospect and their company. How big is the company? What is the prospect’s main line of business? How successfully does he compete? What is the company’s market? What products or services do they offer? What is the track record with vendors? Does it deal with people in a very straightforward manner? Is it in good financial condition? Google is a thing of beauty. I love doing searches on prospective clients and I recommend that you do searches. I certainly do searches on prospective vendors. Do a little bit of research.

Now, step number two and step number three and be a little somewhat tied together. We are talking about researching the referral. I advise you to do a Google search on the company or individual first. Then step three, check back in with your referral source to complete that research. Talk about the referral. First of all, you need to keep your referral source in the loop in order to make the referral work effectively. Talk to your referral source about the referral. You need to know more about them. Learn about them as an individual. Learn about them as a company from your referral source. Maybe they won’t have much to add, but many times they will have something to add.

What you don’t want to do is charge at the prospect with no idea of what is expected or desired. So ask some questions about what the discussion was when you got this referral. Have some certainty. Once you have some certainty about these factors, this will help you accomplish your two most important objectives: closing the sale and making your referral source look good. That second one is important. The person who referred you has got to look good in the process.

Your referral source discovers a referral. Research the referral. Check back in with the referral source. Then the fourth step is to meet with the referral. Now comes the move you have been waiting for. What happens is we tend to jump over two and three and go right to four to meet with the referral. They might close with you on your first call. That happens. The better your referral and the relationship between your referral source and the referral, the more likely that is to happen, but that is not real common. Instead, you are probably going to get acquainted with your potential new customer and gather more information to help prepare a proposal. This is an important aspect, but most people kind of have that down. That is their business. They know what to do once they get in front of a prospective client or customer.

Number five- this is one that is left out of most processes in the referral. That is to report back to the referral source and let him or her know the outcome of it. I think this is a really important one. Oftentimes, people leave several pieces out of this, and this is one of them. How many times has someone gotten back to you and said, “Hey. I met with them and this is what happened.”

Yeah. Especially if it doesn’t go well. Then you hear about it.

Then you hear about it. Of course, sometimes in a great referral, your referral source will go with you to the meeting. Then they know what happened. Obviously, then you dopn’t need number five. If they go with you, that’s a better referral. That’s a high level referral. Let’s say they don’t. Contact them and tell them if you think it went well, if you don’t think it went well, whatever took place. Keep them in the loop because you want your referral source to look good.

Step six. Get feedback from your referral. This is almost never done. A fellow BNI member, if it’s possible and relevant- have them call the prospect and get some information on how it went. Get another perspective. They might hear something completely different than what you heard. This is really powerful, especially if your referral source has a good relationship with the person being referred. I do this all the time. When I refer somebody, I am sure to get back to them and let them know how it’s going. This is really left out. A number of things are left out. Researching your referral, reporting back to your source again. These often aren’t done. When they are done, it makes it a much stronger referral.

Number seven. Your referral source gets back to you. So your fellow BNI member gets back to you about the prospect. This really increases your chances of closing the deal if they can give you another prospective. Sometimes it might be like, “You did great. They are really impressed with you,” or “Here are their concerns. You might want to address this.”

Now we get to number eight. Close the deal. Now that you have all the details, you can close the deal. You have probably been told that you have to contact most prospects 20 times or more before they will buy. That may be true in ordinary marketing strategies but not in the referral marketing process. In the referral marketing process, it can be as little as two steps. Generally, you want to try to build in all eight steps. If it happens quicker, great. That is fantastic. But generally, if you can build in all eight steps, this really enhances that ability for referrals to turn into sales.

The eight step referral process is a formal procedure that is simple and comprehensive at the same time. It includes every single step that you may need to take in order to fully and properly develop a first time referral.

Priscilla, if members of a BNI group followed most or all of these eight steps, do you think it would improve their closing ratio on referrals?

Yeah. I think it really would. Can I ask you a question? When I make a referral- I was just thinking about this- I normally ask the person who is interested in the service to call my referral. Then you are just kind of waiting for that to happen. It’s probably a lot better if I say, “Do you mind if my referral source calls you?” Right? It’s a small detail, but I was thinking about the referrals that I have given lately. Do you know what I mean?

So you’re saying to a person, “Do you mind if my referral gives you a call?” Yeah of course.

That’s what I should be doing, I think.

Absolutely. Nothing wrong with that at all. The steps that are often left out are that conversation betwoeen the product or service and the person who gave the referral before they contact the actual referral. The two BNI members having a conversation. Do a little bit of research on the company and then have a little conversation with the person giving you the referral. You can do that the same day. I am not suggesting that you sit on referrals for very long because they go cold fast. Do that research as quickly as possible and then make that contact. That is really important. Do that research a quickly as possible and then make that contact. I think that is really, really important.

This podcast to me is a must-listen for all BNI groups. I think if every BNI chapter listened to this- education coordinators, this is a must-train to your members. If they understand this eight step process- do it over a two or three week period to make sure you can go deep with some of this. If they understand this process, I guarantee you, the quantity and quality of referrals that are going to be passed in your BNI group will go up substantially.

That’s all I’ve got today, Priscilla. I would love to hear comments from people. What do you think about this process? How has it worked for you when you’ve done it?

Okay great. Thank you, Dr. Misner. I would just like to remind the listeners that this podcast has been brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. Thank you so much for listening. This is Priscilla Rice and we hope you will join us next week for another exciting episode of The Official BNI Podcast.


  1. says

    I love steps 2 and 3. We call this “qualifying” the prospect…that difficult time where tough questions must be answered but critical to the successful outcome. We now have 2 months of EC moments! Thanks.

  2. says

    Great overview, now gaining the attention of other members and getting them to do it may be a bit of a challenge.

    Step 1 reminds me to listen more. Love step 2, googling them too…great podcast.


    I agree with your eight points to having good referrals and also building up your one to one dance cards because without doing the dance cards you will not be able to recommend a client to members and it will not be class as a good referrals

  4. Peter Belt says

    I have heard this pod- cast a few times. I get the impression that this pod-cast is dealing with large referrals such as a large business or manufacturing business. I believe steps # 2,3 would work here, but some on my business has to deal with homeowners. I run a small paint business, would these steps be needed for my business as well?

  5. says

    LOVE THIS! I’m a photographer, so my clients aren’t big businesses to research, just like Peter is saying about #2 & #3. My source for learning about my prospects is Facebook and LinkedIn… I can find commonalities that can drive the conversation when I meet with the person. Sometimes the info is available even if you aren’t a “friend”, and sometimes it isn’t, but it’s certainly worth a try. I might find that I go to the same church or something…any commonality is a great connector.

Solutions-focused comments are welcome