Episode 303: A Good Referral Is in the Eye of the Beholder

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Susan Goodsell, BNI Executive Director for BNI Riverside and San Bernardino Counties (and also a BNI employee who works on branding), joins Dr. Misner to explain why a good referral is in the eye of the beholder.

All BNI members understand that a referral is the opportunity to do business, not a guarantee of business. But not everyone educates their fellow members with enough specifics about what’s required for a good referral.

The first time I give a poor referral, it’s my fault. But the second time I give a poor referral, it’s probably the receiver’s fault.

Each of us has a different definition of what counts as a referral. Listen to what counts as a referral for your fellow members. Don’t try to define referrals for other members.

If you’re a printer and you don’t want referrals for business cards because you don’t make much money from them, stop mentioning them in your 60-second spot. Talk about the products that do make money for you. Mention the price point for referrals.

If you get an off-target referral, go to the member who made the referral, thank them for thinking of you, and educate them on the kinds of referrals you do want.

As long as you are laser-specific, you’ll get good referrals. Wherever you set the bar is the level of referrals you’ll get.

Brought to you by Networking Now.

Podcast intro recorded by Tony Wolfe.

Complete Transcript of BNI Podcast Episode 303 –

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 and who do you have as a guest today?

Hi Priscilla. I am doing great and I have Susan Goodsell as my guest today. Susan is a BNI Executive Director. She also works at BNI Headquarters. So I see her all the time. She does a great job for the organization. She actually studied broadcast journalism in school. She worked 26 years, traveling the street at many levels: counselor, manager, trainer, seminar presenter. You have now been a BNI member and Director for many years. You joined the support services team here at BNI Headquarters in 2001 at the old office. You are now managing the branding project. You are the Branding Coordinator. You becam Regional Director for BNI in 2007 and an Executive Director after that. You handle BNI Riverside and San Bernadino counties here in California. Yeah?


Susan, it’s great having you on the podcast. You are going to talk today about a referral being in the eye of the beholder. I think that is a great way to put it. Tell everybody what that means. What do you mean by a referral is in the eye of the beholder?

Firstly, thank you for having me. I have a lot of passion behind this topic. The point of a good referral is it is in the eye of the beholder and the eye of the person who is receiving that referral. It’s up to us to define what a good referral is. Going back to the basics, we are really clear in BNI the definition of a referral is the opportunity to do business with someone in the market for your product or service. Not a guaranteed sale.

I think we always get that part of it, but what sometimes maybe gets lost is that there is a second part of that. That is that we have to be very, very specific in defining what a referral is for each of us as individuals. The importance of that is so that we can get more effective in getting quality, prequalified referrals. It’s up to us to define what level of a referral, right? It’s about educating chapter members.

One that pops up quite frequently is with our realtor friends because most of our chapters have realtors. Does your realtor do a for sale by owner? Some do. Some don’t. It’s not a right way or wrong way of doing business. It’s that particular realtor’s way of doing business. So if you communicate with your realtor and you see a for sale by owner, which is a real low level of referral- if your realtor says, “Yes, that is a referral for me,”- great. We keep a notepad in the car, jot down the name and address on that for sale by owner sign. It may be a valid referral, right? Easy.

Well, let’s convert that to our financial adviser. I go into my chapter meeting and say, “Hey, Steve, I was in this great neighborhood. Jag parked in the driveway, beautiful house. I think they have some money. Here is the address.” That’s not going to work. A financial adviser requires a much higher level of referral, maybe even a face to face meeting, right?

Here is the point that I really want to get out there. The first time that I give a poor referral, it probably is my fault. The second time I give you a poor referral, it is probably the receiver’s fault because they are not educating us what a good referral is, what works, what doesn’t. What do you do with those?

If I can just interject, what you define as a referral for yourself may be different than what I define as a referral for me, correct?

Absolutely. Even though we are in the same industry or even the same profession.

That is very true. I think I first saw that- I know it was the first year of BNI. Somebody stood up and said something that was totally off my definition. They said, “ Look when you are driving around the freeways here in southern California. If you see a “for lease” sign on one of those commercial buildings, that would make a great referral for me because I can go in and talk to the manager to get referrals for telecommunications.” He explained why and I thought that is no better than a cold call. Almost no one in this room would accept that. But for him, he said that he got half his business that way. The problem is he couldn’t drive the freeways enough to see all the “for lease” signs going up. It was, for him, a legitimate referral, but for most of us, that would not be, right?

Exactly . We have to be careful that we as members or as chapters and membership committees aren’t trying to define a referral for our members. We actually had a great story at a local chapter. A local coffee shop joint. I loved it. I just happened to be visiting on this particular day. Someone from the chapter was handing over four or five referral slips for stopping by the coffee house. Chapter members are pretty protective of our members and they actually said something in the meeting, “That’s not a referral. You can’t do that.”

The owner of the coffee house actually stood up and said, “Now, wait a minute. He has an opportunity to go to Starbucks every day, every single day. Everyday, he stops at my place, pulls out his wallet and buys a cup of coffee. That’s a referral for me.”

Again, another restaurant or coffee house or what not may say every new customer or client. Whatever. But it’s really dangerous when a chapter tries to define what a referral is for us. It’s important to sit down and analyze. Here is what every chapter member can do immediately. Analyze what type of customers bring you the most money, right?

Printing is a perfect example. “I make $4 off a box of business cards. I don’t want to do them. That’s all I get.” Then stop saying yo do business cards in your chapter meeting.


Discuss what you do want. Start educating your sales team. This printer could discuss their desire to do press kits, brochures or whatever it is that she produces that she will actually make a profit on. Then make a decision to get rid of the business that you don’t want.

Right. Good point. Really good point. What else?

Define for your chapter members kind of what your price point is also. It kind of goes back to the printer. We had a very high end photographer. This photographer here in southern California is on the cliffs at the beach taking photographs, at the Ritz Carlton hotels. He did a fantastic job at this. He would walk in and say, “If you want a $700 wedding photography package, I can recommend you to someone you can trust. But if you are looking for a $7,000 photography package for your wedding, no one does it better than I do.” Guess what business he got.

The business he wanted.

Exactly. Once we are educated with what you do, we will absolutely respect that. So the flip side then, I guess, is what do you do with a referral that is a little off target? It’s our responsibility to go back to the member privately. “Thanks so much for thinking of me. It’s not exactly what I am looking for. It’s not exactly what I do. It’s not my specialty.” Then that opens a dialogue. It’ll strengthen your credibility and most importantly, it’s the perfect opportunity to sit down and do a one-to-one with that person, to educate them a little bit more on what you do.

It’s really important that we take the time to figure out for ourselves what is a good referral, to define it, and then to reach out to the chapter and educate them on actually what it looks like. One other thing I wanted to say real quick- there are some guidelines on reporting referrals from the slips document on BNI Connect. There are some overall rules on reporting things. Other than that, you really need to be laser-specific in what a good referral is and accept that. Set the bar on the referrals that you want, and that is what your chapter members will give to you.

I think that is a really good way of describing it. The key is that you need to define the referral as it applies to you. It may apply to you, like in my story, where it really for most people would be a cold call or your stories of the real estate agent who does for sale by owner or the photographer who does only high end photography. Those kinds of descriptions are what you want to do so that you can explain it. And you see this in support services.

Susan has worked in Support Services here at BNI for a long time and whenever somebody is upset about something, as a rule, it happens because there is not a clear, open, honest and direct communication in a healthy way between the various parties. Would you agree with that?

I’d day almost 100% of the time. It does come to educating us. Absolutely. Sometimes, I think it’s out of our comfort zone to correct people, but you need to set the bar and have open and honest communication privately and with that spirit of thanks so much for thinking of me. It’s not exactly what I am looking for.

You bring up two really good points. One is privately. I think Ken Lecherd really said it well when he said praise in public and redirect in private. If there is a problem, you do that privately. If there is a thank you, you want to do that publicly. And you want to do it in a positive way. So redirect privately and do it as positive as possible.

And you said it by saying, look, make sure that they understand that you appreciate their effort. Here is what would be good for me.

I think this is really good. A referral is the opportunity to business with someone who is in the market for your products or services. It is not a guaranteed sale. That means that as a member listening to this podcast, you need to define what a referral is to you.

Last week, we talked about the importance of one-to-ones and the 60 second presentations were sort of the core. This week, we are talking about that core. In the 60-second presentation, you have to be specific and you have to teach people what a good referral is.

Susan, anything you want to close with?

No, just thank you for having me and just encouraging members that wherever you set the bar is the level of referrals that you are going to get.

Yeah, I agree completely. If you expect the best out of your fellow members, you will get it. If you expect less than the best, you’ll get it. So you have to set the bar high.

One more thing, Ivan. I guess we should talk about the flip side real quick, too. Don’t forget, don’t make assumptions about other professions in your own chapter. If you are not real clear what a referral is, what level of referral they need, it’s a simple question. It works both ways.

Yep, I agree completely. Thanks, Susan, for being on the show. I really appreciate it. Priscilla, back to you.

Okay. Great.Well, I think that is it for this week, and 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

    Tremendous podcast Susan and Ivan! It’s all about being specific in BNI- I always say: “Be specific to be terrific”! And the honest,open communication is key to any challenge that may arise. Thank you so much for this post!

    Shawn McCarthy BNI ED Ventura County, Ca.

  2. says

    Great Pod cast. A great referral to me is anyone that will talk to me. (:
    You can find a connection, a lead, a person in common with almost anyone in your general area.

  3. says

    On the principle of Givers Gain, it must be noted and mentioned that you’ll Gain what you give. So, if you don’t make an effort to find out what kind of referrals your chapter members need and give them cold, dull leads they are not able to close, you’ll probably receive the same type of leads.

  4. Katie Finch says

    Excellent Podcast, and helps me to refocus on the specifics of a good referral for me, and in return, the specifics of a good referral for my BNI colleagues. I’ve just changed my commercial for tomorrow. Thank you! I love learning.

  5. says

    Wow, has this podcast been a source of controversy for our chapter. Especially the Coffee Guy example. Tier I referrals build confidence, stir the economic undercurrent of the chapter, and will eventually lead to Tier II referrals…simply by osmosis. Our Chapter & Director are all in a big tizzy over repeat referrals, but don’t see the bigger picture. Thanks for the insight Ivan. -San Diego, CA

Solutions-focused comments are welcome