Any good salesperson understands the importance of a strong referral network. But just having an extensive network isn’t enough; you need a network of well-connected people who genuinely want to help each other. Unfortunately, many referral networks fizzle out because they’re built without purpose and intent.

That’s not to say you should reject random referrals. After all, it’s great to know that your customers and fellow networkers think enough of you to send business your way. But since you can’t control how frequently those referrals come in and therefore can’t rely on them, you have to take the initiative to build a more predictable network that will serve you well in the short and long term.

The Power of Referrals in Sales

Beyond creating a referral network, you have to maintain that network as your business evolves. Your goal in building a referral network should be to stay top of mind at all times for referrers. Let’s say you’re an accountant. How can you make sure you’re the first person that financial advisors think of when their clients need tax help?

The key to building a referral network that lasts is finding ways to serve your referrers, keeping in regular contact with them, and going out of your way to build genuine rapport. Refer them to possible clients and other key referrers. Reach out to them on their birthdays or holidays. Send them articles and posts that you think would interest them. Invite them to dinners and sporting events.

Think of it like building a friendship: Contacting someone just once or twice doesn’t create a lasting bond. Ongoing shared experiences are necessary to forge deep and nurturing relationships.

I have a friend that went out of his way to reach out to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic to offer free advice, support, and training. He didn’t think twice about what he would get in return; he just wanted to serve people during their time of need. When those customers find themselves in need of someone with his services down the road, I’m confident they’ll contact him first.

To strengthen and maximize the reach of your referral network, follow these sales referral best practices:

1. Don’t get too confident.

Even if you have a large referral network now, don’t fall into the trap of complacency. Don’t assume that you already have a sufficient referral base. You need to continue to meet new people, seeking out those that share a common client base and desire to serve. If you don’t, you could suddenly find yourself with a dried-up pipeline and no other referral prospects.

2. Take a service-first approach.

It’s like what John F. Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” In this case, ask what you can do for your referral network. The more you can focus on serving others (e.g., introducing them to key partners, making customer introductions, and sending them articles), the more you’ll stand out and receive value.

3. Maintain a diverse network.

If you’re a wedding planner, you don’t want all of your referrers to be florists. Instead, you should connect with a mix of photographers, videographers, caterers, and more. Just like anything in life, you don’t want to put too many eggs in one basket. By diversifying your referral base, you’ll hedge the risk of people leaving and your pipeline drying up.

4. Seek out ways to collaborate.

This goes back to building rapport at every chance you get with referrers. Could you host a joint speaking event? Co-author a blog? Get intentional about finding ways to work together and provide value instead of just hoping people will remember you.

Everyone knows the importance of building relationships in business, but few people take the time to do it right. By understanding the power of referrals in sales and choosing to be helpful, you’ll stay top of mind with referrers and build lifetime rapport.

Looking for more ways to stay connected with your referral base? Watch our new webinar, “Networking: Building Your Connected Business Community.”