Do you find it difficult to gauge which professionals will refer you? If you’re feeling challenged about which centers of influence/introducers you should be spending time with and your frustration level is rising because you know you’re wasting a fair chunk of your time, it’s likely you need a stronger repertoire of questions to help you filter through your network.
While it’s not a science since all relationships vary, these questions will help you better separate the walkers from the talkers: All business professionals talk a good game when you meet them for coffee. So here are some questions that have become favourites of mine and clients I’ve trained over the past 15 years. Also, use the strategy at the end, and sooner than you think you will see a marked improvement in referrals.
What type of work/planning do you do with your clients?
This helps you learn more about the other person’s network and whether you can help with referrals to prospects.
With all these questions, it’s likely you want to dig deeper for many reasons. If you feel unclear or unconvinced, ask further about typical clients, dream clients, areas of specialisation and even what a typical week looks like.
Where do you get your business?
This is a goldmine of a question once you get past people’s initial response of “it’s mostly word of mouth.” You can learn so much about someone’s network and which parts are profitable, where they meet people to build business relationships, and how important referrals (from outside their company) and referral relationships are.
The best sign is when the other person already has some key referral relationships with other business professionals. You can be next.
One red flag is the person who gets most of his/her business internally from colleagues (unless something is changing at their company that is putting pressure on them to develop new relationships).
You also want to get a strong sense from these questions about the importance of referrals and bringing in new business.
What type of business are you most looking for?
Everyone wants to be asked this question, including you – and most people (with social skills anyway!) will reciprocate back once they have answered so be ready with a clear response that makes it easy for them to help you.
This question matters early on in relationships because if you can’t bring value to the table with this person, why would they meet you again? Certainly there are MANY ways to add value to business relationships and it is not just whether you know prospects, but if you draw a blank, then questions 4 and 5 become all the more important.
Which professionals typically refer you the most business?
This is a great question for you to introduce them to other professionals in your network that could be good referral sources.
Remember, the worst case scenario is you do not know anyone yourself, but hopefully you can contact others in your network and get names from them. Recently someone asked me if I knew a good real estate professional in Houston. I didn't but I do have some strong contacts there and I was able to make an introduction that way.
What else are you hoping to accomplish this year?
I love this question because it gives you another way to potentially help someone. Who knows what their goals are?
Now, with people I don't know well or am meeting for the first time, I usually preface the question by saying, “Look, this next question is none of my business, so you don’t have to answer it, but I am really curious: what are your goals for the next 1-3 years?”
What I’ve found most common is people telling me about changes they are considering in their work lives. But maybe you will elicit different responses. I like it because often if gives me more opportunities to connect them to others.
How have you worked with (people in your vocation) in the past?
This takes some courage to ask but can save you enormous amounts of time. Many professionals waste time trying to build a relationship where the other person already has other loyal connections to people who do what you do. And perhaps they are happy to take from you but are likely to struggle to help you much.
Please understand this can be a grey area but definitely tread carefully. Some professionals are more than open to reconsidering their current relationships and helping you if you start buttering their bread.
Do you mind if I share a little about what I’m looking for?
Frankly it’s not a very good sign if you have to raise this topic yourself. If you’ve shown enough sincere interest in the other person, they ought to have enough emotional intelligence to ask you what you’re looking for.
But there are exceptions to every rule. Maybe the person you’re meeting thinks they know what you ‘do.’ Maybe your personality is much stronger than theirs and they fall into the trap of just enjoying talking about themselves. Or maybe they see your business card and are scared of a sales pitch or a question they’re not ready to discuss.
Clearly the point to the question is for you to clearly communicate what you want. Ideally you have a prospect list, otherwise you describe:
People in abc situation
Companies in xyz industry
Decision makers at companies in the def industry
Final tip! Test the waters!
This sounds so simple but will definitely help you filter through your network better and prioritise who to spend time with. When you get to the end of a meeting, have a small follow-up task that you have said you’ll do and that they have one too. “It would be good to get together again and maybe talk more about (e.g.) how you help your business owner clients. I’ll get back to you with info on that upcoming (business) seminar at the Hyatt and if you could let me know the title of that book you mentioned, that would be great. Have fun at the abc this weekend!”
80% of the time people show their true colours AFTER the meeting. How promptly they get back to you tells you a LOT about how interested they are in building a relationship with you and how much they follow through on what they say. And you already know this. When someone sends an enthusiastic email 1-2 days later, that bodes very well. They ‘get it’. When three weeks go by and finally an email seeps into your inbox with a tepid acknowledgement, that speaks volumes too (unless they share a genuinely challenging life event that came up).
Use these questions more and test the waters and see your focus increase on who matters most in your network.
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