Two things must be achieved if a referral relationship is to take off:
- each party must have adequate information and understanding about the other’s business
- each party must have surfaced and dealt with their reservations about having the relationship before it starts.
This second point is so vital, yet it is usually overlooked.
Achieving both of these properly is what takes the time.
I recommend a four stage process. These stages correspond with Ivan Misner’s Visibility, Credibility and Profitability stages plus an essential, and ongoing Maintenance stage. Each stage could involve a number of meetings (eg a factory visit, or a meeting with a colleague) as well as phone calls, emails and so on. For simplicity here, I have described each stage as one meeting.
Also, for simplicity in the following, I am assuming that you are one of the parties and this is written from your perspective.
It is likely that, whereas you have been on an advocacy course, the other party won’t have. I strongly advise being completely open about the process.
Stage 1: Exploratory meeting
This meeting will probably take the format of a typical networking one-to-one meeting. Indeed, it might be a networking one-to-one meeting, at the end of which it occurs to the parties that they could it take further.
So, typically an hour, with each side having roughly half the time to talk about their business, but also about themselves. Any future advocacy relationship will depend in part on the parties liking each other and that process cannot start too soon.
If you feel the relationship could be developed along advocacy lines, say so at the end of the meeting. Be prepared to say why you think this (more on choosing advocates later). Explain the process (including the bit about reservations). Suggest you both go on to stage 2.
If the other party disagrees, let go of the idea. If they agree, gently ask them if they might have any reservations. They can probably see the benefits and it might hard for them to imagine anything could go wrong. Suggest they think about it between now and the next meeting. If you can think of your reservations, you might mention one or two – they could be deal breakers and you’ll save a lot of time getting them out in the open now. On the other hand, they could be easily resolved, so why not do that straightaway.
Stage 2: Briefings
One party takes centre stage and briefs the other about their business, themselves, and anything relevant to the potential relationship. If you can, get the other party to do this in the first briefing. This will mean that, when it’s your turn, you can present to whatever they said in their briefing.