How to Repair a Broken Referral Source

The proposal was simple enough: you look out for their interests, and they will look out for yours. But somewhere along the way, things got complicated. You sent them a few referrals without any quid pro quo. Or perhaps it was the other way around, and now you feel awkwardly beholden to one of your referral sources. 

Obviously, the goal with any referral relationship is an equal exchange of value, but if you find yourself in an imbalanced dynamic, here are a few courses of action that will right the scales: 

Scenario 1: They owe you. 

You invested several referrals into the relationship, but received no love in return. Maybe they never had a relevant piece of business to send your way. Maybe they thought servicing your clients was thanks enough. Maybe they’re just selfish. But before you unfriend them for life, consider taking them out to lunch and explaining exactly the kinds of referrals or introductions that feed your business. Help them understand your expectations of a good referral source. Hopefully, they will get the hint and start being more mindful of your needs. 

Scenario 2: You owe them. 

You’ve been meaning to reciprocate the goodwill you received, but nothing appropriate has crossed your desk. Stop feeling guilty. Pick up the phone. Assure your referral source that you are cognizant of their needs and ask them about the kinds of clients they are most interested in meeting. Even if it doesn’t trigger a worthwhile introduction, it will let them know that you aren’t taking them for granted. At the very least, send them a nice bottle of wine. 

Scenario 3: Both parties are underperforming. 

How many unproductive lunches are you two going to sit through before you realize that there simply isn’t any business to be exchanged? Your time is precious. Spend it with someone who has a better client base (or a better attitude). And remember, it’s not personal. 

Most practices are built, at least in part, through a strong referral base. If you find that you aren’t able to leverage your current referral sources for business development, take the steps necessary to nurture your pipelines and weed out the duds. 

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book, The Shortlistby David Ackert, Greenleaf Book Group.