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Connecting is not Enough: Why do we Refer Other People?

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Why do we pass referrals to other people? I have been asked that question twice recently. What motivates us to take up our valuable time and put our reputations on the line to connect two other people together, often without any discernible personal benefit?

The obvious response from many people is to create a clear benefit for the person passing the introduction. I am told on a regular basis that if I make a successful introduction I will stand to benefit from the resulting business. Introducer fees and commissions are standard in a number of industries and, indeed, expected. I would argue, however, that they should not be your first port of call when looking to inspire people to refer you.

I run an exercise in many of my talks and workshops where I ask participants to think of someone they have referred recently, have referred regularly or would be happy to refer opportunities to. I then ask them why. A number of reasons to refer people come up time and again but to date no one has included referring people because they were financially incentivised to do so.

These are people from all walks of life, from different industries, different backgrounds and different levels of seniority. If not one of them admits to being motivated to refer by personal reward, why are we so quick to offer them?

The reasons to refer that are often repeated include the personality and likeability of the person being referred, confidence in their professionalism and ability to do the job, a level of expertise and the needs of the potential customer.

All of these play a much more important role in stimulating referrals than money. We are perhaps more altruistic than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. When you help someone and you know that your help has made a difference, it gives you a good feeling. The person you are helping may be the person being referred, or the potential customer. The key is that it feels right and the result is satisfying.

In short, for many people the primary reason why we refer people in our network is because we enjoy doing so. As long as they have earned our trust and respect and there is a good fit with the person we are referring them to, referring people gives us a positive feeling. As long as it is simple and not time consuming to make the connection, we don't need to also be paid for the pleasure.