Relationships are the key to networking success and the sign of a great networker is to have a wide variety of people in his or her network that can be tapped when you or someone you know is in need of something. So perhaps you have a friend looking to relocate that needs a real estate agent to sell a house. Your neighbor is a real estate agent, so you connect her with your friend and you look like a hero for bringing the two together, right? Not so fast.
A common mistake that many people make related to networking is referring someone without doing their due diligence. Sometimes, we’re so eager to people connect that we forget to ask ourselves the most important question in matchmaking: is this a good match? Now our intentions are usually noble, but let’s also face reality – we are often rewarded (financially or otherwise) for connecting folks and that can make us even more eager to make that connection. But sometimes, no connection is better than a connection for the sake of finding a connection.
To get back to the earlier example, your neighbor might be a great person who sells real estate part time, but her forte may be helping people find a house that meets their needs, rather than getting the most for a property. So she won’t be of much use to your friend who simply wants to sell his house. Do this too many times with the same person and you’ll find that he or she will be less inclined to use your connections, or even ask for advice.
A great example I’ve seen of someone effectively using their network to make a referral is the pediatrician my children use. When we need to see a specialist, she doesn’t choose one because she’s friends with them or she met them at conference. She checks her sources to figure out who the best doctor is in the area with that specialty and that’s who she recommends. And this is the way you should use your network.
So how can we as networkers make effective referrals? In general, you need to ask yourself the following questions before determining whether or not to make a referral:
Do you really understand your contact’s needs?
Again, our eagerness can get the best of us as soon as we find a potential match within our network. Resist that urge until you at least know exactly what your contact is looking for. Again using the earlier example, recommending a buyer’s broker to someone who is looking to sell a house is a hassle to everyone involved. If someone says that they need a real estate agent, ask them why: are they trying to sell a home, buy a home or both?
Since everyone’s situation varies, get details before helping someone. Ask the five W questions: who, what, where, when and why.
Does the person you’re matching them up with have the right skills?
Just like you need to know what your contact is looking for, you need to understand the skills and abilities of the person you’re recommending. We sometimes aren’t aware of specialties within professions. Lawyers are especially prone to this because there are so many different areas of specialization but so are doctors, accountants and even tradesmen. So always find out the details before making a recommendation.
Will the person you’re recommending do a good job?
Far too many friendships (and even marriages) have ended due to friends and family members doing business. The daytime court television shows are full of cases where friends and family members are suing each other over bad deals. Even though you personally may not have done anything wrong, when you connect two people and they have problems, it’s going strain your relationship with at least one of the parties involved (and often, with both parties).
At the very least, if you continually refer duds to people in your network, the perceived value of your network by others will decrease. In fact, if you do a recommend someone to them, they’ll immediately cross that person’s name off their list.
So these are just some tips to keep in mind when making referrals. Remember, although it’s great to put people in contact when they can mutually benefit from the new relationship, connecting two people that aren’t a good match can be a recipe for disaster.