“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  You’ve heard this saying…and it can be frustrating knowing that a person’s connections may edge them into an opportunity that you’d be perfect for.  So, how can you get to know the right people? We think you can be the catalyst for this cycle your own self; introduce folks to the people that they should know, and you’ll begin to discover the power of recommendations.

What’s in it for you?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines five tiers of human needs:  physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.  In the bottom two, your id is satisfied with food, water, warmth, rest, safety and security.  As you begin to move upwards in the Hierarchy of Needs, you start to see that the top three tiers outline and identify why it’s so important for you to give before you get.  Putting deposits in the karma bank, making recommendations without expecting anything in return, will fulfill the needs for belongingness, esteem, and then self-actualization.  The WIIFM question is one that is answered best with a long-tail response. You won’t know what is in it for you when you recommend and connect other parties until that karma comes back a-callin’, but trust us, the work is worth it.


 Identifying the Struggles and Strengths in Relationship Management

Building a powerful network is just one part of being a referral partner. Responsible relationship management goes beyond having an internal or external database of contacts. It goes way beyond being invited to all the important luncheon events in the city. It supersedes the number of contacts you carry on LinkedIn. Authentic and responsible relationship management carries with it significance and the kind of sincerity that only time can build. 

Core to any people-leading and people-linking credence is authenticity. Having a healthy view of oneself–understanding the areas of relationship management where your strength lies as well as the struggles that come with it–allows people-leaders and people-linkers to do so from a place of freedom and openness, rather than a transactional give-to-get mentality. You do not have to be exceptionally outgoing to be a successful people-linker and referral maker. You do need to be intentional and pay attention to opportunities as they present themselves.

Let’s evaluate some of the strengths in relationship management. Name recall, situational memory, facial recognition (software-free), networking, impeccable follow up, a sense of humor, and good listening are all some strengths that contribute to powerful network building. It might look like someone with the ability to strike up conversation in any elevator or coffee shop, and walk away with a business card and follow up email. For other people, it looks like a spreadsheet or old school rolodex, managing each name and expertise association. Perhaps you have a larger network and you need to utilize a CRM tool, in that case, might we recommend Cloud Adoption Solutions? We have an in with the owner and would be happy to connect you…

Just as strengths in relationship management are important, a keen awareness of one’s struggles matters too. When people are neglectful in relationships, they risk not being taken seriously by prospective business partners, clients, or employers. Understanding the motivation behind the perceived neglectful behavior is key to creating processes to become a responsible relationship manager. It’s often said that we judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intentions. Our hope for you in reading this article is that you might become a bit more discerning in your own relationship management strategies–leveraging your strengths and processing your struggles appropriately to get to the desired result of building strong relationship equity and realizing the power of recommendation in your business.

Relationship Equity

Perhaps this idea of relationship equity is new to you. It’s not a new concept in the business world, that’s for sure. Equity theory applies action and activity to the perceived value of time and relationship access. Relationship equity takes this a step further and targets the action and activity towards a balance of access power to groups, individuals, and desired status. Practically speaking, relationship equity matters because everything matters. Everyone knows someone. Everyone has the power to tell your story and make that introduction. Just as you have the ability to do the same. 

Building relationship equity takes networking to the next level. Because everyone knows someone, everyone who knows you has an opinion about you. Sure, you might be funny and attractive and enjoyable to saddle up next to at the happy hour, but are you a reliable source for referrals? Are you a net-taker when it comes to making connections? Do you follow up when things work out, or if they don’t? Building relationship equity involves continuing to nurture the original relationship even when referrals aren’t involved. Don’t forget that important part of authentic relationship management.

Investing in the referral relationships–and in yourself–to strengthen the bond and increase credibility is something to take seriously. This is the ‘give to get’ idea we shied away from earlier. Picking up coffee, sending that bottle of wine, giving away copies of your book, gratis speaking engagements. They all add up. Certainly there are minor financial implications, but more importantly, they communicate that you will show up and that you appreciate the relationship. These investments are additional points of contact, conversation topics, and moments of connection that cannot be fabricated. Investments like this matter, because everything matters. 


Quid pro quo.  Tit for tat. I’ll scratch your back, and you’ll scratch mine.  With referral relationships, none of these are actually the right approach.  Keeping score, or only sharing once someone has “earned” it by providing a referral to you, is a quick way to lose.  The natural way to connect is built on a true and realized ability to take two folks who can really offer each other something and activate that relationship for them.  If you’re playing a numbers-only game, you’re dipping your toes into the toxic waters of quantity and not quality. Your relationships will improve in trust when you provide sincere, meaningful connections at the right time. 

How to manage the referral relationship

First, begin by evaluating your relationships.  Understanding who offers what, who is interested in what, and what level of relationship you have with others will allow you to identify where the power of referrals may come into play.  Some people are natural networkers – they meet you, and instantly say, “Wow, you’d get along famously with my friend Mae. She’s also a VP of marketing in the manufacturing space, and loves to run as well.  How should I best introduce you, by email…?” Others may take a more strategic and logic-based approach by using a system as simple as in Google Sheets or Excel or as complex as with picklists in a CRM system.  Whatever it is that you do to evaluate and then manage your relationships, make sure that you’re thoughtful about the care and feeding.

Establishing boundaries begins with clear and defined expectations.  Ask your connection if they’re open to meeting new people at this time, what types of relationships they’re looking to build, the persona that they have defined as interesting to meet.  Find out if they do best by email, phone, or face to face. Be very clear about whether you’re personal/professional partners, with no quid pro quo expected, or if there is a partner/channel relationship with some sort of revenue sharing model if they complete business with your referral.  While this may feel icky or disingenuous at the start, the more clear the expectations, the more successful and long-lasting the partnership.

Not all referral partnerships work.  That is fine! But being clear about where the relationship went astray is just as important a feedback loop as any other relationship.  “I referred you to Pamela, and you didn’t complete the work you contracted on her with, and that makes me concerned to refer you again. Can we discuss what happened?” may be tough to express, but we never, ever advocate just ghosting a person you have a relationship with on any level. 

You might be an expert networker, relationship maker, people-linker. We’d like to hear about it. What are some ways that you manage your referrals and relationships?

 Some connections work beautifully. But not all matchmakers make great matches. We’d also love to hear about a referral gone wrong. Drop a story in the comments about a great referral that you gave or received.

About the Authors

Shannon and Holly are an example of a powerful referral relationship. After an introduction from a mutual acquaintance in early 2019, Shannon and Holly quickly established a connection and shared enthusiasm for women in business, all things ‘boss babe’, and a genuine appreciation for hard work. In the past year, they’ve explored the highs and lows of entrepreneurism, writing and speaking, recreation, travel, and, most importantly, opening up the connection to create opportunities for greater everything in their lives. As dedicated people-linkers, Shannon and Holly will open up their connections and make new ones for the sake of elevating the people around them.

Shannon J. Gregg is the President of Cloud Adoption Solutions, a woman-owned Salesforce partner. Simplifying and accelerating processes is just one way that Shannon and her team takes your business to the next level with confidence. Keep up with Shannon on LinkedIn and Twitter. Learn your own score on Ability to Confidence and Influence through her free and fun mobile course: https://cloudadoption.solutions/trailheaddx/

Holly Joy McIlwain specializes in elevation–helping leaders and managers to identify and develop talent in and for their organizations, as well as coaching individuals to recognize that everything matters.  Follow Holly on LinkedInInstagram, or Twitter, or pick up a copy of her book “For She Who Leads: Practical Wisdom from a Woman Who Serves.”