Author: Bob Burg
Year Published: 2005
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Finding that next person to do business with can be a challenge for salespeople and entrepreneurs alike. There’s nothing worse than constantly worrying where your next rent or mortgage payment will come from or how you’ll pay your employees this month.
That’s why referrals are so coveted. When prospects are referred, they tend to come to you later in their buying process and are virtually sold on working with you. After all, someone they trust recommended you, so you must be good. In Endless Referrals, Bob Burg lays out a system for cultivating a business based primarily on referrals so you never have to worry who you’ll be working with next.
Burg’s system is based on networking, which he describes as “the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships.” Despite the business clichés, Burg’s system is actually very practical. He notes that networking has nothing to do with aggressive, sales lines like “Gimme a call – I’ll cut you a deal” that people use when they push business cards into your hands. That’s hard selling, not networking, and that doesn’t work.
Networking starts with your sphere of influence – the 250 people you know directly or indirectly that you interact with. They can include anyone from immediate family members to casual acquaintances to your hair dresser to your mailman. And everyone on your list also knows about 250 more people. If you doubt you know 250 people, Burg has you start with exercises to prove to yourself that you do indeed know about that many.
Why is focusing on a sphere of influence so important? Because today’s buyers want to do business with people they know, like, and trust. Pushy sales tactics that worked in the past don’t work in today’s internet economy where virtually any information is available through a quick Google search. Today, buyers want relationships with the people they do business with. As Burg states “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to people they know, like and trust.” Of course, if things aren’t equal, you won’t get the business regardless, so you still need an excellent product or service at a good price.
The next step to building a referral business is to focus on developing a system – “the process of predictably achieving a goal, based on a logical and specific set of how-to principles.” That generally means introducing yourself or having someone introduce you to the person you’d like to meet and then focusing the conversation on her and her business. Most people like to talk about themselves, so you give them the opportunity to do so by asking questions that make them want to keep talking.
Burg likens this to how famous talk show hosts ask open ended questions to keep the dialog flowing. If you ever watch Oprah or Barbara Walters, they always have something new to ask that keeps their guests engaged in the conversation. Burg provides a list of 10 questions as examples to use including standards like “how did you get started in the widget business” and “what do you see as the coming trends in the widget business” – questions you can easily adapt to any situation that help you learn more about the person you’re talking to, build rapport, and keep it interesting. You can adapt these questions to family life, recreation, or important issues and concerns in that person’s life such as charity, religion, or politics (so long as you don’t argue with them – just listen to what they have to say.)
Then, instead of pitching your services, you ask the powerful question “How can I know if someone I’m speaking to is a good prospect for you?” Just by asking, you separate yourself from everyone else and demonstrate that you are concerned about her success.
Burg provides a wealth of suggestions on how to meet people at Chamber of Commerce or other professional networking events, how to craft a good Personal Benefits Statement that clearly describes what you do and how it benefits others and how to follow up so that the other person wants to stay in touch. Burg also emphasizes the sound advice “The best way to get business and referrals is to give business and give referrals.” By giving a referral, you show the person that you’re thinking about them. They’ll appreciate that and realize that if they return the favor, you’ll probably continue to give them business.
What I most liked about the book was that Burg writes like he genuinely cares about the people he interacts with. This isn’t a book about how to subtly manipulate people. It’s a system that has others’ concerns in mind. You benefit from the system because you are focused on giving to others and building relationships with them. The byproduct is that others get to know you, like you and trust you so they feel comfortable referring business your way.
Burg also is quick to give credit to others. He constantly refers to other books, authors, and people to support his statements rather than writing in a know-it-all tone so common in business books.
This book is a must read for anyone looking to generate more referrals to grow their business. The book is laid out in 18 chapters and is packed with useful tips and practical advice. I would highly recommend it to all professional service providers, sales people, and anyone else who wants to grow their business through referrals.