Are Your Referral Partnerships on Digital Steroids?

Referral Partnerships

Harnessing the power of virtual partnerships may be the next step in growing your agency!

We are living in remarkable times! Not only is more than half of the world’s population under the age of 30, but Facebook now has more users than the entire population of China, making it the largest population on earth. 53% of millennials say they would rather lose their sense of smell than lose their technology. Society has changed, the financial industry has changed, and now more than ever, developing strategic partners and centers of influence needs to evolve, too, if we hope to take our practice to the next level.

The financial industry values the power of referrals because they are among the best ways to grow a business. But what happens to referral sources and centers of influence relationships when you can’t see people? Are they becoming harder to maintain, or have some possibly soured? Or has the pandemic caused you to shift your focus away from nurturing these relationships because other parts of your practice necessitated more attention? Whether you are concerned about maintaining existing relationships, or looking to develop new ones, a shift in mentality may be the secret to success.

Think bigger

Let’s start by looking at referral generation in the broader context of branding and marketing. While a direct client referral is always the ultimate prize, the digital economy now offers us many more avenues of value we can benefit from.  Instead of having partners who share your story on an individual basis, what if you could get them to tell your story more effectively across the digital landscape? The right partner’s brand can be an extension of your own, one where you mutually build one another up. What if you both could better leverage one another’s networks? The right exposure could be invaluable. Great partners become great brand ambassadors for each other. It’s like having an extended marketing team.

Sounds great, but how do I go about developing a potential partnership or navigating things with an existing partner? Let me offer a few steps you can take that will work to enhance existing relationships and may help you develop some news one.

Develop a partner persona

Not unlike creating an effective “buyer persona” to enhance your target marketing efforts, creating the right “partner persona” is critical.  What are the professional qualifications you would want in a referral partner that match well with your practice? What synergies exist that you would want to capitalize on? What are the personal qualities you would want for your clients or followers? Is there a personality match? The real key is to get a good idea of how this partner might behave in a professional engagement and how they would sync with your practice. No, it’s not an eHarmony profile, but it is extremely helpful to know who you’re looking for so you can both fit the pieces together more effectively.

It should go without saying, but your potential partners need to have a sufficient online presence. But unfortunately, not all referral partners may be equally yoked when it comes to their digital capacity. So be sure to properly vet this. Start with the obvious and check LinkedIn and Facebook profiles to get an idea of who the professional is, what they seem to be about, and how engaged they are (or are not) in the digital marketplace. A small bit of advice, while not every partner will have a blog or podcast or produce a high volume of content, DO read the content and posts they have on LinkedIn to see if they are actually engaged with their audience, or if it is a bunch of auto-generated posts without a lot of forethought.

Develop a referral strategy

The best partners work well because they are usually good at knowing what an ideal client looks like, and equally good at opening the door when the time is right. However, many professionals never maximize the value of their referral partners simply due to a lack of strategy. Since it’s likely both of you want to make the most out of the relationship, why not hammer out things informally so you’re optimally equipped to create opportunities? After all, nothing harms a relationship more than unmet expectations that were never really discussed upfront. Be upfront with what you want to get out of it, other than just referrals. Could they recommend you to speak in front of a group, or quote you in a blog or article?  Be sure you also understand what they want out of it as well, other than just the mutual assurance of you sending them referrals. If you’re still unclear about what represents an ideal client, now is the time to get clear. Define what represents a “win-win.”

Leverage each other’s content

A wonderful way to develop synergy is to share one another’s content. Have them as a guest on your show or podcast. It may seem simple, but you’d be surprised how much you can tell about a professional simply by doing an interview with them. One of my most downloaded podcast episodes  was my interview with Financial Coaching guru, Kelsa Dickey. We had a wonderful conversation that my listeners really got a lot of value from, and we both also enjoyed a good rapport in discussing areas of professional connection and synergy.

You can also consider being a guest on their show, if they have one. For example, I had the privilege of being a guest of Adam Kohl, on his Equal Partners Podcast. I met Adam when we both attended FinCon 2019 and he shared my commitment to diversity. The interview really allowed us to connect, discuss things we were both passionate about and had in common, and it became a great episode we could both share across our networks. Adam and I now regularly connect and promote each other through social media.

You could co-write a blog or produce some other content jointly. Working together on a project can tell you a lot about a professional’s capacity. Content creation reveals a lot, if the interview was dry or like pulling teeth, that may tell you what a client might experience. It’s a wonderful way to assess personality and a variety of intangibles. And even if things don’t work out, hopefully you’ll still walk away with some good content and some additional exposure.

“Sell” the partner’s experience

What kind of content strategy works best for generating digital referrals? The better question is, “What sells the most in today’s economy?” Speaker Dennis Mosely-Williams captures it best: “We are in the experience economy!” The most successful companies today are building themselves around one single focus: creating an exceptional consumer experience, one that goes beyond just products and solutions, but connects to how people think and feel. Offering a superior experience is not just the best way to stay in business, it’s also the best way to grow your business (since the best way to get referrals is to be referable!). Exceptional referral partners emphasize the experience of working with one another. They sell your story, not your stuff! They position you as a subject matter expert and help people see how working with you might help them move the needle in their lives. Using good content the right way allows us to foster experiences before we even meet someone! If we know how to cast the right digital net, we will be shocked at how many new opportunities we can attract, just by allowing consumers to “try us before they buy from us.”

Today, 93% of buying decisions are influenced by social & digital media. It’s time to recognize the marketing gold right in front of us: word of mouth has become world of mouth. What used to take months of pounding the pavement, cocktail conversations at networking events, and refining good referral language after every client meeting…can now be accelerated by building an army of referral partners and virtual brand ambassadors.

Not only can you find leads and opportunities online, but you can leverage the digital space to equip partners to tell your story for you. Time to reinvigorate your partnerships to galvanize your 2021 marketing plan. Make the decision to invest strategically in one another’s success so you can cast a more effective digital net!  If you build it right…they will come!

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