Getting good referrals doesn't happen by accident. It requires much more than just simply asking random bodies for referrals.

To net the best quality leads you need to take a targeted approach and re-evaluate your existing relationships to ensure you're tapping into the right networks and aligning yourself with the best referral partners, say experts.

"We identify referral partnerships as literally a true partnership," says Mike Macedonio, president of The Referral Institute, a California-based referral training company, and co-author of "Truth or Delusion?: Busting Networking's Biggest Myths" (Nelson Business; $19.99). "It's a special type of relationship."

In fact, there are six specific criteria that must be met to ensure a strong referral partner relationship, according to Macedonio:

Your referral partners want or can be inspired to help you. Meaning they're motivated by something beyond just the transaction.

They have the time or are willing to make time to help.

They have the ability or can be trained to do the things you want them to do (i.e., sending information out about you).

They have the resources necessary to help you (i.e., they can attend the events your target audience is at).

They have the relationship with the type of people you want to target.

They make good referrals for the people you know.

So these are people you don't just connect with once at a networking event, but rather cultivate over time in long-term relationships, says Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, an Upland, Calif.-based business networking organization and a partner in the Referral Institute.

"It's really about building relationships," notes Misner, who co-authored "Truth or Delusion?"

It's also about assessing the relationships you currently have, says Sue Clement, author of "Insider Secrets to Referral Success" (Clement Management Services Ltd.; $22.95) and president of Success Coaching in Vancouver, Canada.

Make a list of the referrals you've gotten in the last three to six months, even those that didn't yield business. Write down who referred them, the follow-up you did and what purchases were made, if any, she says.

Use this process to help identify patterns. For example, compare referrals who became clients and those who didn't: What did they have in common? Did they come from specific referral partners? The poor referrals aren't necessarily bad, says Clement. "It's just a starting point to have a conversation," she notes.

Perhaps you need to better educate your partners on your ideal referral candidate. Come up with target profile criteria (i.e., my ideal customers are firms with 50-500 employees in the telecom industry), suggests David Fagiano, chief operating officer of Dale Carnegie Training in Hauppauge.

Keep in contact with referral partners and try to add value in each interaction, he notes. For example, a contractor might reach out to a customer and say, "I remodeled your bathroom. I think it came out great. If you think so, can I take some shots and put it on my Facebook page?" You might also include the customer's photo.

"Everyone loves to see their picture," says Fagiano, noting they'll probably tell their friends to check it out.

If it results in a referral, remember to thank your referral partner, says Rich Kruse, a Garden City-based business consultant and president of ExecuLeaders, a nonprofit business association. He not only thanks people who refer business to him, but also sends out handwritten cards when it's not even expected.

"I use it as part of my ongoing relationship," says Kruse, who has built the bulk of his business via referral marketing. "You've got to be creative and can never sit on your hands."

Top ways to nurture referral relationships:


Arrange a face-to-face meeting.Call them.Send a handwritten thank-you.Invite them to an event.Display their brochures and materials.Source: Ivan Misner