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As seller build their sales and prospecting process, there’s one strategy I frequently see them forget: leveraging their peer referral network to help create new opportunities, new leads, and new business.

In this article, I’ll define a peer referral network, and help you to identify who makes an ideal network partner.

A peer referral network is a cultivated group of like-minded professionals with complementary areas of expertise, who are actively engaged in helping one another market and grow their books of business. And modern sellers are always cultivating this integral group of strategic relationships as a platform to grow their sales.

Those sales professionals and sales leaders who have the most success with a referral network take a consistent approach to it. They treat their network with the same level of service as they would their best clients and top prospects– they treat network development as a high-priority activity. Because of this, their referral network becomes their greatest source of sales opportunities and leads.

How do you identify and then create your peer referral network? Here are five traits of those who make ideal network partners, along with a few strategies you can put into practice.

1) They are in complimentary lines of business.

First, they’re in the right line of business. Our network partners should serve the same client types as your organization, but offer complementary and non-competitive services.

Consider the professional service providers that complement your line of work. For example, if you work for an accounting firm, peer network partners might be attorneys, bankers, marketing firms, real estate firms, and insurance brokers. This could look different for you, depending on the industries you serve.

An action step you can take is to review your current connections across all of your platforms. Then create a brainstorm list of 30-50 potential network partners, noting their industry. You’ll ultimately narrow this list down, to about 10-20 people, or a number that fits your specific goals.

2) They provide outstanding client service.

Second, our network partners need to have a reputation for providing outstanding client experience. They’re likely well known in their industry and community.

When it comes time to reciprocate and make a referral, it’s important to be confident in that partner. Trust in the experience is non-negotiable, because it also reflects on your reputation. Any referral partner should be known for the same commitment as you and your business. Chemistry helps, too. Do you like this person and enjoy interacting with them? If so, the people you refer to them likely will too.

3) They are well connected.

Members of your peer referral network should be well-connected centers of influence.

When you open your network to your referral partners, make sure they can introduce you to new and different connections that are also the right connections. The right network partner is usually a Center of Influence, meaning they have higher-level connections in their industry and community. They’re viewed as a leader.

A partnership will likely not be as effective if the other person has a weak network, connections that are too low level, or if there’s significant overlap between your networks. You can use these criteria to prioritize your initial brainstorm list. Who’s well-known for client experience? Who will you enjoy working with? Who are centers of influence? These questions will help you narrow your list, and see where there could be some gaps to fill.

4) They align with your business and sales goals.

A network partner understands your business and aligns with your sales goals.

They need to know what you do, the value you create for your clients, and what differentiates you from the competition. They also need to understand who makes an ideal client for you.
Part of your role becomes educating your referral network, so they can effectively translate your value. In this way, you set them up for success.

There are two action steps that can help with this. The first is to create a summary of your ideal client, and your business development goals. You’ll want to share that with your identified network partners, and they’ll want to do the same for you. The second action that I take with my network partners in any referral situation, is to provide a summary introduction email. This is something short, with key points, that can easily be forwarded to a potential referral.

5) They are dedicated to your partnership.

And finally, the network partner must be actively engaged in the success of the partnership.

A successful peer network relationship requires active engagement. It helps for each of you to set your goals and expectations upfront, and even in writing. It also helps to have a set cadence to connect. For most referral networks, I recommend bi-monthly. When I’ve added this structure to my partnerships, we’re all more engaged and accountable. We create more connections and referrals for one another. Over time, your peer network relationships will evolve. You might find that goals have changed, and the level of engagement may need to change also. Part of this process is continually cultivating relationships and adding to your network.

A strong referral network is mutually beneficial and strategic.When you have the right network partners, you’ll get more leverage from your business development efforts. The companion article has more strategies to help you cultivate your referral network.

Watch for a future article where I’ll delve into the strategies and tactics for building your referral network. And download my ebook, 36 Tips to Build Lasting Strategic Relationships and this free chapter from The Modern Seller, A Modern Seller is Social, for more information.

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