November 5

Building a Strong Referral Network in a Virtual World


You can hear the heavy breathing and the sound of footsteps pounding the pavement (figuratively) as salespeople race to achieve Q4 and year-end goals.

The questions every seller should ask themselves is: How would do I prefer to build my book of business to achieve sales goals? Should I:

  • Make lots of cold phone calls and email outreaches?
  • Or respond to and follow up on warm introductions and leads?

Duh, hello: What do you think? 

Building a referral network is not a new strategy in sales. But it is an under-used strategy in the sales profession, especially in a world where face-to-face conferences and networking events have gone away.


Because creating a strong network requires influence, sales and emotional intelligence skills. Building and nurturing referral relationships is a sales activity metric that must be measured, just like other prospecting activity.   

Follow these five principles for building your mini sales team. They work in a face-to-face world or a virtual world. Leverage the power of a strong referral partner network and quadruple your selling time and number of opportunities in your sales pipeline.

1. Qualify your referral partners.

Not everyone gets to be on your mini sales team. And you don’t get to be on everyone’s team either. When connecting with a new partner, hold a mutual qualifying conversation to see if you can easily refer business to one another.

For example, you might have a potential partner that is calling on the same vertical as you. However, this individual doesn’t call on the C-suite. As a result, when this individual refers you in, you might face a slow crawl to the top or get stuck with a non-decision maker that thinks they can make decisions.

Before Covid-19, this conversation might have happened over a cup of coffee. Same principle works today. Instead, schedule and meet over a virtual cup of java.

2. Apply delayed-gratification skills.

Trust is at the foundation of any good relationship.

And you can’t download it with an app.

You have to do build trust the good old-fashioned way and it’s even more important in a world gone virtual. You must put in the work to build a relationship. Take time to really understand your partner’s value proposition. Get clear on their ideal client profile. Without this investment of time and understanding, you and your referral partner will be very busy referring each other into opportunities that go absolutely nowhere.

3. Track and measure.

What gets measured improves. You can have great intentions for being a great referral partner. But without measurement, you will fall short of execution. Set a key performance metric for giving. When we work with sales organizations, we call it the “give goal.” Sometimes the give goal is a warm introduction. Other times, it can be alerting your partners to an event that they should know about. Or it can be giving time to help your partner think through a new sales challenge. Be a great partner and you will attract great partners.

4. Keep your partners posted.

There is nothing that kills motivation faster than not being kept in the loop after making a warm introduction. Remember, an introduction is a trusted contact of your referral partner. Your partner trusts you to take good care of that contact. However, don’t make them sit and wonder if you are! Apply delayed-gratification skills and take the time to install a system for keeping your partners up to speed on introductions. Then, take the time to actually do it!

5. Demonstrate gratitude.

Write a thank-you note. No one needs or wants one more email in their inbox. If your partner took the time to provide an introduction, you can certainly take the time to write a note of thanks. (Or you can go back to making cold prospecting outreaches.)

It’s a busy, noisy world out there. Stop competing with the noise and tap into the power of the strong referral network. Work hard at building strong referral partnerships. These five principles work whether you connect with people face to face, over the telephone or video calls. Relationships matter. Any questions?

Good Selling!


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