Developing Your Referral Network - The Weak Link Strategy

Let's talk about how to develop and harvest business referrals from your network.  This is a well-kept secret top sales people already know.  There are some basic, common sense assumptions we make about networking.  We hear about people who create success by just using their good common sense in life.  Many suggest that if we just use good common sense, we’ll all be O.K.  The problem with common sense is that it might be common, but it’s not good. 

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A common sense program that fails to deliver

A quick example is the Scared Straight program.  This is a program invented by convicted criminals who wished they had a mentor early in life who could steer them back on track.  The idea was that if teens on the wrong path could see what life was like in prison, they would change their ways.  Borderline teens are sent to prison for a day and volunteer prisoners come and scare the kids with their stories and aggressive behavior associated with prison life.  Common sense suggested to everyone that once these kids saw prison life, they would be “Scared Straight!”

The idea seemed to be just good common sense.  Scared Straight programs were started in cities all over the country.  It was 10 years later that someone did a blind study to see how well it was working.  After 10 years a study compared “At Risk” kids who went through the program with similar “At Risk” Kids who didn’t go through the program.

What they found was that kids who didn’t go through the program were more likely not to go to prison.  When questioned, the kids who went through the program assumed that they were bad kids and that their teachers had decided they were going to prison someday.  So the Scared Straight program helped them prepare for what it would be like to go to prison later on.  The Scared Straight program caused the kids to assume they were hopeless... so why try.  Despite the scientific evidence, there are still Scared Straight programs going on. 

I bring up the Scared Straight example in order to encourage you to question your common sense.  There is a lot of common sense about how to build a professional network.  There are books based on using common sense.  Unfortunately, common sense is at odds with science and research. 

Here are some basic concepts to develop strategies and tactics you can use in building your professional network.

Breaking down the network

When you are done building your network, which is ongoing, your network can be divided into two types of people:

Weak Links 

People who are friends, but you don’t see often.  People you like and who like you, but you don’t see very often.

Strong Links 

People you are close friends and people you trust, see often and regularly and like being around. 

Here is a common sense question.

Will you get more referrals from your Weak Link friends
or Strong Link friends?

I just shared with you a story about common sense and the scared straight program.  I’m hoping that you are second guessing cultural common sense on this question.  Most people, even professional sales people, answer "Strong Links". This of course makes sense.  They are after all people who care about you and even love you.  They want you to be successful.  Of course they will provide you with more leads because they want you to be successful.

The surprising networking secret…

Despite our common sense on the topic, statistically our weak link friends will provide more leads than our strong link friends.  This seems a little counter intuitive at first.  But let’s talk about why. 

The average person knows about 250 people.  So if you have 5 Strong link friends that’s about 1000 friends between the 5 people.  That would be true except that those friends may attend the same church as you or may work in the same industry, or live in the same neighborhood and go to the same bowling league.  You already know everyone they know.  They know everyone that you know.  Maybe each friend knows 30 people you don’t know.  That works out to a total of 150 your five friends know, that you don’t know.

With weak links, it’s very different.  Now you probably have 20 (or more) weak link friends.  Each knows 250 people.  So among your 20 friends they know 5000 people that you probably don’t know.  That’s about 4,850 more people you can farm than in your strong link circle.  This means that the odds are much greater that a weak link will be able to help you find leads. 

Strong links make trusted partners – which means if you want to start a business, you may have more trust with a Strong link, than a weak link.

Weak links provide the referrals – which means that if you want more referrals, spend more time with those friends you don’t see often.

When I talk with professional sales people, they start out answering strong links are the best referral givers.  Then they think about it and start counting in their heads the referrals they’ve received.  I watch their faces light up then say, “You know your right!”

Topics: Business Development Weak Link Strategy Business Networking Executive Outlier Building a Professional Network