How To Fill Your Pipeline With Referrals

QUESTION: I am a student of always asking for referrals.  What are your recommendations for getting someone to recognize the difference between a referral versus someone who is looking to leave their current position? – Tom, Denver, Colorado

ANSWER: After I completely exhaust the conversation with the original person I call, I typically say:

I appreciate the time we spent together getting to know each other by phone this afternoon, Mr. Candidate.  Let me ask you, who do you know that you think is a good widget manager?  This may be somebody that you look up to, who may be happy with their current situation, and may not be looking to make a change.  The candidate response is I do not know anyone who is looking.

Okay.  Common.

I understand most people I speak to are not looking to make a change.  I am just looking to talk with other good people like you.  It has been my experience that good people like you know other good people.  If you tell me someone that you think is doing a good job, I would be happy to reach out to them and provide them the compliment.  I would say, Joe thinks you are a great manager, and although he did not think you were looking to make a change he looks up to you and thought it would be good for us to get to know each other.  Or if you prefer, I can leave your name out of the conversation.  I am just interested in getting to know who you think is good.

Does that make sense?

Nothing works all the time, so let me give you my mindset on referrals because I think we share a lot of common things here.

We all know it is not the easiest thing to get name, direct dial phone number, an email, or cell phone number of candidates.  If I was talking to a candidate, my goal is to get two referrals out of that candidate for the simple reason that if I did that perfectly, which I did not do, but in theory my list of potential candidates would never run out.

If I started with a list of 30 or 40 people on a search before my research team got involved, maybe from my database, and I got two people per person for everyone I talked to, I would never run out of names.  That is why I set a goal of two referrals per persons versus one.  I was successful probably 30% to 50% of the time, but it really requires a commitment mentally on your part to follow through with it.

My line of questioning is similar to yours, but mine would be, after you have exhausted that this person is not a fit, not the right person, not the right time, I would set up my call in the the Peter Leffkowitz style of recruit call and say . . .

Hey Tom, I have no idea what is going on in your career.  I just wanted to talk to you kind of quietly and confidentially to see if you are at all open to hearing about an opportunity that could be potentially stronger than what your current assignment.  What are your thoughts on that?

That is NOT I am working with a search and I had this great.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, for me it was not consultative enough, so my approach would set up the referral by the way and the way it made it easier to get referrals was . . .

I have no idea what is going on in your career.  I just thought I would reach out to you and explore some stuff.

If that person is not qualified, if that person’s timing is wrong, at the end of the conversation my languaging was . .  .

Hey Tom, who do you know that really excels at what they do and I know they are not looking.

I would really put that on the front end, so where you kind of sift through it, I am going to almost scream, and I know they are probably not looking.  I have done this business a long time and here is what I know, the person that is ultimately going to be the right person at the right time for this search is an associate of a friend of a friend who knows somebody.  He is probably buried five or six deep, so having said that . . .

Who do you know that excels as a widget manager?

I like what you did too because you cannot just leave it that open.

Maybe in a company you used to work for, maybe somebody bumped into somebody at a trade show, maybe somebody who you have bumped into a competitive situation, under any of those categories who comes to mind that truly excels at what they are doing?

So now, which they still do sometimes, like you said . . .

I do not know anyone who is looking.

I know you do not.  That is kind of what I said Tom.

So I acknowledge it.  I am not arguing with him.

I said, they are probably not looking.

They are buried five or six deep.

Again, who do you know that excels?

Now they might switch it to something like . . .

Well, I am really not comfortable.

And I will say . . .

I am a big boy.  Was there anything pushy or aggressive in the way I approached you?  Because if you are not comfortable that means you do not trust me, and I do not blame you.  You do not know me.  But the only way you kind of know me is the demonstration of our brief conversation.  Was there any way that I was off putting at the beginning of the call?

A lot of times you will hear . . .

No, actually it was pretty refreshing.  Instead of just telling me about an opening, you really wanted to know more about me.

And I said . . .

All I am asking Tom is that is that extend that same courtesy that someone extended to you to someone else.  Because you were not interested and I told that person that you were not going to be interested, and that it is buried 5 or 6 deep.  So I am probably 3 or 4 deep away from finding the person I need to.

That usually liberates an answer or two.  The one that will you give you one or two.  So that when it does not work, the other 50% or 60% of the time it does not work, now I am almost kind of one to one and my list in theory never runs out.