Train your brain to focus on referral needs

In my last column I suggested 10 ways to build your business network. As a reminder, those 10 areas are active listening to telephone conversations, never eating alone, using staff meetings, working your network, joining service organizations, educating yourself, offering special thanks to referral sources, using social media, effective conversation and proper planning.

Active listening to telephone conversations seems like an easy thing to do. Yet, we have an enemy that usually gets the best of us — our brains. The brain has what’s called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) that has the responsibility of maintaining how alert we are. It’s the part of the brain that can take us from a relaxed state to a highly alert state.

Think about past discussions with clients-to-be. Before they became your clients, there were probably some clues they were interested in your business. The more interested they became, the more alert you became.

So how do you activate this same response when you’re listening for needs that really don’t directly affect your bottom line? Here are three key things that you can change today that will impact the way you do business forever:

Recognize that the best way to help a client may not be with your product or service. During any conversation, clients are going to drop hints — some quite blatant, actually — that allude to problems they’re having. Your product of service might not help them. But if you have a strong referral network, I can guarantee you know someone who can help them.

This is one place where your RAS can really get in the way. The system is used to filtering information that’s pertinent to you, and I’m asking you to filter information for other business owners. There are opportunities missed every day to help our fellow business owners simply because our brain steps in and filters out the information before we really “hear” it.

Practice active listening with your business referral partners by only focusing on one partner at a time for awhile. This gives you the opportunity to really train your brain to pick up information it had previously disregarded. Keep information about that referral partner around you, maybe a card on your desk, a stack of brochures sitting in a visible location or even a simple note stuck to your computer monitor.

Put the proper systems in place to capture needs and relay them to the right referral partner. In the end, if you can get your brain to get out of the way and actually hear the need, the next step, of course, is remembering that need. Often once a need is heard, a brief flash reminds us we need to contact a referral partner. Without a system, however, that flash can just fade away, leaving behind a client that still has a need, a referral partner that needs the business and you with no bonus points with your client for helping them solve their problems.

Systems can be as low-tech as having a notebook you carry with you at all times to document needs as you hear them with brief notes about what you were thinking to do to follow up to help meet those needs. Review your list very evening to ensure you’ve made the connections you envisioned.

Keep your strong referral partners on your speed dial. There are two types of referral partners — those who send you referrals and those to which you send referrals. Staying in touch with both is crucial to ensuring quality referrals are produced.

Setting up regular meetings with your referral partners will help you learn about new products or services that might be available as well as share information about your new products and services. Businesses are constantly in motion and we sometimes forget how far we’ve come until we meet up with someone and start talking about all that’s happened. Even 30 days can seem like a lifetime to certain businesses.

Remember, building a strong referral network depends on how much time you’re willing to invest in that network. Furthermore, if you’re stoking the fires in business relationships simply for your own gain, you’re missing out on opportunities that can end up providing the largest gains.

It’s time to retrain your RAS and actively listen whenever you pick up the phone. It doesn’t matter how the call originates What does matter is how you use the information you receive.