Select Page

 “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss.

 That quote really makes me think.   We face many relationship choices every day.  So what do you do when people do things that just don’t make sense?  What I do is to have a conversation that is friendly, open, and authentic.  I try to understand their point of view, but, even then, it still might not make sense.  In this case, sometimes like Dr. Seuss, I have to steer myself in a different direction.  I work really hard to build a network full of supportive people who have good, sound, moral character.  I’m going to spend a few blogs discussing what to do when people do things, from a referral marketing perspective, that make no sense.  The first topic I’m going to tackle is a very common one:  

What do you do when someone gives you are a really bad referral?

I recently had a BNI member ask me what to do when they receive a bad referral.  I turned the question around and asked what they thought.  I have done this several times with many different people and I get lots of interesting answers.  A few not so good ideas are listed below:

  • I’m not going to do anything.

  • I’m going to avoid the person.

  • I’m definitely not going to refer them to anybody.

Now for a few positive ideas, people have suggested:

  • I will thank them for trying.

  • I will have a conversation with them attempting to explain what a really good referral for me is.

  • I will ask them to warm up the referral.

Now, in my opinion:

They tried, that’s good!  It is certainly a step in the right direction.  Recognize them for that.  The bigger issue is: if you are getting bad referrals, maybe it is time to look in the mirror.  This is kind of like a sales team that can’t describe the company’s products and services.  They have not been trained.  Think of your referral network as your sales team.  Train them!  Below are some ideas on how to do that, starting with some personal business reflection.

Are you specific?

When you ask for a referral are you as specific as possible?   Do you think I get referrals when I stand up and say that a great referral for me is someone who wants training?  Probably not because people will think, what kind of training?  Is leadership, personal training, service, sales, training for whom, what?  As you can see, the lack of being specific likely yields few results.  Oh wait, I bet I know what you are thinking: I do multiple things. I do, too, but I’m an expert in referral marketing and my message is always relevant to that.

Do you have a target market?  

Very Important!  This is closely related to being specific.  Instead of my example above, try this on for size. “Hi, I’m David, co-author of the bestselling book, Networking Like a Pro, and a great referral for me would be a CPA who wants to make more money, work less and have fun.” You have probably thought of someone, right?  One of the main reasons people don’t refer you is they don’t know your target market and you are not specific enough.   We all have a lot going on in our lives, being focused and specific drills through the clutter and makes referrals happen.

Do you have a compelling story?

Wow! This one is huge. We all love to do business with people who have a compelling story as to why they do what they do.  One of my favorite questions I ask people is,  “What do you love most about what you do?”  It usually gets to the passion or a personal story.  So, if I were to tell you that I love training people how to get referrals from everyone they meet, you might say, “Ok, great.”  However, what if I were to tell you that in school I was a forestry major, wound up in sales with my first job as a telemarketer, and then moved to outside sales and was making cold call after cold call?  Although I was successful, the process was terrible, rejection all the time, clients leaving for the next best price, poor retention.  I thought there had to be a better way.  Enter referral marketing. Not only did I plunge headfirst into building my business through referral marketing and networking, but I have actually built numerous businesses in the last 15 years without making a single cold call and  I have also written a bestselling book on the subject of referral marketing.  I’m sure you can see that I’m pretty passionate about doing business this way.

There are a few more important points to this conversation that I will share in a future blog, but today I will leave you with this.  Be specific and have a good story that others can pass on.  I believe getting all the referrals you want involves not selling to others but through others.  In other words, if you try to sell to your immediate contacts you will soon run out of prospects.  If you have a compelling message that people can pass along, then you are selling through your direct connections into their networks.  Now your prospects are unlimited.  Very Powerful!


Join me for the relaunch of Networking Like a Pro Allstars.  This training, based on my book, is second to none.  BNI members register. Check out the program at, non-members register using the promo code REFERRAL (case sensitive) and receive 50% off.The first class is in Atlanta on March 21st. If you are a BNI member, register here.  Only 11 seats left. The first class in Charlotte is March 17th.  If you are a BNI member, register here.  Only 14 seats left.  

Subscribe to my blog here:, select the Referral Fire category.

Network Powerfully,

David Alexander

 P.S. Share any positive comments on how you handle a bad referral.