In seventh grade, I won a popularity contest (I’m still celebrating.) My junior high had students complete a short survey concerning who they trusted and felt comfortable talking too. The result was that I was one of two students selected to go through a program called, “Natural Helpers.” The idea of the program was to train students to recognize serious problems and report them to adults whenever they occurred. We were trained to be half counselor, half snitch.

I lead with this just to illustrate that it’s always been easy for me to make friends.

However, even with this friendly orientation, when I think about business development and trying to fill a CRM with 500 contacts to keep in touch with… well it seems like a little slice of hell. I abhor the rote work of continually reaching out to contacts and I dread inauthentic interactions or small talk.

This is the problem that I’ve been trying to solve as I work on building out our referral focused marketing strategy:

How can we get people to know, like, and trust our brand without me having to build five hundred relationships?

The answer that I’ve come to is to seek tactics to elevate our visibility within the networks of communities.

Two strategies that I’m exploring are leadership and reputation.

Leadership Referral Strategy

Even in a huge community, a leader has a smaller network of relationships. However, those relationships tend to be with other leaders and connectors. Leaders naturally get a higher level of attention for trying to tackle the problems of the community and also a higher level of trust for serving the community. People also turn to leaders for referrals and advice.

As an example, I spoke with a consultant in our industry who built her business building community among her target market. She organized valuable events that brought people together. This connected her not only with the community she organized, but with leaders in larger communities who saw what she was doing.

Reputation Referral Strategy

Though leaders often develop reputations, reputation as a strategy is different than leadership. Reputation can be negative or positive, but for any case it’s always worthy of comment. In this it’s a little bit of a Purple Cow problem (Seth Godin), in that your business needs to be remarkable in some aspect. Seeking to be good isn’t good enough.

As an example, I don’t know of hardly any dev shops in Portland, but there’s one that most agencies know of called, “DevelopmentNow.” They have a location next to one of Portland’s main bridges. When they launched, if you walked by on the bridge, you would see in their window old school video games they designed as side projects and other neat applications of technology. Since then, I’ve run into peers in the local agency market who would mention them in the same breath with the interesting projects they were working on, “Have you heard of DevelopmentNow? They’re doing some really cool work with…”

What Else?

The business development approach of building 500 shallow connections is a brute force strategy that uses sample size to create referrals. Leadership and reputation are two strategies that employ leverage to generate referrals. But there are probably more.

Know of another strategic method to build a referral network? Give me a shout out. I’d love to learn about it.