This topic appeared on a LinkedIn thread today, “Scared of making others uncomfortable by asking for a referral?  You are not alone.”

Here’s my always-contrarian comment:

The primary barrier to referrals is your reluctance to ask. For many of the 20 years I coached lawyers, a good friend was the top market researcher in that space. We shared a number of clients, so I got to see thousands of tactical reports from client-satisfaction research among law firms’ top clients.  Researchers always asked, “Have you referred anyone to this firm?” When the answer was “no,” the followup was, “Why not?” Without variance, the answer was, “Nobody ever asked me.”

The second most significant barrier is that our referral requests are too abstract, preventing those who might want to help us from doing so.  If you’re a lawyer, and you ask me to refer people to you, I don’t know who needs a lawyer right now. How could I?

What I may well know, though, is who likely is subject to a specific business problem, or at least I can surmise as much. You need to identify the primary business problem that drives demand for you, then associate yourself with that problem or circumstance rather than merely wearing an “IP lawyer” label.

Let’s say your game is helping tech companies who’ve lost engineers with valuable secrets in their heads to competitors’ recruitment. I may not know who needs an IP- or trade secrets lawyer, but I may well know who’s getting their talent raided, or could make a decent guess.

Make it easy for people to help you.

Mike O'Horo

The RainmakerVT virtual training program can help. Go to Contacts and Referrals: Safely Transform Social Contacts Into Business Contacts.