One of the things I often tell people is to remember what Tony Alessandro calls, the “Platinum Rule”: Treat others the way they want to be treated. This rule applies to every transaction and every relationship you have—with your referral source, with your prospect, with your customer, with anybody.

To be successful, you have to be aware of the personality types you’re dealing with, and their behavioral preferences. You’ve got behavioral preferences of your own, of course, but since you are the person who is seeking referrals and asking for a sale, you are often going to have to be the one to adapt. In corporate sales, mixed teams of different personality types are often used for larger clients, in order to cover all the bases and ensure a closer match with the prospect’s temperament.

If the idea of “reshaping your personality” sounds intimidating to you, it may help to think of yourself as in a sort of “partnership” with your referral source. If you and your source are of different temperaments, you might be more likely to achieve success if the partner whose personality type more closely matches the prospect’s needs takes the lead in asking for an appointment. What if face-to-face selling (yes, you have to “sell” in referral marketing) is not your strong point and instead, you are better at follow-up? Then go to the first meeting with your referral partner, who’s (hopefully) a better salesperson.

In any case, you should find out from your source as much as possible about the prospect’s preferences before following up on the referral. If you go blindly into your first face-to-face meeting with a prospect, you may find yourself misunderstanding or misconstruing the prospect’s needs, responses, and intentions. One of the greatest favors you can do for yourself is to invest the time needed prior to the appointment to learn as much about your prospect as possible. Most of this information you can get from carefully listening to your referral source. Some of the prospects you will meet might be high-profile figures in the community, and you will be able to read about them in newspaper archives, magazine articles, or on the internet. There are several questions you can ask or research that will help you form a mini-profile of your prospect:

- Is your prospect a “family person?”

- Does he have any hobbies? Like to travel? Is he a sports buff? A patron of the arts?

- Is she a morning person, or is it best to close a deal with her later in the day?

The tools and strategies you use will vary over time as well. When you’re making your first approach to the prospect, you will use one set of skills. In a growing referral relationship, other skills and strategies will be more productive. And in a mature business relationship, still others will be most appropriate. This applies not only to the development of the relationship, but also to the age and maturity of your growing business as well as where you and your contacts are in the business cycle.

Even with a full book of business, each year you expect to replace one or more obsolete, low-quality client relationships with new, higher-potential ones. In maintaining and using your network, selection of new clients should be part of your strategy; and that strategy depends on the timing for yourself, your referral source, and each prospect. Furtheremore, as you start at the beginning of a relationship with a new client, you will need to remember to again take the time to adapt your style in order to make that person comfortable, and more likely to use you again (and again).

The secret of successful referral sales—indeed, all sales—is to acquire, develop, and use all the sales tools you can, and learn to match them with the situation and the personality you’re dealing with. In referral marketing, the tools include not only your personal and professional skills, but also the variety of venues that you can use. Referral masters will urge you to become involved in at least three different kinds of organizations. These usually, but not always, include a strong-contact network such as BNI, a casual-contact network such as a chamber of commerce, and a charitable or service organization like Kiwanis or Rotary. While most of your “strongest” reciprocal referral relationships will likely develop from your strong-contact network meetings, there are many opportunities to meet wonderful sources of referrals (and revenue) at the other meetings as well! Each of these organizations, while having some fundamental similarities, will require a slightly different skill set in order to most effectively use what they have to offer.

If you’re networking effectively, you’ll have occasion to use most, or all, of these tools because your networks should be as diverse as possible. You should not only seek to network with people like yourself; strive for diversity. Learn to tailor your networking approach for different occasions. Your most interesting and productive referrals can come from the most unexpected sources.