In 2006, I wrote an entry explaining why people won’t help you (and a part two of sorts). It was about why we don’t want to give referrals to people we don’t know. It was true but rather one sided. There’s another reason we won’t. That’s what this is about.
Our reputations can take a hit in two ways when we make a referral. First is if you louse it up. You make us look bad to our colleagues and they come back and say lose my number, you pick crappy customers. The second way is if our colleague louses it up and makes us look bad to the people we referred to them. This is devastating. I don’t know which one is worse.
Here’s today’s example: My friend Andrea has been going through a crummy situation with her ex-sales rep, can’t be more specific than that. Everything started out great, but over a period of months, the situation deteriorated over time. While times were still good, Andrea recommended that another friend of hers hire this rep too. Even I have recommended this rep and even defended her when the first symptoms of her malfeasance came up. Anyway, the rep burnt Andrea’s friend too. So Andrea is being forced to deal with not only her problem but her friend’s problem too.
Here’s some reasons behind why we don’t want to make a referral even if we think you are on the up and up:
We lose credibility with you, it matters to us what you think even if you’re not a customer. We don’t care if no one else ever learns of it, it’s enough that we each know. Crispy as we are, providing a referral can become too much risk to take another chance. We want to help you, not hurt you.
We lose credibility with ourselves. We begin to question our own judgment, our level of self-trust. We take an inventory of our contacts, refiltering them through the lens of this bad experience, who can we still trust?
When you do this inventory, you worry about lag time. Sometimes you make a referral or endorsement of someone that turns out bad. What’s the legacy of that? How many people read or saw that? They don’t check back in with you to see if all is still well. I used to think very highly of one of my DEs, known her for years, a real advocate of people like her. She’s been grand. Then a couple of months ago, she entered a contest and asked us to vote for her. No problem, the winner is whoever has the biggest social network, I get it. A week later, she emails us all again. This time she asks us to vote down her competitors so she’ll score better comparatively. That made me very sad.
Then, it’s rarely over. A bad referral is like an infestation of cockroaches, it seems you’ll never get rid of them. You don’t know what the bad actor will do while you’re trying to extricate yourself (or your friend) from the situation. Will they go whacko or passive aggressive on you or your friend? I’ve certainly had that happen. How do you manage hits to your integrity -especially if they aren’t justified? Hopefully you can just ignore them, not dignifying their actions with a response.
How do we exercise damage control? Do we publicize our bad judgment? It’s really not the loss of face, the real concern is preventing other people from getting hurt. It’s like a recall only it’s personal, not a product. A product recall, onerous as they are, is easy. Obviously, the only sure way to avoid this is to not make referrals but neither party is happy with that for long.
So how does bad judgment happen? I think a lot of it has to do with establishing rapport. In the process of developing relationships with our colleagues, we begin to presume someone is like us even if we don’t know that for sure. We graft our values onto people we get along with.
In the end, failing to provide referrals can say more about us than it does you or anything you may be doing. Our flawed, imperfect and selfish selves. I’m sorry about that. Sad too.