targetRecently I was reminded that sometimes I (we?)  take for granted our understanding of a particular topic and think everyone is on the same page.  When that topic is the work that we do, it can be confusing to hear it described incorrectly and, worse, it can lead to missed referral opportunities.   For example…

As often happens at networking events, I was introduced to someone new by a mutual contact.  This middle-person gave a brief description of his relationship to each of us and our work to kick things off.  The problem was, I didn’t recognize myself in the introduction at all.   And that was OK for that moment, but it got me thinking that if this is what he thinks I do, I’ll never get the right referrals from him.  And, thinking back on it, there have been some “off the mark” introductions in our past.

So, how do we (nicely) train people to describe our work the way we want them to?

1.  If you’re in a conversation with multiple people, like I was in this example, you can take the opportunity to respectfully, and subtly change the message – and hopefully get a few new keywords or descriptors into your referral source’s memory of you.   (Addressing the mutual contact) “Thanks for that introduction.”  (Addressing the new person). “Yes, how I describe my work is that I…”  or (Addressing the new person) “More recently I’ve been focusing on….”   or “In my line of work a hot topic I’ve recently been diving into is…”.

2.  Network with that person more often.  If you have coffee or lunch with your referral source more often, you’ll be naturally swapping examples of recent projects.  This might help to more accurately develop an impression of your work in the person’s mind.  You may even throw in a story from time to time about how someone thought you did some work (perhaps something that was part of the inaccurate description you recently heard about yourself) but that really you focus more on something else.

3.  Marketing can help.  Newsletters, speaking engagements, social media posts and other messaging all reinforce the services you provide and your target markets.  Be sure this referral source is on your email list, is connected to you on LinkedIn, and is invited to all of your hosted events.

4.  If all else fails, privately, kindly, respectfully ask for the opportunity to re-explain to this referral source what you do.

Your referral source has the best of intentions.  Help them use their effort and good will for the best.  The fall and holiday season are big networking times so keep these things in mind.  If you’re going to spend your time away from home, your family, and your hobbies, you want it to be the most productive time possible!



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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.