In 2019, I was invited to speak at Virginia Association Chamber of Commerce Executives (short for VACCE). The topic was on how chambers of commerce can utilize referral sharing program to provide additional benefits to their members. Many chambers of commerce in Northern Virginia have referral groups, also known as leadshare groups but when I attended a VACCE event in 2018 and talked to many chamber executives, far more chambers of commerce did not offer this program. Surprisingly, some executives did not know what it was. That is why I reached out to VACCE and offered to give a presentation on referral groups.
After giving a presentation on referral groups to chamber executives and leaders at VACCE in 2019.
Chambers of commerce offer many different programs to help members grow their business. They provide networking opportunities, professional development events, marketing opportunities, and other discounts and resources to help grow your business. Being a member of chamber of commerce also gives increased credibility to their members - your customers will see you as more trustworthy if you let them know that you are associated with a local chamber of commerce.
These networking events are great opportunities to meet other members and build one's network - they sometimes lead to members having follow-up meetings to get to know one another more and possibly lead to some type of partnerships or opportunities to work together. After all, that is a primary reason businesses join chamber of commerce - to meet others, build network, and grow business.
Referral group program can be an added benefit for members who want to generate more leads by joining an industry-exclusive group with a goal of helping each other. Below is an excerpt from a local chamber of commerce in Northern Virginia on their leadshare program:
"Generating sales leads is the key to any business success. Leadshare acts as your expanded sales team, providing introductions and “warm referrals” to individuals and companies you want to do business with. Leadshare members build rapport and strong working relationships that support each other’s business initiatives as referrers, customers, suppliers and mentors. Participation in Leadshare grows your professional network, sharpens your sales presentation skills and increases the centers of influence supporting your operations."
While open networking events are open to all and provide relaxed atmosphere for chamber members (and guests) to network with one another, referral groups are more structured, meet on a regular basis (usually once a week or once every two weeks), and follow a specific meeting format designed to build more intimate relationship between members. Referral groups are also exclusive to industry - one group cannot have more than one member from same industry. Referral group members have 1-to-1 meetings regularly to get to know each other and also help each other. Every member knows that they have a shared goal - to help each other grow by giving referrals and being one another's advocate.
While there are organizations specifically built for the sole purpose of sharing referrals such as BNI, Network Referral Group, or neXco National, chambers of commerce can be an ideal place to have referral groups since members are already there and they are actively looking for ways to grow their business. By appointing chairs and creating leadership positions for each group, chambers of commerce can offload some of the burdens of running the program and also give spotlight opportunities to those who step up to the leadership roles.
Referral group is a win-win for chambers of commerce and their members and, if you do not have a referral program in place, I recommend that you reach out to other chambers of commerce with referral programs in your state and see how you can get started.