Tips for Running a Successful Referral Group

Christina Metcalf
Christina Metcalf
Published on 08/07/2023

an interview with Beth Bridges Brandle, the Networking Motivator, Part Two

*In this three-part interview, we recently sat down with Beth Bridges Brandle, the Networking Motivator™ and author of "Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan to Build a Profitable and Powerful Business Network" to talk about the role of networking events in chamber member retention. Beth is a former chamber of commerce marketing and membership executive and attended over 2,500 networking events in 10 years. Beth is a business speaker, networking trainer and presenter for chambers of commerce, associations and sales and marketing organizations.

In part one of the interview, we discussed How Networking Groups Are One of a Chamber’s Strongest Retention Tools . In this week's article, we're covering the important topics of what you need to know about running a referral group, the difficulty that some chambers face when starting a group, and why your chamber needs to ignore (or work through) these challenges and implement one (or more) for you and your members.

After being a part of several referral groups with her chamber as a chamber employee, Beth pointed out that "the success of a referral group relies on having enthusiastic leadership and members committed to actively participating." So how do you get that?

She suggested the following:

Tips for Running a Successful Referral Group

  • Plan carefully so you can accomplish your goals
  • Set clear expectations
  • Track results to demonstrate the group's value
  • Sharing success stories

Tracking results within referral groups can further reinforce the group's effectiveness and encourage participation. When people hear about other's success, they want that for themselves too.

Beth advised **"Chambers should continue to explore and provide referral groups as they remain valuable and effective marketing tools for businesses." **

But as valuable as referral groups are, there can be some challenges in setting them up. Knowing what those potential challenges are can help you achieve greater success.

The Difficulty Behind Referral Groups

Referral groups are an incredible member retention tool but knowing their weaknesses can also help you create the strongest opportunities for building loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals for the chamber itself. Anticipating these challenges will help you build a bigger, better program. Beth shared two of the biggest problems to a successful referral group:

  1. **The offer stinks. **Referral group members can be interesting and their marketing can be slick, but as Beth says, “If the offer sucks, it’s not going to work. If someone has an offer or a business or a service, that's easy for people to understand…and it's something that a lot of people really want, and it's not a complex sell, they're going to do well in a referral group.” Things like computer repair, IT services, skin care, nutrition, or massage are things a lot of people need or want. They sell themselves. People understand what they get out of them. No education reequired. However, not every product or service falls into that category. If a member has a harder offer or something with a longer sales cycle, help them understand it’s going to take them a little longer and they’ll need a really good offer to make people think about them. Brainstorm with them on how they might have the biggest impact through communicating their "why," passion, or something else that sets them apart and helps people want to do business with them.
  2. An uneven experience. If the member has a long sales cycle or their market's saturated, they're going to struggle a little bit more. Again, the trick is to give them the tools and resources to be successful so they won't blame the chamber for their lack of overnight success. Work with them to improve the offer or help them get very clear about the solution they provide. A saturated market is more difficult to overcome than a bad offer. In this case, they'll have to be specific about what they offer over the competition. Nine times out of ten it won't be great customer service.

With these challenges why does it make sense to have at least one referral group and what can it bring your chamber?

Why Your Chamber Needs a Referral Group

There are several reasons your chamber needs a referral group. The bottom line is that referral groups improve retention. But how exactly does that work? Here are a few ways:

Increased Chamber Value

A referral group is an excellent member retention tool, but it can also highlight membership value. Most people are familiar with BNI or LEADS groups. Comparing value on BNI and chamber memberships is good for the chamber. Being a BNI member costs about $749 a year with the application fee, while a chamber might be $400 a year and you get a referral group and other business benefits. Beth said her chamber, “...found that it added to the bottom line value of the chamber membership.”

Improved Relationships

The other way that adds to the value of referral group membership is improved relationships. As Beth pointed out, “…when you have someone who is a member of a group, any kind of group, the more people in that group they have a relationship with, they've done business with, they have an attachment to, the more likely they are to stay a member of that group... A referral group can be valuable if it helps people build close relationships with other members. They tend to stay. They'll want to stay connected. They'll want to stay a member of the chamber.”

Now that you know how a referral group can improve member retention, how do you go about setting one up?

In the conclusion of this interview with the Networking Motivator, we'll discuss best practices of starting and running a chamber referral group, as well as Beth's suggestions on how to ensure it meets your chamber goals and that of your members.

About the author

Christina Metcalf

Christina Metcalf is a writer who loves stories and specializes in assisting small businesses and chambers of commerce to tell theirs.


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