So there you are at a networking event or in a social situation, and someone asks you that dreaded question, So what do you do?

Maybe you are past the point of dreading that question (which is another subject altogether), and you can handle the answer with confidence and ease.

Whatever your answer may be, what’s the next best way to follow up on your answer? It is not to ask for a sale!

The quickest way to turn off anyone who has expressed interest (especially merely polite, conversational interest) in what you do, is to go into sales mode. That is not the way to make friends and influence people (to borrow Dale Carnegie’s famous phrase).

Yet, you still want to open the door to possible business and possible referrals for your business. How can you possibly do that without making people feel uncomfortable in your presence?

Here’s my handy hint on how to do it without sounding like a high pressure sales person and without putting anyone on the spot. 

Follow up with what I have named a Soft Referral Request.

Simply ask this question as a throw-away question, as it were, in a very casual and conversational tone of voice.

By the way, do you happen to know anyone who might possibly be interested in my service/product/whatever?

Then be quiet! Do not say a single word. Let the other person process your request. Remember the cardinal rule when asking for a sale: The person who speaks first loses.

There are four possible outcomes to this very polite, yet powerful question:

  1. The person with whom you are talking says that he or she could really use what you are offering. (Home run!)
  2. That person gives you a referral to someone who may be interested in what you are offering. You might even get an introduction right on the spot. (Second or Third base!)
  3. Even if that person expresses no interest, you have planted a seed that could possibly sprout into a referral at some future date. (First base!)
  4. The person expresses no interest either way. (Strike out!)

MAJOR ALERT! The tone of your voice is crucial to the success of this method. It’s got to sound like a soft inquiry, not a hard demand.

That is because it is virtually impossible to use the Soft Referral Request effectively if you come across as either needy or pushy. That is why your tone of voice is so crucial to the effectiveness of this strategy.

The beauty of the Soft Referral Request is that it can be applied to a variety of situations in which you find yourself, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with business. It can help to grease the conversational wheels in your personal life as well.

Compare the relationship implications of the following three conversational options:

  1. Do you happen to have any thoughts about what we should do about this something that affects both of us?
  2. What have you decided about this something that affects both of us?
  3. This is what I have decided about this situation that affects both of us.

The first option opens the door for a conversation of equals. The other two options give all the power to one person in the conversation, definitely not the basis for creating a good personal relationship with someone..

Along those lines, I would certainly love to hear your thoughts and any experiences you might have in applying the strategy of the Soft Referral Request.