Networking, referrals & likability

If you’ve been on the networking circuit awhile you’ve probably heard this adage a hundred times:  “People do business with people they like.”  I’m wondering how this statement ever made it past the first draft stage. It’s certainly catchy and easy to remember. But there are some vital pieces missing. After all, is liking someone really enough to make me want to do business with (or refer) them?

I don’t know about you, but I know and like a lot of people.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. I could do business with or refer any of them, but the truth is I probably won’t. I don’t have eternally deep pockets and I just don’t need 10 or 12 of every service or product out there.  I have to make choices.  Additionally, I’m in the business of making referrals, so mine have to be top-notch. I’m going to be very picky about who I bet my business and reputation on.

I admit that likability is important. I do enjoy doing business with people I like.  And I refuse to do business with jerks. But in some cases, how much I like someone isn’t as important as their talent, skill, experience, or even trustworthiness. (E.g. Would you rather like your attorney? Or trust that he or she will keep you out of legal trouble without taking you to the cleaners?)

Ditto when it comes to making referrals.  Would I really risk my reputation referring one colleague to another purely because of likability? No way. That could be disastrous!

Considering all this, here’s my attempt at rewriting the catchy networking statement I mentioned earlier. See what you think:

“People refer and do business with people they like, trust, and know will do a great job.”

Okay, so that may not be poetry to your ears, and you may forget it seconds after you read it, but it’s a start.

What about you? Is likability enough?  Or not? How would you express your standards when it comes to deciding who you’ll refer or do business with?


Get your calculator out.  What did you spend this past week on networking? In terms of hard costs and the value of your professional time? Did you get the maximum value out of that investment? Were you as purposeful, polished and productive as you could possibly be? If not, consider investing in a copy of my new book The Intentional Network: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals & Results in Business.  For less than the cost of a networking event you’ll have quick access to hundreds of ideas, tips, examples, and exercises that will help you get more out of your networking efforts.  Available on my website and on major book outlets, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s and others. Kindle edition available on Amazon.


5 Responses to Networking, referrals & likability
  1. Mike Lucas
    October 12, 2011 | 5:24 pm

    Well said, Patti. I will say that “likeability”, in many cases, can be the first step in a successful business relationship. It’s a door-opener to the next step, production…getting the job done right with positive results. You said it yourself, you won’t do business with a jerk. I take that to mean you won’t do business with someone you find unlikable. As you may have inferred, there may be one exception to that rule…lawyers. 😉

  2. thom singer
    October 12, 2011 | 5:31 pm

    Patti, you are correct— Liking someone is not enough. But all things being equal, I believe people prefer to do business with those they know, like and trust. (key part here is all things being equal).

  3. Amy McGeady
    October 13, 2011 | 7:50 am

    Patti – I agree completely. Likability alone is not enough. I know I’ve been disappointed when I chose to work with someone I liked, but later figured out didn’t have the right skills/tools/availability for the project or situation. Likability is, though, a key buying criterion. A talented person who is difficult to work with, lacks integrity, or has different views on what I consider “common sense” can derail a project or team just as quickly as a likable, but unskilled person.

  4. SueAnn Wade-Crouse
    October 13, 2011 | 9:30 am

    You are absolutely right Patti, and the way you re-wrote the “doing business with people you like” statement is much more accurate to my standards for referrals.

  5. Jeanne Guy
    October 13, 2011 | 10:33 am


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