The Combination to Referral Success

At 3:00 p.m. sharp, Susie walked into Bennie’s California Coffee Café and Bistro and was greeted by Bennie and his warm smile. He waved, held out a steaming cup of her usual, and nodded toward a table nearby. She took the cup and looked in the direction of the nod.

There was a little two-chair table with a handmade Reserved sign on it and a large, white coffee cup. Susie glanced left and then right, and seeing no one near, she strolled over to it. The white cup was full of what looked like strong black coffee. She set her coffee cup across from it and then sat slowly down.


Susie jumped. At her elbow stood a silver-haired, trim, nicely dressed man.

“I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m David Highground.”

She got up. “Oh, no, really, that’s fine. I just didn’t see you … ,” she mumbled. She glanced back at Bennie, who gave her a thumbs-up and rushed busily away.

Highground’s smile broadened and he waved at her chair. “Have a seat, Susie, and let’s talk.”

She sat and so did Highground. She took a sip of her coffee, suddenly more nervous and less trusting than she expected. Yet she kept thinking of Bennie, and because she trusted him, she decided she would keep an open mind.

Highground must have noticed this because the next thing he said was, “You’re feeling hesitant, aren’t you? I understand. That’s totally natural. But the reason I’m here is because a good friend of ours referred me to you, right?”

“Right,” she answered, a bit embarrassed for being so transparent.

“Well, then, I have a responsibility to him to take care of you. Know why? No matter how great my business advice might be, the relationship I have with Bennie is much more precious than any service or program. So I’ll honor my relationship with him by helping you.”

Sensing this was more than just a way to make her feel at ease, she said, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, this very dynamic we are acting out is the key to everything you will learn in the next three days. Let’s turn it around. You value Bennie’s friendship, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then if he asked you to do something in your power, wouldn’t you want to do it and do it well?”

“Well, yes. I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.”


“Well, because I value the relationship.”

“That’s it. That is the exact point. If you understand that your relationships are more important than your products or services and you always put them first, your existing clients and all the new people that come into your life will see this, realize you’re the real deal by your actions, and enjoy referring their friends, associates, and acquaintances to you. When someone they know needs your products or services, they know you’ll treat them right.” He thought a moment. “Want an analogy?”


“Think of the world as a chicken coop. We can go hunting for customers like they were chickens, running around trying to sell our products to every chicken we can corner. If we catch one, we can have a good chicken dinner that night, but then we have to go through the process of finding and catching another chicken. On the other hand, if we build relationships with the chickens we meet, take care of them, plump them up—if we continue to maintain the relationships with them and be referred to every chicken they know—we’ll have omelets for life. No longer will we have to find a new chicken every day.”

“Well, that’s vivid,” Susie said with a grin. “Even if I don’t like omelets.”

Highground laughed. “Of course. I do like omelets, but you get the point. This philosophy and process is not about churning and burning clients; it’s about developing lifelong relationships.” He sat back in his chair. “It sounds amazingly simple, I know. Not what we usually hear in business, is it? Most programs are hit-and-run. Hit ’em with our pitch, and run to find the next prospect to pitch again. Think about it. Most big companies have a powerful marketing platform with campaigns planned months, even a year, in advance. But their sole focus is closing the sale. Normally, not a lot of thought is put into nurturing the relationship with the client after the sale, which ultimately leaves the door wide open for the competition to take the client and the client’s referrals as well. And how much time is spent considering the type of person you happen to be—your genuine personality—and how that helps or hurts you in the program? None. Sound right?”

Susie thought about the seminars and webcasts and meetings she’d attended. Everything was market, market, market and sell, sell, sell. The prospect was a faceless potential customer. And the question was always, how do you find new customers? The focus was never on how to build and maintain relationships with the clients. “Yes,” she had to agree. “I’m afraid you’re right.”

“But what happens when you flip that idea?” Highground said, flipping his wrist in a half circle. “The client first, then the product or service! Let me put this another way: I want to serve you well because of my relationship with Bennie. Tell me the truth. Would you have come here if we did not have a mutual friend?”

“No,” she admitted, taking a sip of coffee. “Probably not. No offense.”

“None taken. You are here, entrusting your time to me because of your relationship with Bennie. And if Bennie didn’t value both of us, would we be sitting here?”

“No, we wouldn’t,” she said. “Relationships. That is great, but how can that work in the long run? Surely it’s too good to be true.”

Highground smiled as if he’d heard that before. “What you are hearing and experiencing right now is the foundation you can build a business and a life on. And that goes for new clients and existing ones. Susie, you will learn a dynamic marketing system based on identifying your authentic self, implementing five principles, and building a community of clients and associates who fit your personality and business model to acquire high-value referrals. Ready to begin?”

Susie nodded slightly, still a little standoffish.

“You’ll see,” he said. “Just wait.” And then Highground pushed a small notebook across the table toward her. “This little notebook is your ‘working ground’ for the next three days. And afterward, it will be your plan of action, all you have learned and all you need to know.”

Setting down her coffee, Susie accidentally jostled some onto the new notebook.

“Oh, no!” she gasped, wiping frantically with her napkin.

Highground joined in, and in a second they were both laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Susie said.

“Are you kidding? What better baptism for your new business life—Bennie’s coffee!”

“Hey, keep it down over there!” a voice called from the front door. Highground looked back and waved.

“Ah, there’s one of the people you’ll soon meet! Sheila Marie! How are you doing?”

Sheila Marie waved her response, turning quickly back to the couple with her and steering them to her favorite table.

“Susie, in the next three days, you are going to meet five very different people who have been exactly where you are, and that woman with the big personality is one of them.”

Susie looked around. “Why, yes, I recognize her. She’s as much a regular here as I am.”

“And there’s another.” Highground pointed to Paul, who was standing at the counter, paying for his coffee to go.

Somewhat surprised, Susie said, “Why, yes. These people are regulars; I see them here all the time.”

“Think about it. Is that so surprising? You know Bennie. They know Bennie. And so do Philip, Sara, and Jeanne, who are the other three. I bet you’ll recognize them, too. And of course, they know Bennie, too.

“We all know an amazing number of people who know an even more amazing number of people. Yet they were all in situations similar to yours not too long ago.”

“They were all like me? I find that very hard to believe. They look so … successful.”

Highground paused and said in his teacher’s voice, “Do you think you have to be like them to be successful?”

“Why do I get the feeling that’s a trick question?”

“Remember the first question I asked you?”

“Yes, do I want to be my authentic self in business? It was a very interesting question.”

Highground nodded. “I have learned a very basic but important truth over the years of coaching this philosophy and process. You cannot and should not try to change anyone. You can modify some behavior habits and fill in a gap or two, but not for long. The most effective thing I can do is to help others identify and embrace their own unique gifts and speak with their authentic voice.

“We all are unique in our own way, and we need to identify our inherent talents and be more true to them, not less,” he said, pausing for emphasis before he went on.

“If we don’t embrace our own uniqueness and we continually try to imitate others, it can lead to something similar to ‘impostor syndrome.’ That’s a term psychologists coined a number of years ago. Basically, it’s a feeling that you are trying to be something you are not, a feeling that you just don’t measure up to others in your life.

“At some point, all of us identify with those feelings or know someone who feels that way—Like Sheila Marie over there. Do you know what was holding her back? She is what I call a ‘relational-relational’ person, and she was killing herself trying to be a ‘business-business’ person because she thought that’s what she had to be to experience success in her profession.”

“Relational-relational? Business-business?” Susie echoed.

Smiling, Highground quietly opened Susie’s notebook to the first tab and pulled a pen from his pocket. He began to write on the drawing of a blank four-quadrant box. Down the left side he jotted “Your Natural Tendency in Business Relationships” and on top “How Others See You in Business Relationships.” In the upper left box he wrote the words “relational-relational.”


“The four types are split into two words,” he explained, turning the notebook so Susie could read it. “The first word represents how others see you in business relationships. The second word is your natural tendency in business relationships. Like Sheila Marie, the relational-relational person is one others see as someone who only thinks of relationships with others—how to help and how to be liked or even loved. These people rarely think of the business ramifications of their actions, or if they do, they will justify them immediately in some ‘relational’ way. So the second word has to be ‘relational,’ too.”

He then scribbled “relational-business” in the upper right box. Again, he turned the notebook so Susie could see it as he spoke. “The second type is a person who is very relational when meeting people and is truly interested in the relationship first but who, when the talk turns to business, will begin to think strategically.”

In the lower left box he wrote “business-relational.” “Note the order.” He tapped his pen on the second and third boxes twice to emphasize the point. “The third one is the reverse of the second. It’s a person who doesn’t come off at first glance as interested in a relationship as much as in pure business but who will develop deep relationships after the business is established.”

In the last empty box he wrote “business-business.”

“And the final trait is ‘business-business,’ which is simply the opposite of relational-relational. These people usually have a hard time with our little process based on relationships until they justify the time spent with those they’ve affected in some sort of purely business way—which they always do.”

“So, is one better in business than another?” Susie asked rather earnestly.

“Absolutely not. There is no right, no wrong. There is simply who we are and why we need to be comfortable with ourselves, be ourselves, and not try to imitate others. But,” he went on, “it’s important to note that without consistency and daily steps to carry out the philosophy and process, all traits are equally ineffective.

“And,” Highground continued, “if you also identify the personality trait of the person you are working with, you will become comfortable and learn how to respond appropriately. We all have the ability to change our behavior patterns. With some practice, Susie, you will internalize the process so when you meet a business-business type, you won’t spend a lot of time warming up to that person as you would with a relational-relational. You will learn when you work with a business-business to answer questions directly, quickly isolate the issues, and ask for the sale with bottom-line efficiency—because that’s what the person appreciates. After you practice the process several times you will become more at ease with it—and you will find yourself doing more business because of it.”

Smiling, Highground swiveled Susie’s notebook so that it faced him and wrote “isolate the issues, ask and answer questions directly with one’s personality in mind” below the personality boxes and turned the notebook so Susie could read it.

“That’s amazing. So what am I?”

That made Highground grin. “That’s more obvious to others right now; however, we will help you identify which you are. In fact, over the next three days you will not only identify which you are but also learn how to embrace it and apply your authentic self in everything you do.”

“So, I get to be myself and I get to work with people that trust the people that know me and trust me?”


“And the reason this process works is because it always puts the relationship first? Relationships are valued over the bottom line, and that, strangely enough, will allow my bottom line to take care of itself?”

“With a little more help from you, of course, which you’ll soon learn about, too. But yes, you’re getting the idea.”

Susie flipped the second tab in her notebook and viewed five sections, each one with a picture of a combination lock under the words “The Right Combination for Success.” She thumbed through the pages and then looked up. “Don’t take this wrong, Mr. Highground, but it seems too simple. Why doesn’t everyone do it?”

“You know that old saying that the trees are in the way of seeing the forest? It applies here. Most people are too focused on their own desires every day to think about the simplicity and rewards of just treating people right and putting their best interests before their own. But this works because it’s built on a foundational truth; it’s built on the golden rule. You know it, you learned it as a child: Do unto others …”

Susie smiled and responded, “As you would have them do unto you.”

“That’s right, Susie, and while it seems simple, it’s similar to an iceberg. It appears simple, you don’t see much on top, but when you look below the surface, it’s very large and runs deep. Remember the third question I asked you?”

Susie quickly thought. “Let’s see. ‘Are you willing to stay the course?’”

“This is where the simplicity either works or doesn’t. I’m not selling magic, Susie. My philosophy and process works because it’s based on a universal truth that, when applied, gives back significant results on a number of fronts. That last part is why I asked you if you were a ‘stay the course’ sort of person.

“As I mentioned, over the next few days you will learn a dynamic marketing system based on identifying your authentic self, implementing five principles, and building a community of clients and associates who are aligned with the real you to acquire referrals. And this is where I begin to introduce you to the people who have lived it and are excited to share it with you.” Highground pointed to the notebook. “Read the first principle, why don’t you.”

The illustration of the combination lock had an arrow pointing to the number one. And under it were these words, which Susie read aloud: Principle 1: The 250 by 250 Rule. It’s not only who you know that counts, it’s who your clients and associates know that matters most.”


She looked up at Highground.

Highground leaned forward. “Tomorrow morning, you’ll meet Sheila Marie, and that’s what she’ll teach you. You’ll also learn how she became more genuine in her business. Read on.”

Susie turned the page. There was the same picture of a combination lock, but the dial had moved to show the number two next to the pointer arrow, as if the tumblers had turned. She read the sentence below it. “Principle 2: Build a database and ABC it.”


“That will be Paul,” said Highground. “We’ll meet him for lunch and he’ll explain that and the importance of identifying your perfect client. We refer to this as your Perfect Client Avatar.” Highground pointed at the notebook again. “Okay, now. Principle 3.”

Susie turned the page. There was the same picture of the combination lock, but the dial had moved again to show the number three next to the pointer arrow. She read, Principle 3: Just Let Me Know. Educate your clients about how you work and your value to them through regular, tangible actions performed.”


Susie looked a bit confused.

Highground noticed. “Don’t worry. You’ll understand it all very soon. Philip will be explaining that principle and the power of saying no. Okay, read the fourth principle. That’ll be Sara, and she’s also amazing.”

Susie turned the page.

The lock’s pointer arrow was now pointing to the number four. She read, Principle 4: Communicate consistently, personally, and systematically.”


“Sara’s confidence was shaken once, too. Wait until you experience her enthusiasm and confidence. Sara is one of the sweetest authentic people you will ever meet. And, dynamic. She will explain the importance of developing relationships and tangible recognition.”

Susie’s feelings of the beginning of information overload resulted in a furrowed brow that confirmed she was doing her best to comprehend everything. Highground leaned in once more. “Now, read the last principle, Jeanne will outline that, and I guarantee it will be a game changer for you!”

Once more, Susie flipped the page.

The lock’s pointer now was pointing to the number five and the lock was open. For some reason, she found herself smiling at that. She read, Principle 5: Social proof is a 24/7 sales force. Leverage your testimonials, case studies, and online reviews.”


Susie said, smiling again at the opened combination lock, “Well, I certainly get the metaphor.”

Highground cocked his head toward her. “And after you meet my five ‘principled’ friends, you will find that it is much more than just a metaphor. Lots of things will open up for you—when you remember the combination, of course.”

Susie shook her head slightly, somewhat overwhelmed, and closed the notebook. “Do I keep this then?”

“Sure do. Bring it tomorrow, along with your favorite pen or pencil, because you are going to be writing some very important notes under each principle as the hours go by.”

With that, Highground got up. “Well, I bet you’re tired and a little overwhelmed. But I hope you’re also excited about tomorrow.”

Susie stood up, too. “Yes,” she said truthfully. “I am. Thank you.”

Highground’s warm knowing smile made her feel at ease. “Don’t thank me yet. You’re just starting on the journey. Be here at 8:00 a.m. to meet Sheila Marie. I’ll meet you afterward, okay?”

“You won’t be here?” Susie suddenly felt a little overwhelmed again.

“Sheila Marie will take very good care of you. Trust me. She’s relational-relational. You’ll find out very quickly what that means. She’s a fun person and she really is excited about meeting you and helping you tomorrow morning.” He cocked his head. “Know why? Because it’s her nature. It’s who she is.” With a wave, Highground was already moving toward the door. “You’re going to have a great three days, Susie,” he called back over his shoulder. And then he disappeared.

Or at least that’s what it seemed like to Susie. She looked quickly around. The coffee shop was still the soothing, fun place it always was. But something felt different. Susie reached down and touched her notebook.

“Isn’t he wonderful?” a voice said from behind her. It was Bennie, rushing by with a load of coffee mugs in his hands. “So is Sheila Marie. See you in the morning.”

How did Bennie know? With a slightly bemused shake of her head, Susie waved at Bennie, picked up the notebook, and walked outside. As she walked to her car, she glanced around as if she might see this “wonderful” Mr. Highground again.

Susie’s eyebrows arched high at that surprising reflex. I guess that’s a good sign, she said to herself. She was looking forward to the next morning. She truly was.

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