Referral Etiquette

When you refer a client to another specialty contractor to handle part of a project, whose job is it? November 30, 2009

A couple who I had done some small thing for a while back came in to talk about some new cabinet doors and drawer faces for a bathroom. I gave them some ideas of different options and when they said they may want to refinish the cabinets to a wood finish not paint, I gave them the name to a finisher/painter. The painter called me a week or so later and asked me for a price to make some doors and drawer faces. He described the job and I said that sounds like the couple I sent to you, and he said yes it was the same job. I gave him a price and have not heard back. I had nothing in writing with the couple but would you feel comfortable sending customers to this otherwise great finisher and business man?

To me it would be like if the finisher sent me a big kitchen cabinet job and I lined up a different painter to finish the job. Is this the new times “anything goes” attitude? I had this happen twice in 27 years, where I got cut out by the person I got in. Tell me what you think.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor T:
You haven't told us the end of the story. Call the people and check status then call the painter and find out what he says happened. You may have left the people thinking they didn't need new fronts but he brought you back into it thinking he'd save some labor with new fronts from you.

From the original questioner:
They wanted new fronts to upgrade. I was surprised the painter is commandeering the job including parts he subs out. My guess is that he will tell me they found someone who could get it done sooner.

From contributor B:
Don't ever send a client to someone else for anything before you are under contract. You make the call, and you make it happen. Leave a back door open and they walk right out. Call the finisher and tell him he just cut his own throat for all future work. I bet you could find a ton of shops who would love to do your finishing for now on.

From contributor A:
Think about what you said regarding;
A minor prospect: "I had done some small thing for".
Your minimal input: "I gave them the name".
Your routine function: "I gave him a price".

Now, granted, one might expect favorable treatment from someone to whom one has made even an off-hand referral, but apparently it was such an inconsequential deal that you didn't bother to call the guy to whom you referred it to discuss it before he quoted it. Having had no idea who you were (until you belatedly told him) or how you were (minimally) involved, he apparently had a better alternative.

The (minimal) deal has likely been lost. Life goes on. I'd feel perfectly comfortable sending customers to a great finisher, regardless of whether or not I had failed to communicate a referral to him, and regardless of whether or not he ever made any effort to throw any particular job to me. Throwing work my way isn’t his job, his job is performing for his customers. He enhances your business simply because you have a quality vendor to whom you can confidently make a referral without losing any sleep or money.

From contributor F:
Just curious if you've yet asked whether they had new doors made or not. Just because they got a quote doesn't mean they had them made. They may have gotten your quote and stuck with painting the doors instead. They may have decided to do nothing. They may not have used your painter either.

Seems to me your being awful presumptive without knowing (or giving us) all the information. What you "guess" is irrelevant. You've taken the time to rant about this guy on here without knowing what actually happened! It might be more sensible to call the painter and get an update before you throw him under a bus. Maybe he is a jerk, maybe not, but if it turns out he didn't hire someone else to make the doors, well who's the jerk then?

From contributor C:
They came to you first. Don't ever refer business away, especially in this economy, period. I believe that when this economy shakes out, we will surprised to see who ends up on top. It will not be likely to be the nice referral guys, it will be the "got my ducks in a row business men."

From contributor M:
When you send a client to someone else, you never know what the client is going to tell them. If you are sending them to the painter maybe a quick call to him explaining the situation would have been best. He may have assumed that you were not interested in the job so you passed them on to him. His way of thinking may be that he figured he was doing you a favor by buying the doors from you. It might just be he misunderstood your intentions.

From contributor B:
It doesn't necessarily mean running the money through your company. You need to control the communications and actions. We have a referral network for all sorts of stuff for our clients. However no one is just sent over blindly. I tell client/prospect "I work with a company who can provide those services for you. I will have them call you ASAP". Next I make the call "Hi Mr. Johnny service provider. I have a client/prospect who needs services you provide (fill in specific job info). I am recommending you to work on this project. This is her/his name and number. Make sure you tell them that I sent you."

As a side note - everyone we refer to or get referrals from knows in advance that the work stays within our network. This is both stated and understood. The more you expand your network the more you realize everyone knows everybody somehow. To stab a referring affiliate in the back is business suicide in this climate. More importantly it is inexcusable under any circumstances.

Every referral affiliate we work with knows we have their back and I know they have mine covered. If there is someone we no longer trust to respect and serve the needs of our clients in a professional manner they are dropped from the list and replaced. We are deathly loyal to our network, as they are to us.

From contributor O:
Why didn't you hire the painter and mark up his work by 50%?Then you could have had the whole thing instead of nothing.

From the original questioner:
I called the finisher today to let him know I had a job to deliver to him tomorrow and asked about the folks and the doors. He said he quoted a price to redo the whole job and they said they would have to save up for it. Like I said in 27 years in business I have only had one or two guys get greedy and cut me out of a job I sent them. I never sent either a job since. I can't say that is the case at this point. But it just didn't feel right.

Maybe I have just been lucky or careful about whose name I give out but there has been an unwritten rule so to speak, you just don't bite the hand that feeds you. If I did not want the job I would not have given the folks a price in the first place. Another cabinet shop owner did warn me about the finisher and he said don't send a customer to him unless you have the job already. I always give everyone a chance, but am real glad that I have never been and am not dependent on this fellow to survive.

From contributor Z:
Why didn't you sub the refinish job to the painter/refinisher? When someone asks can you do something my answer is always yes and then I find someone that I can sub to. Of course, this puts you on the hook for the work they do so this is why you should keep a good database of the organizations you want to work with.

From the original questioner:
The way I mistakenly thought it would go down was I would make and hang the doors and drawer faces and the finisher would finish them and the existing cabinets in the room as needed. There was no need for me to get in the middle, the homeowner can pay directly to the sub. So I was surprised when he asked me for a price on the doors. This to me is not really about this particular job, I am not turning anything down but don't need it to survive either. It's more about trust. I make mistakes every day, and I try and learn from them.

From contributor M:
If it is his intention to steal the job away from you, why would he call you to get the doors? It doesn't make sense to me that he would involve you at all. I think he must have looked at it as if you passed the job off, especially since you didn't contact him about it.

How often do you use his services? In your way of thinking was he supposed to just give them a price on staining and send them back to you? That’s too many steps already. If you wanted to take the job and only use him for painting then you need to call him and let him know. Things like this happen when the communication cycle breaks down. There's that ugly word, assumptions.