Rampant Referrals For MSPs – Part 6


As a quick recap from last time, you’ll remember that the subject was all about motivation and how motivation (both internally for staff and externally for clients and suppliers) can be likened to a force to make things happen. I used the analogy of Newton’s 3 laws of motion to outline how people (instead of objects) require motivation to take action.

As far as the external sabotage went, the dimensions were :
Poorly considered incentives – i.e. incentives that were inappropriate or poorly matched.
Friction within referral programmes, where simplicity had been sacrificed for unnecessary complexity.
Supplier ‘Secrecy Effect‘ – i.e. where clients want to keep their supplier secret, so as not to lose their hold or control over that supply.
Social Risk – i.e. people worried about how referrals might reflect badly if they go wrong.
Lack of Trust – We looked at how a lack of trust can be a barrier and finally (and once again), we looked at how a lack of “WOW!” can simply mean that referrals aren’t forthcoming.


In this section, I want to cover a subject that is perhaps a little more delicate than others and that’s because it involves personalities. The fact of the matter is that companies are made of people and people have personalities and not all personality traits are conducive to getting more referrals. I’ve conducted enough research personally (with clients of MSPs) to know that it’s really important for them to feel appreciated and understood by their MSPs and this doesn’t always happen.

And I get it, I really do! It’s hard running a business and there are times when you just want to scream. And that’s you, the owner, who live and breathe your business. On top of that, you’ll have staff who have different motivations and aspiration to you, as well as different personalities. So, looking at the backdrop to this, we have an industry which notoriously attracts people which – shall we say – could be more likely than some other industries to be introverts and very technically minded, yet perhaps with less social skills than other industries, such as people in hospitality industry like holidays reps or the care industry such as social workers.

But even for the best of people, the work itself can be very challenging with high-pressure situations, demanding work hours, complex technical troubleshooting and difficult clients, all of which can lead to challenges and these manifest – ultimately as a lack of referrals.

The main culprits here are :

Underestimating the Importance of Soft Skills: Companies may focus on technical skills and ignore the importance of soft skills like empathy, communication, and problem-solving, which are crucial for high-quality service.

Neglecting the Emotional Aspect of Service: Failing to recognize and address the emotional needs and responses of customers can lead to a misunderstanding of overall service satisfaction.

Lack of Personal Connection: No personal relationship or rapport with the business owners or representatives, reducing loyalty or inclination to refer.

Lack of Professionalism: Unprofessional behaviour (such as gossip or being late) or even just a shoddy appearance by staff can significantly deter referrals.

Personality Traits to Foster

So, a little research suggests that the main dimensions that help keep people happy (and promote sales and referrals) are :   empathy, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, and likeability. These traits are widely recognised in sales training and psychology literature as being crucial.

I’m going to assume for now that your staff are technically competent and that the response time is quick. Speed and competence are the two most important factors my research yielded. In terms of those personality traits, clearly this will involve time invested in training in terms of soft-skills.

However, as a whistle-stop tour, these are the components to consider for each.

1 – Empathy
Improving empathy involves actively listening to others, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and responding with care and understanding. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and reacting in a way that acknowledges their feelings. To enhance empathy, one effective method is to engage in reflective listening, where you reflect back what the other person has said, showing that you understand. “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman is a good start I’d suggest, as it provides insights into understanding and managing emotions in yourself and others.

2 – Trustworthiness
Improving trustworthiness centres on consistently being honest and reliable in your actions and communications. It’s about making promises you can keep and then keeping those promises, which builds a reputation of reliability over time. Demonstrating integrity in all dealings, being transparent about your intentions and mistakes, and treating confidential information with respect also enhance trustworthiness. It’s all part of being congruent – in your words and your actions. For this reason, it’s important not to make promises you can’t keep – and that can be difficult for people-pleasers !

Reading “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen Covey can provide deeper insights into creating trust in personal and professional relationships, emphasising how trust can significantly accelerate success.

3 – Enthusiasm

Some people have bags of enthusiasm don’t they Just how do they do it? Well, I personally think that half the battle is ensuring that you have the right people in the right role. If people are doing something they love – no matter how geeky it is, their enthusiasm will shine through. If you’ve ever been to a gaming convention or a battle reenactment event or something like that, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

So, how do you cultivate this in a job for someone? Well, for starters, they shouldn’t see it as a job – they should see it as a career and a lifestyle choice.

Boosting enthusiasm involves cultivating a positive attitude and passion for your work, projects, or goals. This can be achieved by setting challenging yet achievable goals, celebrating small wins, and finding aspects of your work that you genuinely love or find meaningful. Engaging with motivational content, such as podcasts, Ted Talks, or books, can also inspire enthusiasm. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink explores the roots of motivation and can help anyone find ways to foster enthusiasm in themselves and others.

4 – Likeability

Well, this is a hard one. Especially for me as I was more than just a bit of a geek at school.

It’s been shown in various studies that people who are likeable, popular and attractive tend to be viewed as more trustworthy and persuasive and influential than others.

It’s called the “halo effect” and it lead people to misattribute characteristics like trustworthiness to individuals based on unrelated traits, such as physical attractiveness. This cognitive bias means the positive impression created by one aspect (like appearance) unduly influences perceptions in other areas, without justified reasons.

All of which – once again – might be a bit of a blow, especially for someone like me who’s fat, bald, wears glasses and is a bit of an introvert at heart. So – what can we do about it?

Well, firstly let’s look at the things we can control, such as a bit of self-discipline. Taking the time to turn up to work smart, tidy, well groomed, well dressed will dramatically help. I’m always completely mesmerised by how women can absolutely transform themselves and I have no doubt that men are just as capable of it.  Uniforms have been shown to increase trust and compliance workplace settings. A clean, tidy and well organised workspace and a clean and tidy vehicle are a must, I’d suggest – obviously even ore so if the vehicles are used for site visits.

Improving likeability often means showing genuine interest in others, being kind, and practicing positive communication. It involves active listening, smiling, and being mindful of your body language to ensure it’s open and welcoming. Reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie offers timeless advice on being more likable by showing appreciation for others, remembering people’s names, and encouraging others to talk about themselves, which are key strategies for making positive impressions and building rapport.

Simple wins here include putting the little-details about people in the company CRM.

People respond disproportionally well to compliments and gifts. So maybe have a stock of free promotional items – useful ones –  that people can give to people in person or post out if they’re away. That could be anything from screen-wipes to branded chocolates.. In studies, people who received compliments were about twice as persuaded undertake requests as the control group. Obviously, this needs to be done carefully so as not to come across as a cheesy second-hand-car saleman man or tv game show host.

My research into this suggests that the main characteristics that apparently make people more likeable which we can control are similarity, agreeableness, and a lack of aggression.

Showing similarity can be anything from having the same accent as someone to supporting the same football team or even having the same birthday. I’d suggest a little research here can pay dividends. Being agreeable and showing a lack of aggression is something that I guess would have to be practised – it’s certainly something I personally struggle with – especially as I find myself getting older and more grouchy.

One particular study showed that two types of behaivour were highly relevant to likeability as well and they were being agentic and communal.

Agentic behaviors are those that show confidence, dominance, and are slightly boastful. This is inline with studies that show so-called alpha tend to instil compliance and are more popular. Note that being popular and being likeable are not the same. Some people are popular and they’re not nice at all.

Communal behaviors include being polite, warm, friendly, and benevolent – i.e. kind to people.

All of these skills and behaviours may not come naturally to some people so I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps some time invested in training and soft-skills would be time well spent. In my case, I’ve had to learn this because I come from a sales background but there may be a perception among support staff that it’s not as important but I strongly believe that would be a mistake.

Next time, we’ll be looking into communication and how this can be sabotaged, which will also dramatically reduces referral flow.

Reinhard, Messner and Sporer, S.L. (2006)
Messner & Sporer (2008)
Nagel, Giunpero, Jung et al (2021)


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Mike Knight