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I'm sure you've done it. I know I've done it many times: You refer a client or colleague to a supplier or vendor you know. Isn't that considered the ultimate inbound or word-of-mouth marketing? These referrers are a company's best brand ambassadors, right? But what if the referrer expects a fee? Now, that changes the game.

Here's an e-mail my hubby/business partner received from someone he knows and who has referred clients to our company for their promotional product and custom printing needs.

This email is being sent out to the ethical/competent promotional product providers I know.

You have “the products”... I, on occasion, have “the clients.”

In my business, as I’m always willing to “revenue share” with folks (in any capacity) that find me business, I expect the same.

If you “get it,” want to “play fair in the sandbox,” e mail me or call me ... "first come...first served”… and let me know what you have in mind in terms of a revenue share arrangement. FREE is not FREE anymore ... lol ...

Hmmmm. What do you think? Is this the "new" word-of-mouth marketing? Something like online affiliate marketing, but in offline mode? Sort of takes it to a different level.

I do "get it," as this e-mail states, but what I "get" is very different. If someone is going to profit when he make referrals, I think it should be clear and transparent up front. I am not, however, choosing to "play fair in the sandbox," as I truly don't see the value of this system. I think it presents a risk, aside from the fact that it creates tracking and payment homework. More admin stuff to do.

I'd like our company to receive unsolicited testimonials and referrals from real clients who go out of their way to praise our marketing services. To me, that's the real thing. These are the people who truly become our brand ambassadors. Not because they have received a referral fee.

What do you think? Is this something you would entertain for your business or company? Have you paid out referral fees? Do you get paid referral fees? Tell me how it's working.

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Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

LinkedIn: Elaine Fogel

Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel