When Asking for Referrals Can Hurt Account-Based Sales

account-based salesAvoid this digital danger zone!

As comedic director Woody Allen once said, 80 percent of success is showing up. Some readers might not know who Woody Allen is, and that’s OK. Just trust me: He was absolutely right on this point. Showing up matters, especially for account-based sales pros—whether it’s showing up in the right place at the right time, showing up to learn, or just showing up to connect.

But showing up is more complicated than it was when Woody made that quip. Today, when looking for qualified sales leads, we must show up in person and online. Either way, the goals are the same for account-based sales reps—to develop connections and build relationships. The trick is knowing when digital communication is appropriate, and which interactions require in-person communication.

Asking for referrals? That requires an actual conversation.

Digital Referrals? Not for Account-Based Sales!

Your account-based selling team breaks all the rules of social selling when they ask for referrals on LinkedIn. Social selling is about connecting and engaging people, not actually selling online.

Selling—and referral selling in particular—requires real relationships, not just social media connections. Most people only refer people they know well and trust implicitly. If you don’t know someone well enough to make a phone call, you don’t know that person well enough to be asking for referrals.

Even when you do know referral sources well, a conversation is still in order—for two reasons:

  1. Until you talk to potential referral sources, you don’t know the nature of their relationships with your prospects. Do they even know those people well enough to make introductions? Just because two people are connected on LinkedIn doesn’t mean they actually know each other, much less trust each other.
  2. You waste the opportunity to reconnect with referral sources and nurture those important relationships.

Don’t let your account-based sales team hide behind technology and forget how to have real conversations. Conversation is key to problem-solving and relationship-building, which are both critical in sales. And considering the art of conversation is becoming an increasingly unique skill set, it can also be your team’s competitive advantage.

Referral Selling IS Social Selling

You can automate many things in sales, but you can’t automate relationships—or referral selling. However, technology can help with both.

Social selling is a smart way to expedite the sales process by researching potential clients and identifying referral sources. It’s also a great way for salespeople to engage audiences with valuable content and build their reputations as experts, thought leaders, and social influencers.

Yes, savvy account-based sales reps also make new connections on social media, but to turn those connections into relationships, they take the conversations offline. And when they get ready to ask for referral introductions, they:

  • Pick up the damn phone
  • Find out how their referral sources know the prospects they want to meet
  • Clearly articulate the business reason for the introduction

Account-based selling hasn’t really changed over the decades. Success still hinges on understanding what buyers need, collaborating on solutions, delivering results, and then asking for referrals. Technology is only a tool. A salesperson’s greatest asset is—and always will be—relationships.

Build Relationships and Earn the Right to Ask for Referrals

There’s a direct correlation between the strength of personal connections and sales success. Referral selling is personal. Referral selling is social. Therefore, referral sellers must be social.

Account-based sales pros need to nurture their networks and earn those qualified sales leads. Here are three ways sales leaders can jump-start personal connections for their teams:

  1. Make them go out for lunch. Lunch is the perfect time for reps to meet with clients or referral sources, catch up, and find out how they can be of service. It’s also a great time to be asking for referrals. One of my clients asks his sales team to schedule five lunches and four breakfasts every week.
  2. Create valuable content for them to share. Enlist help from marketing to create thought leadership content that salespeople can pass along to their clients—not salesy content, but industry insights and helpful tips that customers will want to read.
  3. Ensure they know how to use social networks. Social sites are for beginning conversations and beginning relationships. They are not appropriate platforms to sell or pitch products, or to ask for referrals. Reps must know when it’s time to take online conversations offline and make connections that count.

Just as importantly, ensure account-based sales reps know how to ask for referrals. Done right, referral selling is the fastest way to land and expand into named accounts. All it takes is strong relationships and a referral system to consistently churn out qualified sales leads.

account-based sales

Connect with No More Cold Calling

Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Copyright: dotshock / 123RF Stock Photo

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2 Responses to When Asking for Referrals Can Hurt Account-Based Sales

  1. These are really valuable insights, and a different look at asking referrals online. Although some articles said this is okay, but this makes more sense. It’s true that not everyone on your network knows each other that much. But just a questions: you mentioned these 3 ways to build relationships online (to get referrals), but what if they’re hesitant to connect with you outside social media? What if they could easily sense that you’re only trying to build a relationship with them online so you could ask for referrals?

    • Thanks for your question, Brooke. The three ways I mention are to continue to build relationships. However, current and recent-past clients are our best source of referrals, and you’ve certainly earned the right to ask. You haven’t earned the right to ask if all you have is a social media connection.

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