Who should you ask for referrals to drive lead generation?
“You can ask for referrals from anyone you meet, and it’s often easier to get referrals from new contacts than from existing clients.”
Never! That’s just some of the nonsense that’s bandied about by people who think they know how referrals work. And they’re dead wrong.
I’m asked many questions about how to get started with referrals: What does a referral program look like? What’s the right way to ask for referrals? How do I measure the results of a referral program?
Below are some of your smartest questions, and my answers about how a referral program can drive lead generation.
QUESTION: What points should we make in an email request to ask for referrals?
ANSWER: Never ask for referrals in an email or on LinkedIn. Referral selling is the most personal prospecting method there is, and a digital referral request isn’t personal. In addition:
- You have no idea what kind of relationship this person has with your prospect (or if they even know each other) … until you ask.
- You miss out on the opportunity to speak with your referral source and explain the business reason for the introduction.
- You miss out on reconnecting, deepening your relationship, and finding out how you can help your referral source.
- If asked, your referral source can provide the inside track on your prospect and share insights that will help you engage and connect with that buyer. But your referral source probably won’t take the time to do so if you send a digital request.
- If your referral source doesn’t know the person you want to meet, she may very well think of others who match your ideal profile for lead generation.
The biggest reason is that you’re copping out. You think technology can do your job. It can’t. Technology is an important tool, but you’re the one who builds rapport and relationships. You power the referral and you power the close.
If you don’t know someone well enough to pick up the phone and have a real conversation, you don’t know that person well enough to ask for referrals.
QUESTION: When should I be asking for referrals from my clients?
ANSWER: Referrals are based on trust, which means you must earn the right to ask for referrals. Your existing clients are your best possible source for lead generation to qualified prospects, because you’ve definitely earned that right with them. They:
- Know first-hand the value of your products or solution
- Can attest to the ROI they’ve received from working with you
- Trust you (or else they wouldn’t do business with you)
You don’t have to wait until your solution is implemented and producing ROI. You can ask:
- During the sales process when you’ve shared valuable insights
- When clients have thanked you for your ideas or for saving their jobs
- Those with whom you and your team interact during the implementation process
QUESTION: Should I offer incentives to people who refer me?
ANSWER: Never—unless you believe in bribing. Think about it. When you provide a referral, your reputation is on the line. You refer someone you know and trust to take care of your client or colleague just as you would. Business referrals are far more powerful when they’re given out of an authentic desire to connect people who can benefit from knowing each other, rather than to get a kickback.
But always thank your referral source for introducing you. A phone call or email is definitely in order, but if you want to make a real impression, send a handwritten thank-you note immediately. People need to be acknowledged. That’s how we’re wired.
If you choose to make a donation to your referral sources’ favorite charities or take them out to lunch after the fact, those are lovely gestures and are entirely your decision. That’s a thank-you, not a bribe.
QUESTION: Must I have a close relationship to begin asking for referrals?
ANSWER: It depends on what you mean by “close.” You must have some history with a referral source. You must earn the right to ask for referrals.
Clients are your best source of referrals, but practically no one asks every single client connection for referrals. (Big mistake.)
However, there are plenty of other people in your referral network. We’re salespeople. We know when we really connect with someone (and I don’t mean online). I mean a personal connection with a client, an associate from a business group, a professional colleague, or even our friends. You know who these people are. And they’re certainly not people you met briefly at a networking event or trade show, or with whom you have second-degree connections on LinkedIn.
If you question whether a relationship is strong enough for you to ask, then it’s probably not.
QUESTION: How would you utilize a referral program if you have a limited client base?
ANSWER: If your “limited client base” are competitors, you won’t get a referral. Begin by asking for referrals to other divisions within a client’s company. Ask colleagues and people you know who they’d recommend you meet. You have a tougher task, but you can still use a referral sales strategy.
Want to Learn More About Adopting a Disciplined Referral Program?
Take my 14 “Yes/No” question Referral I.Q. Quiz and get your checklist for where to start. Completion time? Less than three minutes. Sales leaders and sales reps find the results enlightening.
Got a specific question you’ve always wanted answered? I’m working on another no-holds-barred post about how a referral program drives lead generation, and I would love to include answers to your burning questions. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.