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How Getting Referrals Got Me to the Protected C-Suite

canstockphoto15913163Lead generation isn’t so tough when you’re asking for referrals.

I hung up the phone, feeling excited and still a bit nervous. I’ve been selling for decades, but I’d never spoken with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Yet, getting Bill on the phone was surprisingly easy, thanks to a referral from someone he trusts.

My referral source, Larry, is one of Bill’s largest clients. I asked Larry what’s important to Bill, what he’s like, and which of my messages would resonate best. Larry shared some fun stories that weren’t exactly off-color, but probably weren’t common knowledge. (That’s the best part of getting referrals: leveraging the insights of your referral source.)

Time invested: 30 minutes

Larry introduced us via email, and Bill asked for a copy of my book, Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. I autographed a copy and mailed it with a handwritten note.

Time invested: 10 minutes … and a $5.90 priority mail stamp

When I was certain Bill had received the book, I called his office, knowing I would speak with his executive assistant (or to use the sales term, his “gatekeeper”). It’s Jeanne’s job to protect her boss’s time, to screen calls, and to keep his calendar. But she was happy to take my call because I had been referred.

Jeanne knew exactly who I was. She laughed (as everyone does) when I mentioned the title of my book. She confirmed it was on Bill’s desk and set an appointment for three weeks out.

Time invested: 5 minutes

I called Bill at the appointed date and time, and Jeanne patched me through right away. I had no agenda for the meeting, so I asked what he would like to accomplish. He said it was up to me, as he always learns from anyone Larry refers.

We had an amazing 30-minute conversation. I learned that Bill’s son is in sales and what his challenges are. I also learned what Bill wants and doesn’t want from salespeople: He doesn’t want a pitch and doesn’t want someone asking the same surface-level questions everyone asks. He wants insights, new ways of thinking, and unique ideas for his business. Because I delivered all of that, he offered to introduce me to others on his team.

Time invested: 30 minutes

I was blown away by what happened next. Bill introduced me to Ken, his senior vice president with worldwide responsibility. Ken’s first words to me: “I’m here to help you get whatever you want to achieve with us.” Ken made introductions, and I began getting referrals to key players in the company.

Time invested: 30 minutes

I’m sure you want to know how much business I closed. None yet. We have a proposal on the table for a new, budgeted business initiative. We’ve had the conversations we needed to have, and I’m still getting referrals to others in the same company.

Time invested: 3 hours

Lessons learned:

  • The bigger the company, the longer deals take
  • The more senior the people, the more gracious they are
  • Getting referrals from trusted referral sources works every time

Total time invested: 4 hours, 45 minutes 

Worth it? You bet. Even if this deal falls through (which I don’t expect to happen), I’ve learned a lot and built invaluable relationships with senior business leaders.

Want to Get Meetings at the Level that Counts?

Many salesmen and saleswomen would give their right arm for a chance to bypass all the middlemen and talk directly to the CEO. But that almost never happens, because CEOs and other senior decision-makers have a powerful weapon at their disposal—their trusty gatekeepers.

These assistants will shut cold callers down without a second thought. The only way to get past their watchful eye is to be an expected and welcome call, which requires asking for referrals.

Referred salespeople get meetings. Reps using cold lead generation techniques get hung up on.

Newsflash: Most C-suite executives do not respond to cold calls or emails, and neither do their gatekeepers. Some salesmen think they can get away with cold calling and pretending to be best buddies with their prospects. But gatekeepers can smell phoniness a mile away.

One assistant told me many cold callers lie and say the CEO asked them to reach out. Most are cocky; others are downright rude; and some try to lay on the charm.  Many of them keep calling and calling, hoping to eventually get past her. But gatekeepers are good at their job. So duplicitous cold callers always get shut down.

Referred salespeople, on the other hand, never have to use duplicitous tactics to bypass the gatekeeper. Instead, the assistant welcomes their calls. No lies necessary.

Referrals: They’re Hot, Hot, Hot!

Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz, Ed.D.—authors of Selling to the CSuite—asked executives why they would take a meeting with a salesperson. The top two reasons:

  1. A referral from someone within their company
  2. A referral from a trusted source outside the executive’s company

Clearly, getting referrals matters. When you adopt a referral program, you shorten your sales process by at least 30 percent, arrive pre-sold, gain the prospect’s trust, eliminate the competition, and attract new clients well more than 50 percent of the time. No other sales prospecting strategy comes close to a referral program.

When sales reps commit to getting referral introductions, they walk right in and close that newfound referral business! The gatekeeper has left the building.

Join the Conversation: When have you gotten a referral to an ideal prospect? How did that sales lead work out for you?

Ready to learn how to make referrals work for you? Click here to get started.

Connect with No More Cold Calling

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

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6 Responses to How Getting Referrals Got Me to the Protected C-Suite

  1. This is a classic sales technique that a lot of us push to the side thinking it’s easier to send cold emails, use social media, using “inbound marketing.” At the end of the day as at the beginning of the day, we want to do business with people we know and trust.

    Great article!

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  4. Tom says:

    I use the if/then referral approach. If I can deliver on time, on budget, as promised, etc then would you be able to introduce me to someone else (I’m always specific here, IE in your company, that you work with, in the corporate office, etc).

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