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How to Lose Your Best Referral Sources

The fortune is in the follow-up for account based sales teams.

Julian wasted no time in telling me he was the top account based sales rep at his company. I asked if he attributed his success to asking for referrals. Mostly, he said, but he could do better. He described his target prospect, and as luck would have it, I had the perfect referral.

I phoned two of my contacts and got important competitive information. The company had piloted Julian’s software and decided it didn’t work for them. That gave me pause as to why Julian was successful. After all, he should have been privy to this information. Still, he needed to know, so I sent him an email saying that I’d spoken with my contacts and had “intel” for him.

No response. I wrote to him through LinkedIn. No response. I checked his profile, and yes, he was still with the same company.

Was I angry? You bet. I’d spent time trying to help him. On top of that, he offered to introduce me to the person who ran the account based sales team at his company. That never happened. Julian was guilty of the most egregious mistake that sales reps make—not following up. To use the millennial term, he “ghosted” me. In the process, he lost valuable information and qualified sales leads.

Are Your Account Based Sales Reps Ghosting Their Referral Networks?

Julian’s mistake isn’t uncommon. Sadly, this behavior is rampant. Account based sales reps tell me their greatest challenge is how to generate leads, and yet they haven’t followed up with referrals sitting on their desks.

Really? They received those referrals from people who know and trust them. Those people put their reputations on the line when they made the introductions. By not following up promptly, salespeople damage their relationships—probably forever—with their referral sources. Just as importantly, they miss out on qualified sales leads to prospects who actually want to talk to them.

Everyone knows that referrals are the shortest path to a sale, especially for account based sales teams. Referred sellers get every meeting with one call and close business well more than 50 percent of the time. All their leads are qualified, because they receive personal introductions to their ideal prospects. That’s how to generate leads that help sales teams land and expand.

But asking for referrals isn’t the only reason your account based sales team should be reaching out to their networks. They should also be following up to say thanks.

Mind Your Manners and Say Thanks (Ideally in Writing)

What’s your follow-up after you receive a referral introduction? It had better be a thank-you. When my clients ask if they should send a note, make a call, or send an email to express gratitude for a referral, I answer “yes.” You can never thank someone enough. But my favorite method is still a handwritten note.

Writing thank-you notes is not old fashioned, or fuddy-duddy, or Luddite. Writing a thank-you note shows that you actually care enough to take the time and energy and focus to thank someone for their time. Our world is fast-paced. It’s connected, electronic, wireless, character-limited, and immediate. And that has made person-to-person communication easy. But with that ease—the off-the-cuff email or text—comes a casualness that doesn’t communicate, “You are worth my real time.”

With whom should salespeople follow up?

  • Referral Sources: People really do enjoy connecting good people, and referral sources want to know when they’ve made a perfect referral. Treat your referral sources like gold. They’ve gone out of their way to introduce your team, and once they know what you need, they will send more referrals your way. Follow up.
  • New and Current Clients: Thank your new clients for their business and show your appreciation. They are your premier source of referrals to others just like themselves. We often think clients should automatically refer us, but most of the time, they won’t unless they’re asked. They have their own businesses to run, and your account based sales reps are not top of mind for them. You must ask. Follow up.
  • Prospects: Even if you don’t write business with a prospect now, they want to know you value the relationship and will continue to stay in touch. You become a trusted resource. Offer to be a sounding board for ideas—no strings attached. Maybe they’re not ready now, but they might become a client later. At the very least, they could be a great source of referrals. Follow up. 

Maybe I’m from another planet. I was taught that when you receive a gift, you say thank you. It’s polite and respectful. A thank-you goes a long way—thanks for a referral, thanks for new business, thanks for the meeting. If your team doesn’t follow up, what message does that send? To me, it says your salespeople aren’t trustworthy. I’d think twice about giving them a referral, because if account based sales reps don’t follow through with me, how will they treat my clients?

The fortune is in your follow-up!

Want to help your team nurture their networks and generate sales leads? Invite Joanne to speak at your Sales Kickoff Meeting, and your reps will learn how to fill their pipelines with referral introductions.

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