Pointing fingers doesn’t change anything.
Why? Why? Why don’t account based selling teams ask for referrals? Why is asking for referrals ad hoc and not a discipline? It makes no sense at all, because every sales leader and account based sales rep knows that referrals are their hottest leads and best business.
Are you wondering? I was. So, I asked around on LinkedIn and got lots of answers, many of which I shared in a recent blog post. Now, here’s my point of view and advice for sales leaders about how to overcome the five organizational barriers that stand in the way of your team asking for referrals.
Sales leaders, here’s what you’re up against:
1. Your Account Based Sales Reps Fear Rejection
Let’s set the record straight: Most everyone on your sales team has call reluctance, whether they’re cold calling or asking for referrals.
Many account based sales reps find it harder to ask their referral networks for introductions than to cold call strangers. Ironic, yet it makes complete sense. Cold callers are just “dialing for dollars” and have no connection to the people they’re calling. When someone hangs up on them or is rude, they just move to the next name on the list. No harm, no foul.
Referral selling is the most personal kind of selling on the planet. Our reputations are on the line. We’re not talking to faceless strangers. We’re talking to clients, business associates, colleagues, or friends. We worry:
- What if they say “no”? (Crushing.)
- Will asking for help imply weakness or suggest my business is struggling? (Not cool!)
- Isn’t it intrusive or even arrogant to ask a busy person to do something for us? (No one wants to be known as a pushy salesperson.)
Reps are often so apprehensive about having the referral conversation that they don’t make the call. And that’s a total waste. Referrals aren’t an imposition, and asking for them isn’t pushy. In fact, most people enjoy connecting people who could help each other. When we make referrals, we help out everyone involved—including ourselves. We introduce a credible resource, save the other person valuable time, and endear ourselves to both connections.
2. You Haven’t Made Referral Selling the Priority
Notice that the word “priority” is singular. You can only do one thing first. You commit to referral selling as your #1 outbound prospecting strategy.
Referral selling is not just one more initiative to introduce to your organization. To successfully shift your account based sales team to referral selling takes accountability, reinforcement, and coaching. It means integrating referral selling into your sales process and making it your #1 priority. And it all starts with you—the sales leader.
You must commit to the transition, let everyone know you are becoming a referral selling organization, and get your entire sales team on board. Align all systems in your organization (including recruiting, training, and compensation) to support the referral selling process. Help your team understand why referrals are the key to surpassing their quotas. If getting referrals isn’t your priority, it won’t be theirs.
3. Your KPIs Are Messed Up
Account based sales organizations haven’t established metrics for referrals or performance indicators for success. If account based sales teams are measured on the number of dials they make, emails they send, and their social media activity, that’s what they’ll do. However, if they’re measured on referral activities and have accountability for results, guess what happens?
Setting the right KPIs is your biggest competitive differentiator. Measure the right sales activities, manage to those activities, and coach your account based sales reps on the behaviors that turn those activities into revenue.
Measuring referral activities is simple. Weekly metrics for each rep roll up into monthly and quarterly metrics. Measure the number of:
- People asked each week
- Referrals received
- Meetings scheduled
- Meetings conducted
- Deals closed through referrals
More importantly, coach reps based on these activities. Keep your reps accountable and on track by asking specific questions, such as:
- Who will you ask for referrals? Get names
- What are the outcomes you expect? Get metrics
- What are your discussion topics? Get these in writing
4. Referral Selling Is a Behavior Change
It’s a skill that must be learned, practiced, reinforced, and coached. Want predictable revenue? Don’t just tell your account based sales reps to ask for referrals. Pointing and telling never works. If you’re just telling your reps to ask for referrals, you might get a live one now and again. But that’s not a prudent method to grow revenue.
If that’s all you do, answer this question: How’s that working for you?
Even if your account based selling team rarely asks for referrals, when you do a good job for your clients, people will occasionally send referrals your way. But what if referrals weren’t just random, lucky breaks? Imagine the impact on your sales, revenue, and profits if your team asked every single customer, colleague, and friend for referrals.
Better yet, referred customer aren’t just “any” customers. Because salespeople tell their referral sources exactly who they want to meet, they get introduced to your ideal clients. The ones with the big bucks. The ones who value what you offer, treat you well, tell the truth, and pay you on time (maybe even a little early). Not only does your sales process shorten, but you’ve built new and stronger relationships with your network. You haven’t added to your payroll, and your competition is non-existent.
5. Your Salespeople Are Lazy
It’s true. I know it and you know it, so let’s stop tip-toeing around it. Technology has made everyone a little lazy, including salespeople. Too many account based selling teams over-rely on technology to reach their prospects. They believe the fastest ways into the C-suite are digital: targeted emails, cold calls, social media outreach, and inbound marketing automation.
This digital dependence actually decreases productivity and extends the time it takes to reach a decision-maker. The goal of account based sales development is to land and expand within named accounts. The best way to do that doesn’t require an internet connection. It requires personal connections—referral introductions from current clients.
Despite what you’ll often hear from technology gurus about lead generation tools, sales success isn’t determined by who has the best technology; it’s determined by who has the best relationships.
Customers buy because they like and trust your account based selling team—or because someone they like and trust has referred your team. Selling is (and has always been) a person-to-person business. We will never replace real human engagement with tweets and status updates, or with automated lead generation tools. That’s why smart account based sales reps never stop nurturing their networks, and why asking for referrals is the most effective of all account based sales development tools.
But for your team to make referrals happen, you have to show them how. You need a systematic, disciplined referral selling strategy that includes goals, metrics, and accountability for results.
Referral selling transforms everything it touches. When you commit to referral selling and integrate it into your sales process, your team will bring in more qualified leads, foster better long-term relationships with customers, land and expand within client organizations, decrease your cost of sales, and generate more revenue than ever before. And best of all, your reps will never have to cold call again. Why would you have them waste time doing anything else?