Think Referrals Don’t Scale?

Think again. Build your sales business with a targeted referral-selling strategy that includes goals, metrics, and accountability for results—and you’ll have more business than you know what to do with.

I believe in referrals because referral selling works. But there’s always a naysayer:

“It would be great if sales reps could build their business solely on referrals. However, referrals are a limited source of new business, and referrals often result in many unqualified leads and low-level decision-makers.”

That’s a typical referral-sales objection. It surfaces quite frequently in online forums. Every objection can be anticipated, so I’m going to cut this one off at the pass.

Limited? Unqualified? Low level? Get real.

Here’s my rebuttal. But first:

  • The definition of a referral:
    re·fer·ral [ri-furuhl]

noun

> a person recommended to someone or for something.
> in sales and business development: a referral means you receive an introduction. If you just get a name, you are making a cold call (or sending a cold email—or worst of all, knocking on doors).

Address the Sales Objection

Limited?

Referral selling is a daily discipline with goals, metrics, and accountability. Each salesperson determines the number of people he will ask for referrals each week. He also leverages the connections of everyone in his company. Who does the CEO know, the mail clerk, the customer service representative?

When we receive a referral introduction, we convert that prospect to a new client more than 50 percent of the time—and that’s without factoring the power of the new relationship, reduction in our sales process, eliminating the competition, and reducing the cost of sales.

Smart salespeople use sales-intelligence tools like InsideView  to identify the people they want to meet. They research and get links and connections in one place and save hours a week scouring for relevant data.

Unqualified?

The key to referral introductions is to help your referral source identify companies that meet your qualifications. You determine the criteria—company size, geography, budget, industry, business issues, etc.  (Click here to define your Ideal Client)

Low Level?

You get what you ask for, so ask for exactly the person you want to meet. Don’t mess around and say “anyone who…” You know the name and title of your decision maker. My clients are Sales VPs, and those are exactly the people I meet. I ask every VP: Would we be meeting if I hadn’t been introduced? The answer is always no. (Here’s how to get your referral introduction.)

Want to call high? Research about why executives take a meeting with a salesperson spotlights referrals: Referrals from within their organization and referrals from a trusted source outside of their organization. In fact, one of my clients said that he’s meeting with his decision-maker, when his competition is still figuring out who that person is.

When Are You Asking?

Many sales people wait to ask for a referral until they have closed a sale—or until they have implemented their solution (even longer). This harkens back to old insurance tactics, when an agent would deliver a policy and then ask the client to send a letter to 10 or 20 of his best friends. What a disrespectful ploy.

Ask for a referral anytime during your sales process when you deliver value. How will you know? Most likely your client will say thank you, or let you know that you gave them a good idea, or delivered useful information. (When is the right time to ask for a referral?)

Who are the people on your sales, implementation, and customer service teams who touch your clients? Each one of them has relationships within your client company. Picture this: Everyone on your team asks their client contacts for your ideal referral introduction. Still think referrals don’t scale?

How Are You Asking?

You may think referrals don’t scale because you’re asking the wrong question. Here’s the one I hear frequently: “If you know anyone who would benefit from my services, please let them know.” This question does nothing except you now say “Phew, I can check that off my list.” A better question is “Who are one or two people I should meet?” Then take the time to learn about these folks and be sure to ask for an introduction. Without an introduction, you can count yourself in the pit of cold callers.

I know you’re better than that. Build your sales business with a targeted referral-selling strategy with goals, metrics, and accountability for results.

It works, and it scales.

Comment Here

What are you doing to build your targeted referral-selling strategy? What’s missing? We can fill the gaps together. Comment here and continue the conversation. I personally respond to all thoughtful comments.

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7 Responses to Think Referrals Don’t Scale?

  1. Adam W says:

    Hi Joanne,

    I read your book and appreciated it. As a sales supervisor, I have actively implemented referral selling.

    My problem is this. How do I get an introduction? I work with higher ticket sales by phone all over the US and abroad. Nobody feels comfortable picking up the phone to introduce me on the spot, plus if feels pushy.

    The best think I’ve tried is asking them to email the referee and copy me in as an introduction. But, sometimes they supposedly email the friend but don’t copy me in.

    Ugh!

    Thanks for what you do!

    • Joanne Black says:

      Hi Adam:

      It’s a bit more challenging to ask for referrals over the phone than in person. In either case, you need to earn the right to ask.

      If you’re speaking with a current client and they’ve used your services, that is the place to start. Have the conversation you learned in my book. Then, follow up with an email to the person explaining in just a few sentences why you want to meet their contact. Be sure you speak in terms of business results.

      They can then forward that email to their contact and add their own comments. They should reach out to their connection first, get the ok, and then copy you on an email introducing the two of you.

      I’d be glad to discuss if you’d like to call.

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