Referral ProgramYour marketing strategy is doomed without practice.

Why is it that companies spend tons of money on client events, company celebrations, sales incentives, and work-life balance perks like childcare, but then they skimp on investing in building permanent, repeatable sales skills for their teams? Sure, they provide “training,” but training without reinforcement, coaching, accountability, and practice is a waste of time and money.

When sales leaders ask about the duration of my referral program, I reply that it’s 90-plus days, including the initial skills building and then ongoing follow-up and practice.

That’s when the pushback begins: They can’t spare that much of their sales reps’ time. Couldn’t I just do “something” in a half-day session?

Of course I could. But it wouldn’t make any difference in the skills of their sales reps.

It’s the same problem over and over again for B2B sales. We want it now. We’re in such a hurry to check the box that we’ve trained our sales reps that we don’t invest time into what actually makes training successful—practice and accountability.

Even though a referral program is essential to a company’s marketing strategy, sales leaders discount the time, energy, and investment (yes, investment) that it takes to execute a referral program and clock repeatable, measurable referral results.

The Practice Payoff for a Referral Program

I took piano lessons as a young girl. Many times I forgot to practice, and I thought my teacher wouldn’t notice. She always noticed. I never got away with not practicing.

As adults, we can’t get away with skipping practice either. Believe it: Your clients and prospects notice, because there’s a big difference between a salesperson who is an expert and one who hasn’t put in the time to be great.

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

He refers to a study by K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, which found that achieving true mastery at performing a complex task requires 10,000 hours of practice. Yikes!

Reality check: Becoming a world-class expert requires 10,000 hours of practice, because it takes the brain that long to assimilate everything it needs to know for mastery. The rest of us (real people) don’t need 10,000 hours of practice to be at the top of our B2B sales game. But we do need regular practice. And I’m willing to bet that your sales reps need more than they’re currently getting.

Deliberate Practice

Success isn’t handed to us. In his article, “What It Takes to Be Great,” Fortune magazine’s senior editor at large, Geoffrey Colvin, writes: “Research now shows that the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. The secret? Painful and demanding practice and hard work.”

Colvin states that top performers do what researchers call “deliberate practice,” which he defines as “an activity designed to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.”

He gives the following example:

Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day—that’s deliberate practice.

It’s the same for your B2B sales reps. Without deliberate practice, feedback, and coaching, they’ll only dabble in new skills. They won’t actually change their behavior, and your referral program will be DOA. This is true for any skills-building opportunity. If it doesn’t include feedback, coaching, and reinforcement, it won’t yield any long-term results.

It takes more than a few days of practice before someone can fly a plane, play a game of golf with a 10 handicap, become a master chef, or win a gold medal in the 400-meter swim at the Olympics. So why do sales leaders skimp on investing in the most important sales skill of all—getting referrals?

Some sales leaders fool themselves into thinking that if their teams receive a little training, they’ll practice on their own time. However, most sales reps resist practice, even with proof right in front of them. Why? Because they don’t get paid to practice. They get paid to sell.

B2B sales reps in the top 10 percent operate differently. They determine the critical, deal-breaking skills needed for sales success, and they take a deep dive into honing those skills. These super-sales achievers narrow their focus and relentlessly learn and apply new sales skills by committing to daily practice. Yes, daily practice.

Want your team to be made up of top percentile sales pros? Then it’s up to you as the sales leader to make practice a requirement, an integral part of your culture, and a major component of any new skills-building opportunity, especially referral selling.

To learn more about implementing a scalable referral program for your team, contact me at 415.461.8763 or

account-based sales

Connect with No More Cold Calling

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