Ensure your sales team makes time to practice these critical prospecting strategies.

Top B2B sales reps acknowledge that building their professional skills is the reason for their success. They know getting to the top of their game takes practice—deliberate practice. Just like running a marathon, mastering a sport, or becoming a virtuoso musician takes practices, so does building referral selling skills.

But adults resist practice. We get paid to do our jobs correctly the first time. Practice is on our own time, and who has extra time just floating around? Also, practice makes us uncomfortable. Jennifer Long, a senior manager at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, puts it this way:

Learning something new means being clumsy at it initially, making mistakes, course-correcting, and trying again. It’s uncomfortable. And even when we know the skill is valuable, it often makes our work more difficult at first, causing many leaders to stop trying new things and revert to old habits.

Children don’t mind being uncomfortable, so they practice all the time, without fear. Remember learning to ride a bike? You probably started with a tricycle (very safe), then got a bicycle with training wheels (safe), which you eventually dropped for a free ride (not so safe). You fell, skinned your knees, and got back on. You eventually got good, really good. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Referral selling skills aren’t built overnight either. Without regular practice, even the most experienced sellers find asking for referrals intimidating.

Want your sales team to build permanent, repeatable, effective referral selling skills? Then make time for practice. And make it a requirement—for them and for you.

Practice Makes Permanent

We all grew up hearing that practice makes perfect. Isn’t that a downer? It sets the bar too high. I gave up seeking perfection years ago. There’s no such thing. Then one of my clients said, “Practice makes permanent.”

Yes, finally a statement I understood and could promote!

I don’t like to practice either. But I go into a room with my timer, my notes, and a wall-to-wall mirror. I stumble over my words and begin again … and again. I want to stay at the top of my game, and I know that excellence in any field requires ongoing, exhausting, and sometimes embarrassing practice. My referral selling skills are sharp, and practice keeps them that way—not perfectly, but permanently.

3 Referral Selling Skills to Practice

Here’s how B2B sales professionals can keep their referral selling skills sharp:

  1. Practice Asking for ReferralsWhen salespeople receive qualified referrals, they arrive pre-sold, have instant trust and credibility, shorten the sales process, ace out the competition, and get new clients at least 50 percent of the time (most sales pros tell me it’s more than 70 percent).

    No other prospecting strategy gets results like these, which is why it’s so important to practice referral selling skills.

    Current clients are our best source of new business, but we must ask. Very few think to refer us on their own. After all, they’re focused on their businesses, not on ours. That’s why I only count on what I bring about. If we wait for referrals to happen… nothing happens. Top salespeople don’t sit back and wait.

    But a word of warning: asking clients for referrals feels uncomfortable at first for most salespeople. That’s why I advise my clients to practice in a safe environment before talking to potential referral sources. That could mean practicing alone in front of a mirror, with close friends or colleagues, or with their sales leaders.

    I also suggest salespeople find an Accountability Partner—someone to keep them on track and tell them the truth. Someone to be “in their face” and ensure they do what they say they’ll do. Someone who expects them to practice their referral selling skills and report their results.

  1. Practice Giving ReferralsWe must give to receive, right? Connecting people not only feels good, but it also turns us into a valuable, credible resource.

    I’ve built my B2B sales business entirely through asking for referrals, but I’ve given as many (or more) than I’ve received. Because my referral sources and prospects know I have a large network, they realize that I am also a great source of information that can make a difference for them. Sometimes I get non-business requests for referrals—for a dog walker, mechanic, realtor … you name it. My suggestions are invariably met with, “I knew you would know someone.” What a great compliment!

    Your salespeople should actively look for opportunities to give referrals as often as possible. They could refer resources to your clients; refer your clients to their prospects; or refer other salespeople who aren’t your competitors.

  1. Practice Your Follow-ThroughYou’ve probably heard the saying, “The fortune’s in the follow-up.” Make that follow-up call. Nothing beats a personal conversation. There’s no excuse today for not following up—immediately—with clients, prospects, and referral sources. You can send an email, or better yet, send a handwritten note. We receive so few handwritten notes these days. Which mail do you open first? Not the gas bill.

    Following up is an important part of prospecting. People forget about us if they haven’t heard from us—especially today. Everyone craves conversation and a personal touch in this pandemic world, so it makes a difference when salespeople initiate a follow-up call and make an effort to keep in touch.

    When you follow up, you learn how you can help your clients and prospects. Give away as much as possible. To support your outreach, develop a marketing campaign and send relevant information on a regular basis. I send a quarterly newsletter, and each month I get a response from several people I haven’t heard from in years. For some reason, the message was timely, and they’re ready to talk. Some just write that my message spoke to them—nothing more. That feels great.

Don’t let your team get by without practicing these and other critical referral selling skills. Practice becomes your game-changing, compelling event.

Practice is your sales organization’s prospecting future. Practice makes permanent!

Talk to Joanne about how to improve your team’s referral selling skills. Choose a date and time to schedule a complimentary 30-minute call.

(This post was originally published on November 3, 2016 and updated August 25, 2020.)