Isn’t your team tired of cold calling?

It takes roughly eight touches for sales reps to reach cold prospects. Is that how you want your sales reps spending their time—cold calling strangers who don’t answer the phone or respond to emails until they’ve been pestered EIGHT times? The #1 challenge salespeople face is reaching decision-makers quickly, but getting prospects to call you back is deceptively simple with a referral program.

Receive a referral introduction from someone your sales prospect trusts, and you will always receive a call back. No cold calling, spamming, or gatekeeper bypassing necessary. It’s the one-call referral meeting!

What makes referrals so powerful, and what’s standing in the way of scaling your referral program?

Referral Programs Are Straightforward, Simple, and Smart

Here’s how a referral introduction works:

  • You ask a colleague or a client (your referral source) to introduce you to your sales prospect.
  • Your referral source talks to your sales prospect and gets agreement to meet with you.
  • Your referral source introduces the two of you by email, phone, video call, or in-person.
  • You thank your referral source and schedule a time to meet with your sales prospect.
  • You call your sales prospect, who answers the phone because your call is expected and welcome.

It’s that simple, but it’s not easy. You must earn the right to ask for referrals because referral selling is the most intimate, personal “ask” you’ll ever make. Your referral sources trust you to take care of their contacts as they would. They’re putting their reputation on the line, so you’d better do right by them if you want to keep the referrals coming. And trust me, you want that.

Referral selling is actually relationship selling. People will refer you because of the trusted relationships you’ve forged. Those relationships are your ticket into the C-suite, so treat them like gold.


The same goes for your current customers, who happen to be your best referral sources. Yet, Ali Cudby, in her post “Marketing Pet Peeve: STOP Doing This With Your Customers!,” says most businesses flunk customer retention. As consumers, we are quick to judge our experience and determine if we’ll stay … or not.

Bottom line: Businesses must earn the right to ask for referrals. Ask too soon, when there’s been no experience, and you just might lose that customer. The same is true if you ask after a subpar customer experience.

What’s the Problem With Your Referral Program?

Every sales leader and sales rep I’ve ever met agrees that generating referral leads is their most productive outbound prospecting strategy. Now, a Sandler Research study of more than 1,500 sales pros backs up my claims.

(You can read more about the Sandler Research report in my most recent blog post.)

Despite the success of referral leads, most companies still haven’t implemented a systematic referral program with metrics, skills, and accountability for results. Referral selling is a disciplined process sales leaders need to learn. Are you “all in” with referral selling, or just trying it on? Are you telling your team to ask for referrals? Or do you unequivocally believe and trust that you have a referral process in place to drive revenue, save your job, and position your company for sales success?

Referrals don’t just happen, at least not at scale. Yes, occasionally a well-served client will mention your company to another buyer and you’ll magically get a sale. But how often does that really happen? Unless you have a referral program in place to ensure your reps ask for referrals from every single client, your team is leaving money on the table.

Here’s what it takes:

  1. Practice and coaching: Most salespeople don’t know how to ask for referral introductions to generate referral leads. Many have tried asking in the past without any luck, because they thought it was enough to tell people, “Hey, if you know anyone who could benefit from my services, please refer me.” But even the best-intentioned friends and clients will forget such a generic request after the conversation ends. Salespeople must make a case, not a plea.
  2. A new perspective on referrals: Referral selling is very personal, and most salespeople are uncomfortable asking. They fear doing so might jeopardize a relationship. They say it feels pushy and worry the other person will say “no.” (Fear of rejection is much stronger when salespeople talk to people they know, versus cold calling strangers.) With training and practice, reps begin to understand that referrals aren’t favors or impositions. They’re how deals get done.
  3. Metrics and accountability: Referral success can be tracked and measured just as easily as results from cold calling, direct mail, and advertising. The trick is to focus on leading indicators like referral activities, over lagging indicators like revenue.
  4. Making referrals a process and a priority: Referral selling must be your #1 business-development outreach. “Priority” is a singular word. Referral selling is either the priority, or it’s not. Referrals must be tightly integrated into your sales process and reinforced with rewards and recognition for your referral programs to scale.

Adopting a referral program is simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires a complete shift—in the way your team thinks about referrals, and in how they go about getting them.

It Takes Personal Connections to Get Referral Leads

Technology lets us do many things better and faster, but for some tasks, the old-school ways still work best. In sales, it’s relationship selling all the way. Granted, you might need technology to facilitate personal connections, given the current need for social distancing, but thanks to video conferencing, you can still get face to face with most prospects and clients.

Simply put, when you’re trying to build the kind of sales relationships that increase sales and revenue, there’s simply no gadget, gizmo, or automated process that can replace the power of a real human connection. Technology won’t get your team a one-call meeting, but a strong connection and a referral introduction will.

(Image attribution: Marcus Aurelius)

With referrals, your team will get the meeting at the level that counts and convert well more than 50 percent of their sales prospects to great clients! When you implement your referral program, the results are immediate. Your ideal clients are happy to refer you to other ideal clients, who accept and return your calls.

Open the door to your sales success. Get the one-call meeting. What’s holding your team back?

Let’s talk about how you can get qualified referrals from your existing clients. Email, and we’ll set up a call. I’ll share best practices, and you decide if you want more.

(This post was originally published on December 17, 2015 and updated August 11, 2020.)