Referrals must be the priority, not an afterthought.

Your team knows a lot of people, who in turn know a lot of people. So, why aren’t they getting referrals at scale? Because they haven’t asked everyone they know.

Your team’s job is not to evaluate whether people would be great referral sources. Their job is to identify everyone they know—to create a contact list with the people they know the best at the top.

Your job as a sales leader is to help them understand that everyone knows someone, and referrals often come from the most unexpected places.

Ask yourself the following questions to gauge whether your team is ready to start getting referrals.

(Image attribution: Ann H)

1. Are They Asking Everyone?

Who is your team asking for referrals? They should ask everyone they know who they know. Someone’s neighbor’s uncle could be in the market for what you’re selling, or another parent on their kid’s soccer team might be a perfect prospect. But they’ll never know who their network knows unless they ask.

Most importantly, they should ask every single client they’ve come in contact with during the buying process. Their current and recent clients are the best source of new business. Asking them is the key to getting referrals at scale. 

(Image attribution: Ann H)

2. Are They Asking at the Right Time?

Many salespeople wait to ask for referrals until they have closed a sale or implemented their solution. But reps can ask for referrals anytime during the sales process when they deliver value.

How will they know they’ve earned the right to ask? Most likely, the client will say “thank you”—for a good idea, for delivering useful information, or for sharing expertise. That’s the perfect time to ask for referrals.

(Image attribution: Ann H)

3. Are They Asking the Right Way?

Most salespeople ask for referrals this way: “If you know anyone who would benefit from my services, please send them my way.” This does nothing except allow reps to say, “Phew, I asked. I can check that off my list.” 

This request is too generic and thus completely forgettable. The better referral lead generation approach is for salespeople to describe their ideal client and then ask, “Who are one or two people I should meet who fit this description?”

4. Are They Asking for Introductions?

It’s not enough to just get names and contact information. It’s not a referral unless your referral source actually introduces the salesperson to the prospect.

Without introductions from referral sources, reps fall into the cold calling trap. Prospects don’t know them and don’t expect to hear from them, so their outreach is ice cold—whether they’re communicating via phone, email, social media, or an old-fashioned knock on the door.

5. Do You Have a Referral System?

If you’re just telling your reps to ask for referrals, don’t be surprised when they’re not getting referrals. They might get a live one now and again. But that’s not a prudent method to grow revenue. 

Want predictable outcomes? Integrate referral selling into your sales process by creating:

  • A written referral sales plan
  • Written weekly referral sales goals—for individuals and for the team
  • Referral metrics and a system to track results
  • Accountability for results
  • A system in place to reward employees for generating referrals

Does Your Team Have What It Takes to Get Referrals?

If you answered “yes” to all five questions, congratulations! You should be getting referrals at scale. 

If you answered “no” to even one, it’s time to stop telling your reps to go get referrals and expecting them to make it happen. One and done doesn’t work. The only way to guarantee qualified referrals that convert more than 50% of the time is to adopt a referral system. It’s also time to ditch your total reliance on technology to get meetings. It’s time to think differently and act differently. 

Technology only takes us so far. Personal relationships seal the deal. But the only way to turn those relationships into new business is to create a disciplined, measurable referral system.

Test your referral readiness by taking my Referral IQ Quiz. It’s just 14 yes/no questions, and it becomes your checklist for referral selling. Use this checklist to determine what’s working and where you need to improve. 

You’ll need to sign up for my Referral Selling Insights first. You’ll get instant access to the quiz, plus an email twice a month with top referral content. (You can unsubscribe at any time.) 

(This post was originally published on September 10, 2020 and updated July 10, 2023.)