Getting referral business should be top priority.

Message to sales leaders: Your job is to get the rocks off the road so your team can close deals, exceed quota, and blow past revenue goals. Is your team asking for referrals? Are you getting customer referrals? Or are you sticking with your current prospecting strategy—“personalized” marketing and social media blasts? (Newsflash: That’s all just tech speak for “cold calling.”)

Account execs are overwhelmed with conflicting messaging, technology overload, and lack of resources. Teams are working all hours and skipping vacation, and they lack sufficient sleep.

Oh, and they’re not making quota—not even close.

Trouble Making Quota? Ask for Referrals

According to CSO Insights, “Only slightly more than half of sales representatives (53%) are meeting or exceeding their quotas according to our recent (2018) World-Class Sales Practices Study. While this is concerning in its own right, even more concerning is that this is the fifth straight year of decline. Compare this to other functions … If a 50/50 success rate were present in any other department, the reaction would be swift and definitive.”

Quota attainment did get a slight bump in 2018, hitting 54.3 percent. But as CSO Insights points out, “This modest growth is not large enough nor consistent enough to be considered a trend. Rates are still below the 2014 rate of 63%.”

In this report, the same sales leaders who said their teams struggled to make quota also said their teams needed to up their referral game. Nearly half (45.1%) said their “ability to generate new leads from existing customers” needs improvement.

You know who doesn’t have to worry about reps making quota? Organizations that have a proactive referral system to ensure sales reps know how to generate referrals, and that they are asking for referrals every single day.

Why Asking for Referrals Isn’t on Your Team’s Radar

Sales leaders tell me they have too many priorities. That’s a lame excuse. You’re not coaching your reps to succeed. You’re measuring them on the same old ineffective sales prospecting techniques, like cold calling, cold emailing, and inappropriate social media activities. It’s all about the quantity of their outreach activities and not the quality of their connections—like customer referrals. Your KPIs don’t align with the skills they’re supposed to have, but rather with the number of people they try to reach.

That kind of prospecting activity doesn’t drive revenue. It’s busywork that frustrates salespeople and annoys the people they’re cold calling.

Stop frantically chasing the next bright shiny object. Technology can help you automate your sales process, but it doesn’t close deals. People do. Take a step back from the digital delirium and wake up to the fact that there’s a different option to drive revenue—asking for referrals.

Make time to take a deep dive into getting referral business, because those are the only prospecting techniques that:

  • Get reps meetings in one call (compared to more than eight touches for cold prospects)
  • Give your team the inside scoop (so you ace out your competition)
  • Convert prospects to clients well more than 50 percent of the time
  • Decrease your cost of sales with customer referrals (Saving money makes sense, doesn’t it?)

But asking for referrals will never be a priority for your team unless it’s integrated into your sales process, with metrics and accountability for results.

Don’t Even Try to Fit It In

Bob, an SRO, was excited to tell me how his team was 150 percent over revenue for the same time last year and were on track to blow past their numbers the next quarter. Then he said: “My focus this quarter is getting more leads.” (We always need more leads.) He told me referral sales was the way to generate qualified leads, because his reps would get introductions to their prime prospects, his cost of sales would plummet, the competition would be history, and the sales process would shrink—allowing more time for getting referral business. He knew that referred leads convert well more than 50 percent of the time.

All good, right? We have a believer here.

But believing and doing are not the same. He then said he wanted to give referral sales a shot and that he could probably “fit it in.” I didn’t hit the roof, but I got close. No, you can’t fit it in. Referral selling becomes your #1 outbound prospecting approach. That doesn’t happen by telling reps to go get referrals. It happens because you’ve committed to a referral strategy, established metrics linked to KPIs, taught your reps how to generate referrals, created accountability for referrals, and aggressively reinforced and coached referral behaviors.

Try telling your team to “fit it in” and see what happens. My guess? Diddly-squat.

Always Be Asking for Referrals

“I was so busy this week. I forgot to ask for referrals.” That’s what a client told me. But I didn’t let her get away with that lame excuse. She didn’t forget. What else was she doing that was more important? You know the answer to that question: Nothing. My guess is that she hadn’t practiced asking for referrals the way she learned, and therefore, she hadn’t achieved a comfort level in asking.

Fact: Most people are uncomfortable asking for referrals. It doesn’t matter whether a rep changes industries, takes a job right out of school, or is a sales veteran of more than 20 years. Referral selling is personal. We’re afraid of the “no.” Men tell me it’s worse for them. They’re supposed to know everything, and it’s not cool to ask for help. It feels pushy, arrogant, and needy. So, they don’t ask.

If we don’t ask, we don’t get. I’m not saying it will be easy at first. To get over the reticence, reps must know how to generate referrals. They need to build referral skills and practice, practice again, and practice more. That’s the only way to gain proficiency in any skill—whether it’s becoming an expert skier, golfer, cyclist, you name it. We need to apply the same discipline to our professional lives that we apply in our personal lives.

Your No. 1 Priority

The word “priority” is singular. Either you adopt referral selling or you don’t. Yes or no. Forget “maybe.”

Sure, you have many priorities, but you can only do one thing first. What’s more important than driving revenue? What’s more important than getting meetings with prime prospects in one call? What’s more important than ditching old-school sales prospecting techniques like cold calling that don’t work? What’s more important than investing your time in building the skills of your team?

So, how do you determine your #1 priority? One of my cardinal rules is that I do what’s closest to cash first every day. Does this mean that every day is a cakewalk, or that nothing ever gets carried over to the next day? Of course not. But the rest isn’t that urgent. If we let “other priorities” get in the way of generating revenue, we’re in a downward spiral.

When you work your referral program, you achieve immediate results—new clients, increased sales, a shortened sales process, reduced cost of sales, and more time to work with only your ideal clients! Make referral sales your priority. There’s no time to waste. And please, don’t tell me you can’t “fit it in.”

Want to help your team learn the secret to asking for referrals in a way that gets results? Invite me to speak at your annual Sales Kickoff Meeting.

This post was originally published on October 18, 2018 and updated November 7, 2019.