Neglect referral plans at your own risk.
“Mind the gap” is a famous phrase in London. It alerts travelers to the potentially dangerous space between the platform and train on the London underground system. This gap occurs on curved platforms. There’s a gap at the end car on inside curves, and a gap in the middle car on outside curves.
When crafting your B2B sales strategies, think of the sales process as a curve. Unless you sell a commodity, no sale is a predictable straight line. We can be derailed in the middle of the curve (oops … new buyers, acquisition, change in leadership, new company direction) or at the end of the curve. We thought we had a deal, but we never saw the gap in our strategy. There’s always something we neglected to do, to assess, or to include earlier in the sales process.
More often than not, the gap that gets us is back at the beginning of the curve: qualifying leads.
The Referral Gap in B2B Sales Strategies
You know by now that referral selling should be your #1 prospecting strategy, because all referred sales leads are qualified. When sales reps receive referral introductions to prospects, they:
- Arrive pre-sold: Prospects know the purpose of the meeting and want to talk.
- Earn trust and credibility, which are really tough for salespeople to gain.
- Shorten the sales process: Reps spend more time with customers and less time prospecting. (Translation: Cost of sales plummets.)
- Ace out the competition: They score meetings while the competition is still cold calling, cold emailing, and sending pitches on social media.
- Convert sales prospects to clients well more than 50 percent of the time (typically more than 70 percent).
Yet, despite the proven results of referral selling, very few sales organizations have a systematic, disciplined referral program with strategy, skills building, coaching, and accountability for results.
Case in point: In a recent webinar, I polled the audience about the effectiveness of referrals. (See that data in my recent post, “Are Your Salespeople in the Top 90%?”)
I also asked the following question:
If sales reps convert more than 50 percent of prospects to clients when they get referrals, why do only 6 percent of sales organizations have referral programs in place?
This gap makes no sense. It’s costing your sales team precious time, and it’s costing your company money.
4 Reasons Your Sales Team Needs a Referral Program
Referral selling is simple, but it’s not easy. It’s a step-by-step process that any smart salesperson can follow. But without a disciplined program in place, referrals will never become a scalable prospecting strategy.
Why? Without referral programs in your B2B sales strategies:
1. There’s no accountability for referrals. Many sales leaders believe they can just tell their salespeople to go get referrals. It’s what I call the “point and tell” syndrome. And it’s simply not enough. Unless salespeople are held accountable for getting referrals, they probably won’t.
As one client told me: “We have a commission/lead submission system, and we are huge internal cheerleaders for referrals and how they can improve sales. But we are missing the follow-through. How to keep sales reps engaged, and how to continuously foster growth and strengthen the program—that’s where we have trouble. Reps are so excited once they learn about the program, but they fall off the face of the earth pretty soon, and it’s hard to get their attention again.”
2. Salespeople won’t know how to ask. Referral selling is a behavior change and requires building skills in specific referral disciplines—including learning how to ask for an introduction. Without this instruction, sales reps will simply tell clients, “Hey, if you know anyone who could use my services, please pass my name along.” And almost no one will.
3. Salespeople won’t practice asking for referrals. Learning to sell by referral requires practice. But sales reps get paid to sell; practice is on their own time. That’s why a successful referral program must include coaching and reinforcement from sales leaders.
4. Salespeople will be uncomfortable asking for referrals. Cold callers have no skin in the game. If a prospect says no, the rejection isn’t personal. But referral selling is very, very personal. Many salespeople feel they’re intruding on a relationship by asking for referrals, or that doing so is pushy and aggressive. And if someone they know—the referral source—says no, it’s a stabbing rejection. It takes training and coaching for sales reps to become comfortable with referral selling.
Improve Your B2B Sales Strategies: Close the Referral Gap
Companies that adopt disciplined referral programs outsmart their competition. Sales reps get in before prospects even know there’s a need. Referred sellers have the inside track—the opportunity to define the problem and shape the solution. The deal is theirs to lose.
But without a referral program that includes coaching, reinforcement, and accountability, referral efforts will quickly fall apart.
Are you willing to let that scenario happen in your organization? If not, it’s time to close the referral gap.