Your customers are your best source of qualified sales leads.
“If your customers aren’t selling for you, you won’t have customers.” Those words of wisdom are from Steve Silver, vice president and research director at Forrester (now Sirius Decisions), when he made his 2025 predictions at the 2019 OpStars Conference. No, I didn’t pay him to promote asking for referrals. He’s just a very smart man.
One of the first things I ever wrote about was enrolling your clients as part of your sales team. How do you do that? You learn how to ask for a referral from a client—and then you ask every single one of them.
Clients aren’t mind-readers. They don’t always know we want more business. (Yep, that’s for real.) And they frequently don’t know who they should refer to us—because we haven’t asked for referrals and described our ideal client.
If you want a pipeline full of qualified sales leads, you need your customers out there selling for you, which means your entire team needs to know how to ask for a referral from a client.
Quality Trumps Quantity
Marketing can drum up plenty of leads for your team, but you don’t just need more leads. You need more qualified sales leads.
It’s time to think beyond yourself and those in your company as part of your sales team. You’re going to need to, if you want to meet or exceed your quota. You can no longer depend on traditional sources of business or on digital leads, social media leads, and artificial intelligence. Need new logos? Need to accelerate opportunities through the pipe, need more business from existing customers, need more sales leads in the pipeline? None of those are the right questions. You simply need more qualified sales leads.
Why is it that sales executives say their biggest challenge is getting more leads in the pipe, but they never mention “qualified”? Like most things in life, quality trumps quantity every day of the week.
Forrester agrees. Their research suggests sales teams need to focus on the initial qualification process, as well as the efficiency of late-stage processes. In fact, high performing salespeople spend twice as much time on late-stage activities as their peers. And they can afford to invest that time because they’re also better at qualifying leads. Again, quality trumps quantity.
Qualifying Leads with Referrals
You ensure initial qualification when you ask for referrals from your clients. They know what you do and can communicate the impact it made on their business, and that’s more powerful than any sales pitch or digital marketing campaign.
Enroll your clients in your sales team and get them selling for you. If you’re not qualifying leads early on, the rest of your selling activities are just an exercise.
And that’s the point. Spend time on qualifying leads and stop wasting time on activities that don’t get you a qualified pipe in the first place.
Referrals are even more important in late-stage activities. Follow me here.
- You receive a referral introduction to your decision-maker.
- You get in early—even before your prospect knows they have a need. (Or thinks they don’t.)
- Your initial contact introduces you to others in the company.
- You get great intel that no one else gets—you learn how decisions are made, who the influencers are, who to watch out for, the make-or-break budget, timeline, etc.
- You’re in the #1 position to win the deal.
But … you need to orchestrate the activities leading up to the close and ensure they are seamless and client-focused. This isn’t about you. This is about what the client gets by choosing your solution—the quantified, positive impact on the business.
There are many moving parts and a variety of people in late-stage processes—some of whom are new. How will you gain this group’s trust? It’s up to you, the sales leader, and your sales team to coordinate, communicate, and manage this moving target. Once you win the deal, you need to manage the handoff process to customer success so that your client feels appreciated and well taken care of. They must feel confident they made the right decision at every stage of the buying and implementation process.
Change doesn’t just happen. If you truly want more qualified sales leads, you must invest in sales and marketing programs and train your people. Help them gain the skills to build relationships, manage handoffs, and stay connected to their clients. And most importantly, make sure they know how to ask for a referral from a client.
“Ensure sales reps have the necessary skills, competencies, and knowledge to achieve their quota.” (Or exceed it.) And with that, we’ve made our point.
When to Ask for Referrals
Knowing how to ask for a referral from a client requires confidence, practice, and the ability to clearly describe your ideal client. It also means knowing when you have earned the right to ask.
Salespeople often ask me when they should bring up the referral conversation. This concern reflects the discomfort many of us feel when asking for referrals. We don’t want to appear pushy, salesy, or arrogant, so we keep waiting for the right time.
Many think they should wait until they sign a deal, others wait until the client implements, and still others feel they can’t ask until the client sees an ROI. We wait and wait, often until the relationship with the initial buyer is so far removed that we never ask.
Don’t let that happen to you. As long as you’ve made a personal connection and demonstrated value, you have earned the right to ask.
Who to Ask for Referrals
Referrals are based on trust, which means you must earn the right to ask. But you already have that right with existing clients, because they:
- Know firsthand the value of your solutions
- Can attest to the ROI they’ve received from working with you
- Trust you (or else they wouldn’t work with you)
With existing clients, you don’t have to wait until your solution is implemented and getting results. You can ask:
- During the sales process when you’ve added value
- When the client has thanked you
- Those with whom you and your team interact during the implementation process
That’s how to ask for a referral from a client, and if you’re not asking every single customer, you’re leaving good money on the table. Your satisfied customers will be happy to refer you, but only if you ask. So start asking, and make them part of your sales team.
Want to know how to get qualified sales leads in your pipe? Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll schedule a 15-minute call with you.
(Featured image attribution: fauxels)