canstockphoto17516118-1Your company’s fortune is in the sales team’s follow-up.

Ask a great comedian the secret to his success, and chances are, he’ll say “timing.” The same is true for a great salesperson. But like punch lines, referral marketing efforts fall short without the proper follow through.

In sales, timing is a funny thing. We never know when people are ready to buy or how our words will resonate at just the right time. Sometimes we get lucky. We’re in the right place at the right time and meet the perfect prospect. Other times prospects read content we’ve posted, and our phones ring off the hook.

But luck is not a sustainable advantage. Reaching out and following up is.

Forty to 80 percent of sales leads are never followed up on, according to Mark Hunter and Andy Paul. One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is letting leads—particularly hot referral leads—fall through the cracks. As Andy Paul puts it, “Sales leads are like lottery tickets. They won’t all be winners, but you don’t know until you engage.”

Put another way: Timing matters in sales, but you won’t know when the timing is right if reps don’t get—and stay—in touch.

The Problem with Your Referral Marketing

When prospects request information and reps don’t follow up, they miss out on the chance to have great conversations and close deals. Likewise, when reps lose touch with existing customers, they miss out on the chance to get referral leads.

Yet, in many sales organizations, as soon as reps close a deal, they hand the client off to the nurture marketing team or to the Customer Success Team, and then move on to the next hot prospect.

What’s wrong with this picture? Everything! Your sales reps develop deep relationships with their customers during the sales process. They communicate with many people in the client organization, all of whom could be great referral sources. But by handing off these relationships, they lose the opportunity to ask for referral introductions to prime prospects.

By taking away sales reps’ responsibility for client relationships, your company is squandering its best opportunities to generate new business. I heard a marketer say that once a deal is closed, the client is the company’s client, not the salesperson’s client. No wonder follow-up isn’t happening!

As frontline representatives for the company, salespeople should always be responsible for maintaining the relationships they bring into the company. Otherwise, there’s no accountability for follow-up, which is a sales rep’s most valuable business-development tool.

Referral Marketing Meets Referral Selling

Nurture-based referral marketing takes you just so far. Sales reps—the ones who actually begin relationships with customers—need to stay in the loop. Otherwise, they lose the right to ask for referrals.

Still, your marketing department can contribute greatly to the success of your company’s referral programs. Ask marketing to provide relevant and personalized content to help sales reps:

  • Engage in social media. Social media is not a place to sell, but it is a place to communicate valuable information—not only from your company, but also from other credible sources. The marketing team understands social media better than most salespeople and can pass along potential tweets or LinkedIn posts to help salespeople better engage their online networks.
  • Conduct targeted nurturing campaigns. The marketing team generates blog posts, newsletters, whitepapers, webinars, and other content that highlights industry trends or provides useful tips clients can use in their own businesses. By passing these valuable assets along to the sales team, marketers give salespeople a good reason to follow up with their client rosters.
  • Position themselves as thought leaders by curating content from other sources. Great sales reps stay on top of industry trends and read extensively. But marketing also does research and can bring great third-party content to the sales team’s attention. This gives sales a business reason to reach out and share current information with their clients.

The Most Overlooked Follow-Up Strategy

Content is a fantastic way for salespeople to follow up and continue delivering value to clients, long after the initial sales process is over. But the most powerful way to give back to clients doesn’t require any help from marketing. It just requires good manners and a personal touch.

Rather than always reaching out to clients to further their agenda—close more business, get referrals—salespeople can endear themselves to clients by simply offering to help. That could mean providing them with referrals, introducing them to new opportunities, enlisting them in research your company is conducting, featuring them in case studies or newsletters, or simply taking them to dinner.

There’s nothing more important than taking care of prospects and customers. When salespeople make it their responsibility to be part of those efforts, they don’t just make clients feel valued. They also fill their pipelines with hot, referral leads.

How about you? What is the number one strategy that you implement to prevent your referral marketing from being derailed?

Want to learn more about the role of relationships in sales? Download my free ebook, “Facebook and Face Time Matter: The Role of Technology in Sales.”

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Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.