handshakePeople only refer people they know and trust.

If you’re asking strangers on social media for referrals, you’re like the guy at a networking event who shoves his card in people’s face and asks for theirs in return. I never give my card to that guy, because he’s all about himself.

He probably just wants to win the contest at his company for bringing back the most cards. And he’ll almost certainly email me the next day, telling me about his great product and asking if I know anyone who can use it.

Referrals Are Personal, You’re Not

What’s missing here is … well, a lot. First, he’s proven he doesn’t care about making a personal connection with me. He’s pitching without ever bothering to ask about me or my business. And he thinks I’ll give him a referral? Why would I? I don’t know him. (And at this point, I don’t care to.)

[Tweet “I will only refer you if I know you and trust you to take care of my contact as I would. That’s my first referral selling tip.”]

Selling by referral is the most personal prospecting strategy that exists. It’s driven by relationships and trust, not social media connections.

That’s why I resonated with Tom Scearce’s LinkedIn article, “Social Media—Don’t Be THAT Guy.” He writes:

A few years back I moderated a webinar for a San Francisco B2B media company called Tippit, now Ziff-Davis B2B Focus. The presenter was Tippit’s CEO Scott Albro. Scott said something on that webinar I’ve repeated (always with attribution!) many times since.

“In social media, the people are the media.”

To the casual observer, social media can look like a cluttered landscape of hash-tags, likes, and Klout scores. But underneath all of that are people building relationships with other people, doing favors, earning trust, conversing, relating, connecting, etc. (Read the rest of the article.)

Begin a Conversation

LinkedIn and other social media channels are fantastic tools for beginning conversations and new relationships. But when you send the generic invite (“I’d like to invite you to join my professional network on LinkedIn”) and follow it up with a sales pitch, you’re breaking all the rules of social media.

Instead, take a few minutes to write a personal invitation and tell the person why you’d like to connect. Start a conversation and a relationship, and wait until you have a real connection to ask for referrals.

Remember, in referral-based selling, it’s not the number of contacts that matters; it’s the number of true connections.


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