Referral sales is personal … but it’s still business.

I recently received the following email:

“I finished your book on referral sales last night, and now I’m building my 100 names so that I can ask for introductions to a couple of decent sales reps with some experience selling to my market. I’m also going to ask my network if they know companies in this space.

I think your referral program will have a lot more power if I build my referral wheel and talk to 100 folks in my network, i.e., I should lead by example.

Can you think of anyone in that space? OK, I’m down to 99 as I just asked you.”

Your reaction was probably the same as mine. He didn’t give me a business reason to refer him, he didn’t tell me who he wants to meet (his ideal client), and he broke my #1 rule: Never, ever ask for a referral in any digital format. He clearly didn’t read my book. At best, he skimmed the first few chapters.

He does what most people do when they don’t know how to ask for referrals. They spit everything out as quickly as possible and check “asking for referrals” off their to-do list. They then wonder why they don’t get referrals. Because referrals aren’t personal favors; they’re business interactions, and they require business conversations.

Why Should Anyone Refer You?

Every sales pro knows that referral introductions generate their best leads. With the right referral sales strategies in place, sales teams can get every meeting in one call. Prospects already trust them when they walk in the door. Their sales process shortens, the cost of sales plummets, and they convert prospects to clients well more than 50 percent of the time.

Referrals are like gold to salespeople, but getting that gold at scale requires a strategic referral approach and a sales team that knows how to ask for referral introductions. A major part of that is being able to clearly articulate the business reasons for those introductions.

My Referral I.Q. Quiz now has results from more than 550 salespeople and sales leaders. I asked: “Do your referral sources know the top two reasons to refer you?” A whopping 66.53 percent said no.There it is. If people don’t know why they should refer you, and who they should refer to you, they probably won’t refer you.

It’s the job of salespeople to give potential referral sources as much information as possible about the results their clients achieve and who, specifically, they want to meet. Not only does this make referrers feel more confident about putting their reputations on the line for your company. It also removes the guesswork and makes it easier for them to think of someone to refer.

What It Takes to Get Referral Sales

Unless you have a systematic, disciplined program in place to ensure your reps know how to ask for referrals, and that they are asking every single client, your team is leaving money on the table. No other sales or marketing strategy gets the kind of results that you get with referral sales.

In a recent Vistage survey of 1,352 SMB CEOs, high-growth businesses—the companies that had double-digit revenue growth over the course of two years—ranked referral sales among their most successful sales strategies. Twenty percent even said referrals were their #1 marketing strategy.

Referral selling could be your biggest competitive differentiation, yet few sales organizations have implemented an effective and sustainable referral program. What does it take to do so?

  1. Make referrals the priority—your team’s #1 outbound prospecting approach.
  2. Help your team learn to clearly define your ideal client and articulate the business reasons for referring your company.
  3. Teach your team how to successfully ask for referrals by providing skills-building opportunities and ongoing coaching.
  4. Implement a systematic, disciplined referral process that includes creating referral metrics and accountability for results.

Adopting referral sales strategies requires a complete shift—in the way your team thinks about referrals, and in how they go about getting them. Telling people to go get referrals doesn’t work, nor does asking for a referral without giving people a business reason to refer you. Even when people know and like you, most won’t introduce you just because you’re a nice person.

Account executives have quotas to meet and customer targets to reach. They know that referral introductions get them meetings with the right people and help them establish relationships, build trust, and get the inside track over the competition. Yet, most salespeople’s referral sources don’t know the top two reasons to refer them? Seems ludicrous when you really think about it, right?

If you’re a sales leader, are ready to change the game, and want to have a discussion about referral selling, send an email to, and we’ll schedule time to talk. I always share best practices and insights I’ve gleaned from other sales leaders. It’s a conversation, not a sales pitch.

Test Your Referral Savvy

I’m conducting an ongoing study about referrals, and I want to hear about your referral approach. Please take my 14-question Referral I.Q. Quiz. The questions are mostly “Yes/No,” and it should take less than four minutes to complete. Once you’ve finished, you’ll be bounced over to a results page, where you can see the aggregated answers from everyone who has participated.

Take the Referral I.Q. Quiz now.

My goal is to get a 1,000-person sample, so please invite your network to take the quiz as well. Participation is anonymous, and I promise you won’t be added to any lists. Thanks in advance for your support!