Referral makers don’t want your money. They want to know you’re trustworthy.

You’re going to pay me how much for referral business? No thanks! When I refer you, I put my reputation on the line, so I need to trust that you’ll take care of my connection as I would. You won’t pitch, you’ll share best practices, and you’ll follow up. You’ll let me know if this was a good referral for you. You’ll send me a handwritten thank-you note, whether the referral worked out … or not.

Referrals aren’t about money. A winning referral system is about multiplying trust.

Think about it this way. I refer you to someone I know well. They like me and trust me implicitly. They know I won’t waste their time, and they’ll gain insights from anyone I refer.  So, when I refer you, this person’s trust in me gets transferred to you.

That’s the multiplier effect of trust. It’s also why you need a referral program.

Trust Is the New Business Buzzword

Salesforce research brief,  Trends in Customer Trust, says fostering trust is the new business imperative. Well, I don’t think there’s anything new here. If people don’t trust you, you won’t get their business. Period. This truth is as ancient as time itself.

So, why are we suddenly hearing so much about the importance of trust? Because trust is suddenly in short supply. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, only 56 percent of people trust businesses in general.

That’s a big problem, because as Gallup points out, “In a globalized, highly interconnected world, trust is more important than ever to business success and sustainability over the long term. More than ever, integrity is the ultimate brand attribute.”

It’s also the ultimate sales advantage.

Why Trust Is Hard to Earn

Trust is how deals get done. It’s the key to a successful referral system. It’s also exceptionally difficult for salespeople to earn.

We all know why. There are too many pushy, pitchy salespeople. Sales has always gotten a bad rap, but it’s gotten much worse as sales channels have evolved. Reps used to pester people with pitches on the phone or in person. Now they have a wide-open platform on social media and email.

I regularly receive pitches in LinkedIn invitations and with InMail. Even worse, if there is such a thing, they pitch me when I accept their invitation. They tell me about their product and how we could collaborate, and they include a link to their calendar. Why would I ever accept? (I immediately remove the connection.)

Just consider Steve W. Martin’s research on buyers and the mistakes salespeople make. Look what he discovered:

It’s appalling and unacceptable, but not surprising to me—given the constant pitching and lack of empathy of most salespeople.

I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again. It’s not the rep’s fault. The problem is with typical sales metrics. If sales managers hold their people accountable for the number of phone calls they make, emails they send, and invitations and InMails on LinkedIn, that’s how they’ll prospect. That’s what anyone would do if their job depended on it.

Until something changes, salespeople will continue to cold call, harass strangers on social media, and (in the process) erode trust in our profession.

What’s the alternative? Put a referral system in place, with training, metrics, and accountability for results. In other words, get referral business based on trust.

How a Referral System Ensures Trust

Salespeople have become overly enamored with technology. They forget that technology doesn’t close deals. People do. We seal deals by building trusting relationships, and that’s exactly what happens when companies adopt a referral program as their primary outbound prospecting approach.

When reps get a referral introduction, they arrive with credibility and trust already earned. Why? The trust the prospect has for the referral source is transferred to the salesperson. It’s the multiplier effect in action!

My colleague, Bill Wiersma, puts it perfectly in his book The Power of Professionalism. He writes, “Trust is to human capital what money is to financial capital. Of those few things to get right, trust is on the top of the list.”

Keep Your Money, Earn Their Trustreferral system

I always advise clients against offering incentives for referral business. Money shouldn’t be the basis of referrals. Trust should.

When you offer a kickback, your referral sources are likely to give you names, not qualified leads. And if your prospects know about the kickback, they’re less likely to trust you—which means you’ve blown it from the start.

Forget about cold calling. Forget about incentives. You can’t buy trust. But you can earn it with a referral system.

Want to learn how to multiply trust with a proven referral system? Learn more about No More Cold Calling referral programs.