Social SellingMaximize your net worth via your referral network.

Steve, a salesman with an enterprise company, invited me to connect on LinkedIn. I accepted his standard invitation, thinking he might be a good connection, and sent a personal message inviting him to contact me with any questions about referral selling.

His response: “What is referral selling?”

Obviously, he had no clue who I was when he invited me. He is a social selling stalker. As is the person who invites me (and probably the rest of the world) to connect, and then responds immediately with a sales pitch.

The social selling world is filled with people like Steve and others who send connection requests to “anyone who fogs a mirror.” But these stalkers don’t limit themselves to the online world. They’re the same salesmen you meet at networking events, who grab your card and then send impersonal emails (with attachments) the very next day, pitching products and asking for referrals.


Then There Are the Sales Snobs

Social selling stalkers cast too wide a net, asking for referrals from strangers who don’t know them and have no reason to help promote their businesses. Sales snobs, on the other hand, miss out on referral opportunities because they narrow their focus too much.

Many salesmen and women believe that because their businesses are super-complex and sophisticated, only certain people are worthwhile connections. When asking for referrals, they carefully evaluate the job titles and influence of potential connections and reach out to those they consider “elite.” They base their decisions on assumptions about who these people know. These are the sales snobs.

I’ve been surprised time and time again by the people others know. We readily stereotype people. We judge them by their age, their job positions, the way they dress, the way they speak, and the cars they drive. It’s called First Impression Management. When we’re right, it saves time, but when we’re wrong, we miss out on opportunities. And that’s something salespeople can’t afford.

I learned this lesson early in my career. I was telling a colleague that I was having a difficult time connecting with the vice president of sales at a high-tech company.  A new IT employee overheard my conversation and said he might be able to help. Oh sure, I thought. He’s just an IT guy.

Turns out, his mother was the executive assistant for exactly the man I wanted to meet. She made the introduction, and I got the appointment.

That IT guy taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t discount anyone when it comes to your referral network.

The Power of the Water Cooler

Your clients—past and present—are the best source of referrals, because they know first-hand the value of your expertise and your product or solution. But they aren’t the only members of your referral network.

Some of your best referral sources are the people you see every day— your co-workers. Everyone in your organization knows hundreds of other people. Who understands the value of your organization better than your colleagues? And who could possibly have more invested in your company’s success? All you have to do is ask.

Where did your colleagues work before they joined your company? Who are their next-door neighbors? Who were their college roommates? Perhaps one of them has a brother who works at your prospect company. Spend time talking to the people who work for and with you. Learn about their histories and what’s important to them. Help them understand what drives you and the best way to ask for referrals.

Get Human, Get Personal

Referrals come from everywhere. Think of all the people you know. Those people know other people. And you don’t know who they know until you ask. You might get the perfect referral from your attorney, another passenger on an airplane, your fellow employees, your next-door neighbor, or even a family member.

Connect with everyone you know on social media—clients, prospects, co-workers, former employees, friends, and other social acquaintances. LinkedIn reminds us to catch up, learn what’s happening in people’s lives, or just wish someone a happy birthday. Find opportunities to start new conversations and strengthen your relationships offline. The more you nurture your referral network, the more powerful it becomes.

Sales pros aren’t sales snobs or social selling stalkers. They are inveterate connectors. They establish common interests, build trust, engage in offline conversations, and offer to help their prospects, clients, and colleagues. In this era of social miss-selling, the more personal connections you make with people, the more valued those connections will be. People who like and trust you will be happy to refer you; the strangers you stalk on social media won’t give you the time of day.

Bottom line: Referrals often come from the most unexpected sources, which is why we should always be asking for referrals—from everyone, not just those who seem to make the most sense.

Don’t assume you know who people know. Just ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Want to learn more? Find the referral selling program that best fits your needs. 

Join the conversation: What is the most unexpected referral you’ve ever received?

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