Referrals help you stand out in a sea of B2B sellers.

How do B2B buyers tell one internet security company from another? One IT provider from another? One marketing platform or sales enablement app? One insurance broker,  attorney, banker, or consultant?  Often you can’t tell them apart, because sellers have similar offerings and the same party line about what they do. There’s nothing unique and certainly no reason for B2B buyers to spend time hearing their pitches.

Stand Out to Meet Quota

None of this would matter if sales reps were meeting or exceeding quota, if their pipelines were qualified and their projections accurate, and if they had only committed and loyal clients. But that’s not happening in most sales organizations. Instead, sales forecasts are “smoke and mirrors,” and sales leaders continue to complain.

Yet, when Salesforce surveyed sales pros in 2022, only 28 percent said they expected to meet or exceed quota this year. That’s pitiful. Despite the fact that most companies have marketing automation solutions, targeted outreach by SDRs, and intense social media strategies, B2B salespeople are still struggling to win and retain customers. 

Lackluster sales performance isn’t due to a lack of technology, because 66 percent of sellers told Salesforce that they were drowning in tools. The problem is, there’s too much competition and not enough competitive differentiation. B2B sellers are working on tight budgets, so they’re only signing deals with salespeople they trust to deliver ROI. Salespeople who stand out and earn their trust.

(Image attribution: Tony Wu)

I Feel Like We’ve Met Before

It’s the same old lead generation story. Everyone complains they don’t have enough leads in the pipe, but they forget the word “qualified.” None of us stands out to B2B buyers. How could we, when we’re all standing behind screens? Our messages are mostly digital, and they all sound the same. Worse yet, in many cases, the promises that salespeople make are … well, suspect. 

Talk to any software vendor, and they can’t wait to show you their cool software. But buyers don’t actually buy software. They buy what the software does for them—how it saves time, decreases costs, engages customers, tracks referrals, etc. B2B buyers don’t want to see your demo. They want you to ask smart questions about their business, engage them in conversation, and articulate specifically how your product will mitigate their challenges. 

You have a choice. You can look like every other company, or you can set yourself apart from the rest. 

The trick is getting in front of your buyers before they even know they need you, helping them identify the pain points they didn’t know were hurting, gaining their trust, and building a relationship.

Get Referrals, Get Noticed 

How do you ensure that your sales team gets in the door before your competitors? You ensure they receive referral introductions to their prime prospects—from people those prospects know and trust. 

Salespeople know that building trust is paramount, and it can be difficult to achieve. In groundbreaking research by Steve W. Martin, B2B buyers said they think about 12 percent of salespeople are excellent, 23 percent are good, 38 percent are average (whatever that means), and 27 percent are just plain bad at their jobs. Worse yet, only 18 percent of the salespeople these buyers met over the past year were “trusted advisers whom they respect.” 


With referrals, your team walks straight into meetings with their ideal clients. They don’t have to worry about getting past gatekeepers or heading off the competition, because they have the best possible competitive advantage—a relationship built on trust. 

Why Does a Referral Program Ensure Trust?

I may have answered my own question. Reps cold call, send cold emails, do cold outreach on social media, and rely on marketing to nurture prospects and send them qualified leads. They forget that technology doesn’t close deals. People do. We seal deals by building trusted relationships, and that’s exactly what happens when companies adopt referral selling 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. Referred reps get every meeting in one call, because their calls are expected and welcome. Then it’s up to them to reinforce that trust by having intelligent conversations, uncovering needs, and sharing insights and best practices. No pitching, no promotions, no duplicitous sales tactics.

The ROI of a Referral

Here’s the beauty of a referral. Because buyers trust referred salespeople, they typically share important inside information—including how decisions are made, who is on board, who to watch out for, and what reps need to do to seal the deal. Referred reps are privy to important timelines and budget concerns. They have the inside track, and their probability of closing a deal is well more than 50 percent (most salespeople say it’s more than 70 percent). No other lead generation approach comes even close. 

When you prospect through referrals, you set the standard by which others must compete. Your competitors don’t stand a chance. You’re different. You stand out. You get the meeting. You get qualified leads in the pipe. Why would you work any other way?

Register for my Referral Selling Insights and get sales and referral tips twice a month. 

(Featured image attribution: Karolina Grabowska)