It’s still who you know that counts.

Let’s set the record straight: You can’t depend solely on referrals to fill your pipeline. Whoa, did I really say that?

As you probably know by now, my point of view is that referral selling is the most powerful account based sales development strategy, and it’s the only effective use of salespeople’s time. So, it makes sense that people think I believe referrals are the only way to ensure qualified sales lead generation.

To clarify: It is the #1 outbound prospecting method for account based selling teams. Outbound is the operative word. Your inbound sales lead generation strategies stay—blogs, webinars, podcasts, nurture marketing, website, eBooks, whitepapers, surveys, you name it.

What changes is that your account based selling team commits to prospect by asking for referrals. They understand that referral introductions are their best chance to land and expand within named accounts. Inbound and outbound are all integrated in your account based sales development plan.

What doesn’t stay is any cold outreach. That means contacting someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t expect to hear from you—and let’s be honest, probably doesn’t want to talk to you. This includes cold phone calls, cold emails, and pitching prospects on social media. Prospects aren’t dumb. They recognize cold calling scripts a mile away.

The Typical Approach to Account Based Sales Development

“What are your best practices for getting in the door?” That’s what every account based sales rep wants to know. So, when this question was posed in a LinkedIn Group, I was curious to learn how account based selling teams attempt to land and expand within their accounts. Here are a few responses—and my thoughts on their ideas:

  • Hard to be “above the noise” with email. Doing research online prior to reaching out to your senior stakeholder is step one. Step two is getting on the phone with them and quickly tell them (a) what you know about them, (b) why you think you can help, and (c) a reason why they should talk to you.
    • Sounds like cold calling scripts.
  • If your contact is high level and has an executive assistant, reach out to the EA first. Let EA know the same (a) and (b) from above and ask them if you can send EA an email and review it with them for a couple minutes tomorrow, where they can then decide if it makes sense to set up a meeting/call.
    • Sounds like someone who’s about to get shut down by the gatekeeper.
  • Ask the CEO for permission to name drop.
    • That’s not asking for referrals.
  • Based on the relevant event, open with an “if/then” proposition. Example: “Ms Prospect, if (or because) xxx compliance is a very bright blip on your radar, then a conversation about a new way to help keep your company out of hot water likely would be worthwhile. May we have that conversation please?”
    • More cold calling scripts.
  • Use clear brief statements explaining how you’re different during your elevator speech. Learn what gain or pain your unique selling points will help the prospect with and stay focused on quantifying (qualitatively and financially) how you will help.
    • You got it. More cold calling scripts.

I was relieved to see there were also comments about asking for referrals:

  • Asking for referrals is key for account based selling reps, understanding the competition and knowing who their current clients are. Use your existing network to start new relationships with new people and businesses.
  • Referrals are the #1 way to obtain new appointments. Unfortunately, not many people are asking for referrals at every opportunity.
  • Asking for referrals from inside the prospect’s organization are that much more powerful and suggest that really understanding what your differentiators are will be critical going forward.
  • There are several types of referrals for our account based sales team: from one department in a client to another; from our contact at one of our accounts to a different company; from current employees to someone they know may be looking for our service; from past employees; from partners, etc. And of course, following a contact when they leave one organization and go to another.

Yes, yes, yes! Of course, with any “yes,” there’s always a “but”…

  • The issue is, can you get enough referrals to meet your objectives? So, you then will have to turn to social media to see if you can get referrals from referrals. After that it’s the cold hard reality of cold calling, either with the assistance of an inbound marketing campaign, or plain old fashioned cold calling scripts.
  • We have an existing customer that has the relationships with prospective customers. We have built the business based on asking for referrals, but at some point, you have to build success in the open market.

Referrals Scale Because Relationships Scale

Skeptics will always appear and challenge the scalability of referrals for account based sales development. But really, how many deals do account based selling reps need in a year? It’s not hundreds—maybe not even in double digits.

Asking for referrals is a relationship sale, and relationships are how deals get done. Tech tools are great for organizing the sales process, finding referral connections, learning about a prospect, and ranking the probability that your buyer is ready. But at the end of the day, asking for referrals is still the best way to get a meeting, earn prospects’ trust, and ultimately land and expand.

Yes, your company should have a strong multichannel, digital marketing strategy. Your account based selling team should utilize social media and explore sales productivity tools. But don’t fool yourself into thinking these tools give you a predictable, guaranteed edge, because everyone else is using them too. What will give you an edge is a well-connected, well-nurtured network of people who are ready and willing to refer you. It’s still who you know that counts.

When you earn the trust of your clients, not only do they keep coming back for more (even bigger) deals; they become your most loyal cheerleaders and advocates—spreading word of your value to their friends and colleagues. Relationships built on trust give account based selling teams an edge over their competitors, who often don’t even get a chance to compete. After all, why would your prospects bother shopping around if they already know they can trust you? That’s why referred prospects convert to clients at least 50 percent of the time—usually 70 to 90 percent.

Trust trumps technology every day. Technology takes us just so far. Then it’s time to make a personal connection.

Ready to make asking for referrals your primary outbound sales lead generation strategy? Learn more about the #1 Referral Selling Program for Account Based Sales.