Who would you recommend me to?

Six tips to leveraging the power of referrals during your sales conversations

Anyone who has ever attended professional sales training, read a book on sales skills or listened to a seasoned sales professional will have grasped that gaining referrals from existing and happy customers is a fast track to sales success. Despite the wealth of material explaining how you are eleven times more likely to generate business from a quality referral the vast majority of people do not make gaining referrals a ritual part of their sales process. Many of those who do ask for referrals only receive weak information, poorly qualified leads and generate little result from their endeavours. The knock on effect of finding referrals unrewarding is that we start to avoid asking for them. We begin to believe we will upset our customer and appear discourteous; potentially spoiling our original sale. When we do ask for referrals if all we get is an unqualified name and number then we’re not very far apart from making a cold call to this potential customer. Before they give us chance to explain that we are a referral we may have been cast off as ‘another sales call’.

If gaining referrals is such a powerful way of increasing sales and simultaneously generating new leads then mastering this part of your sales process can ultimately create a perpetual cycle of increased new business. However, it is not as simple as asking everyone you deal with to spread the word around their network about how fantastic you are and hoping your phone starts ringing. There are guidelines to making sure you generate the greatest results from referral selling. Master the rules and you will quickly set yourself apart from all other sales people in your industry who don’t tap in to this vast resource of new custom.

Making referrals part of your sales process is separate to gaining referrals from networking events, social media and the golf club. These are powerful strings to your bow but are separate from your sales presentation and will be covered I’m sure in future blogs.

Always ask

The majority of sales people don’t ask for a referral so by simply asking the question to your customer you are instantly putting yourself ahead of your competition. Avoid making excuses as to why you haven’t asked every client. They won’t know anyone, I’ll sound rude, I might lose the sale I have, I don’t want them thinking I’m off to sell to their competitor. All excuses lead to less sales and more often than not have no factual basis. What they really mean is – I forgot, I was scared or I didn’t know how to approach asking for a referral. Make asking for the referral as much a part of your sales process as filling in order forms, cold calling and invoicing.

Keep asking

 Sales people who do ask for referrals tend to only ask once. This will generate a result but you will have to get a lot of names and numbers from a lot of your customers to have noticeable impact on your results. Ask at every possible stage of the sales process and remember to ask for as many people as possible that your customer thinks you could help. Like any sale, it usually takes up to the fifth time of asking before your customer will be able to give you any details worth pursuing. If you have asked for the business and not managed to complete a sale, all is not lost. If your prospect has not bought from you because you don’t currently fulfil their needs, it makes sense to ask who they know whom they feel you could help. This may also help you further uncover their deeper reasons for not buying from you.

Ask for names and numbers – not for your details to be passed on

Avoid your customer casually agreeing to pass on your details to ‘some people they know’. When you ask for referrals, manners dictate that your customer will agree but they will never be as passionate about helping you with a sale as you will be when talking to a new prospect. Once you have left the room their enthusiasm to help you will quickly dwindle; and rightly so. They have their own business to focus on and sales of their own to achieve. Ensure you get a list of decision-makers names, contact numbers and importantly what their relationship to the business they are referring you to is.

Change how you call a referral

If you are directly phoning a contact given to you as a referral from an existing customer take it slowly. Discuss how you have helped the referee and how they thought you might be able to help them. Have a conversation and build rapport. A referral is not a guarantee of being welcomed with open arms and the prospect must not categorise you too early as ‘just another sales call’.

Explain what a great referral would look like for you

Many sales people don’t know what a perfect referral for them would look like so you can be fairly certain that your customer will have even less of an idea. Explain precisely what an ideal contact would be for you, what information you would need and how you prefer to make first contact with people. Ask your customer what their main reasons for buying from you were and who else they feel may have the same needs and challenges that you have helped with. Not only can you score referral business but you will reinforce to your customer why they bought from you in the first place and secure a long term relationship.

Research who your client might know

If you were to ask all your clients who they think would be a great prospect for you, who they think would benefit from your goods and services and be likely to welcome you contacting them, they will draw a blank. They will be highly accustomed to spotting potential prospects for their own business and identifying customers’ needs that are relevant to their own goods and services. Research who your customer does business with, has contact with, plays golf with or socialises with. Instead of asking for their opinion on who you could speak with, ask them directly for an introduction to a specific organisation or individual.

I recently secured a training contract with a large advertising agency that I had drawn a blank with for the past two years. I had cold called their offices on numerous occasions, ensured members of their team had attended my free seminars, sent emails, gifts, letters, tweets and I had even spoken directly to the management at networking events. Every time I attempted to secure a meeting with the decision makers in the company I couldn’t get further than the reception desk, even though I’d received great feedback from their own staff on my sales skills training and I knew that I could directly service a need they had. I did further research on their company and found a client of mine was also a client of theirs. One phone call to my client, a five minute wait and after two years of persistently contacting them – they contacted me. We now have a fantastic working relationship and they are growing to be one of my largest accounts. This brought home to me how important and powerful researching your network and asking for referrals can be.