Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 23, 2009

It’s Not Your Client’s Responsibility to do Your Job


Most salespeople want referrals.  Almost all sales trainers preach the need to generate ’em, usually by saying something like, “all of my clients give me four or five great referrals to their friends and family, while I’m filling out the paperwork, just write down the names and phone numbers of four or five people who might need my services,” or, “by the way, do you know of anyone else who might need my service?”

Most salespeople learn very quickly that these approaches don’t work well.  Sure, a salesperson might get an occasional name and phone number, but usually they aren’t much better than taking out the phonebook and pointing at names at random.

There are several reasons these approaches don’t really work such as not defining for the client what a good referral is, not giving the client time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals, and not giving the client a reason why they should give referrals.  In order to get a large number of high quality referrals, you must address and overcome each of these issues. 

But one of the major reasons clients don’t give lots of quality referrals is that they don’t know whom to refer.  They just don’t know enough about your business to give you really good referrals.  They really don’t know what you’re looking for-even after you define whom a quality referral is.  Besides, they have enough to think about, they don’t need to be doing your job for you.  It isn’t their responsibility-it’s yours.

Does that mean you can’t get great referrals?

No, not at all.

It does mean, however, that you can’t rely on your client doing your job. 

So, how do you get referrals from clients without them having to do the work?  Simple.  You do some investigation to figure out whom your client knows that you know you want to be referred to. 

OK, it isn’t simple.  It takes work on your part-detective work.  But it’s your business, not theirs.  You have to take responsibility for building your business, not pass it off to your clients.

Being a referral detective means you have to listen to your client.  You have to ask the right questions.  You have to observe his or her surroundings.  You have to be alert to discover who you have reason to believe they know that you know would be a good prospect for you.

Most often you’ll uncover referral opportunities through casual conversations with your client and observing their office or home surroundings. 

A few examples:

  • If you’re speaking with the VP of Finance for XYZ Company, during your rapport building, casually asking them whom they worked for prior to joining XYZ will reveal a potential referral. 
  • If your client is purchasing a car, asking who’s next in their family to purchase a vehicle may reveal a referral
  • If your client has a plaque from the local chamber of commerce for his work as one of last year’s directors, whom in the chamber do you know you’d like to be referred to?
  • If your client is a purchasing agent for ABC Company, what companies do they purchase from that you’d like to be referred to? 

Instead of asking your client a general question that he or she may easily answer in the  negative, ask your client if they would refer you to the person or company you’ve uncovered from your detective work.  If you’ve done a great job and you’ve uncovered someone they know, they will refer you.

Then, take it one step further.  Instead of just getting a name and phone number, get a real referral-a direct introduction to the referred prospect.

Yes, this isn’t as easy as asking the typical ‘referral’ question; but are you looking to build your business or just slide through doing as little as possible? If you’re serious about building your business, take responsibility for its success and do the work for your client.  You’ll get a lot more referrals-and a lot better referrals-for your effort.

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2 Comments »

  1. Excellent content here and a nice writing style too – keep up the great work!

    Comment by Niche Digger — January 25, 2009 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

  2. A great reminder that referrals aren’t free. Building a relationship of trust before asking for a referral will always yield better results. But, in the end, if you don’t ask, you don’t get….

    Comment by Dan Rime — January 26, 2009 @ 5:25 pm | Reply


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