Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 11, 2012

The Key to Generating Business Changing Referrals

Filed under: Referral Selling,sales,small business — Paul McCord @ 10:36 am
Tags: , , ,

Most sellers 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?” or the equally vapid, “who else do you know that I can help as I’ve helped you?”

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 who 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 to do your prospecting for you–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. 

It means that you must do the work for your client and make giving you great referrals so easy for them that all they have to do is say “yes.”

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

OK, it isn’t simple. 

It takes work on your part–real 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. 

Your conversation might go something like this:

YOU: “John, I’ve been trying to connect with Joe Blow over at ABC Company for some time and just haven’t made contact.  I noticed that he’s one of your customers and wondered if you’d be comfortable introducing me to him.  Would you be comfortable doing that?”

 If you’ve done a great job and you’ve uncovered someone they know, they will say yes.

Or you might say something like:

YOU: “John, I’ve been trying to connect with Joe Blow over at.ABC Company for some time and just haven’t made contact.  It dawned on me that you might know him.  Do you know Joe?”

CLIENT (if you’ve done your detective work well): “Sure, I know him, why?”

YOU: “Well, I was wondering if you’d be comfortable introducing me to him.  Would you be comfortable doing that?”

Again, if you’ve done your job well your client will be happy to agree to make the introduction.

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 lot better referrals-for your effort.
Connect with me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

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  1. Thanks for the insight, Paul.

    One thing is certain, if you don’t ask you won’t get.

    Also, I like the idea of framing your question around something familiar to them.


    Comment by Marc Zazeela — July 12, 2012 @ 6:15 am | Reply

  2. Paul, Great article. Im building a referral website called Gateskip after I found that traditional offline networking groups had some areas that could be improved and streamlined. I’d love to give you a free membership so you can see if you would find it to be a helpful tool for your readers.

    Comment by Dan Esposito — July 19, 2012 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

  3. […] The Key to Generating Business Changing Referrals ( […]

    Pingback by How do I get people to refer you and your company? | Kelly Business Advisors, LLC — August 1, 2012 @ 9:10 am | Reply

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