Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 8, 2015

3 Steps to Getting High Quality Referrals From Your Clients

Are you one of the majority of sellers that isn’t converting the majority of the referrals you get because the “referral” is nothing more than the name and phone number of someone who isn’t a real prospect?  Are you one of the sellers who have simply given up even asking for referrals because they have proven to be more of a waste of time than anything else?   Chances are you said yes because that’s the experience of most sellers–weak or worthless “referrals” that cost more time and waste more energy than they’re worth.  Oh, sure, we all have some clients that will give us referrals all day long.  Just ask and they’ll give you name after name.  Other clients, the majority, aren’t nearly as generous with their referrals.

The biggest problem in both cases is so often the referral we get isn’t much better than pointing at a name in the phonebook at random.

How can you guarantee that you get great referrals?  Simple.  Make sure the client gives you a great referral by creating the referral for them to give you, rather than relying on them coming up with a quality referral to give.

The reality is that clients really don’t know who we’re looking for and most of them just don’t have a real incentive to invest the time and energy to come up with a great referral.

But we know who is a great referral for us.  And certainly we’re willing to invest the time and energy to find a great referral (if we’re not, we have some real serious issues to deal with).

Since we’re the one with the need; and we’re the one with the desire; and we’re the one who knows who makes a good referral for us, why would we rely on anyone else other than our self to come up with the referral?

So how can we create a great referral for our client to give us?

Here are three steps to guaranteeing you get great referrals from your clients:

  1. Get Your Client On-board to Give Referrals.  Most sellers wait until after the sale has been completed before they bring up the idea of referrals.  Bad idea.

    Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals, so bring up referrals early in the relationship.  Don’t ask for referrals; just let your client know that your business is built on referrals and then drop referral seeds as the sale progresses.  Since your prospects and clients aren’t stupid, if they hear you mention referrals often in a casual manner, they’ll get the impression referrals are important to you and they will be expecting you to ask for them at some point.

  2. Find Out Who Your Client Knows.  We’ve already established that in order to get great referrals you have to do the work for your client, so do it by discovering during the course of the relationship who they know that you know you want to be referred to.How do you find out? Through small-talk (who do they mention in conversation they know); paying attention to what’s in their environment (pictures, association directories, membership plaques, and such); their background (where did they work previously); their work (what vendors and suppliers do they interact with).  Your job is to be a detective and to uncover the relationships they have with people or companies that you know you want to be referred to.  The more you uncover the more quality referrals you uncover.
  3. Don’t Ask for Referrals, Ask for THE Introduction.  Now when it comes time to ask for referrals, you’re not going to be like every other seller and ask a weak question such as, “Donna, do you happen to know anyone else (or another company) that might be able to use my products or services (or that I can help—or any other such weak question)?”

    Instead you’re going to ask for a direct introduction to someone you know is a great prospect for you and that you have reason to believe your client knows:  “Donna, I’ve been trying to connect with David Jones for some time without success.  You mentioned that you’ve worked with David for several years, would you be comfortable introducing me to him?”  You know she knows David.  You have reason to believe David is a good prospect for you.  Don’t waste Donna’s time with that weak general referral question; ask to get connected to a person you know she knows that you know you want to connect with.

Referrals can be the foundation of your sales business if you just develop the skills necessary to be a referral-based salesperson.  If Donna knows three people or companies you know you want to be referred to and you can get introductions to them from her, how much time and energy have you saved getting those three introductions through referrals instead of cold calling or sending out direct mail or hoping to bump into them at a networking event?

Forget what you’ve been taught about asking for referrals.  Referral generation is a PROACTIVE process where you do the work, not your client.  Your client doesn’t have the motivation, you do.  They don’t have the understanding of who makes a good referral like you do.  Your client doesn’t have the time to invest in figuring out a good referral like you do.  It’s your business, not theirs.


August 12, 2014

Your Client has a Vested Interest in that Referral They Just Gave You

I hope you are generating referrals from your clients.  If you’re not you should be as referrals are one of the most effective, if not the most effective, way of growing your business.  But know that once you have gotten the referral your job is hardly done.  No, I’m not talking about contacting and selling the referred prospect, I’m talking about keeping your client in the loop.

One of the primary reasons clients are hesitant to give referrals is that they are afraid of being embarrassed in front of a friend, relative, acquaintance or co-worker by you not performing as you should.  So, when they do give a referral, they have a vested interest in what’s going on between you and the person to whom they referred you.  Their interest isn’t in whether or not the prospect purchases but in how the prospect perceives you and the value being referred by the client.

When a client gives you a referral, you learn a number of things:

  1. The client will give referrals.  Obviously, you just received one or more.
  2. How well the client understands what you do.  The quality of the referral will let you know how well your client understands what you do and who is a good referral for you.  The better the referral, the more the client understands.  The poorer the referral, the more work you must do to educate them for future referrals (and future sales to them for that matter).
  3. How much they trust you.  Generally, the stronger the trust relationship between the client and the referred prospect, the more the client trusts you.
  4. They have more referrals to give.  Seldom will a client give you all of the referrals they can make at one time.  If a client gives referrals, you can almost bet they have more to give—if you keep earning them.

How do you get those additional referrals?  Additional referrals are earned, just as the original referrals were earned.  You earn those additional referrals by:

  1. Giving your client the assurance that you’re trustworthy with referrals.  You must show through your actions that their trust in giving you a referral was well placed by making sure that the referred prospect has an exceptional experience with you.
  2. By keeping your client fully informed of everything that is occurring with the referred prospect.
  3. By continuing to deliver superior service to your client.

Does the above mean that you must perform perfectly with the referred prospect?  What if there was an honest mistake or miscommunication?  What if something out of your control happened during the course of the sale?  Will these incidents destroy any possibility of acquiring additional referrals?

No, not at all.

The keys to gaining additional referrals from a client are to treat the referred prospect exactly in the same manner you treated the client and to keep your client informed of what is transpiring between yourself and the referred prospect.

Your client gave you referrals because they understood that giving referrals was in their own best interests and because you earned them through the service you gave them.  You must now demonstrate that same level of service for the referral they have given you.  They expect—actually demand—you perform at the same level—or higher—for those they refer to as you did for them.  That level of service you gave them was what demonstrated to them that they could trust with a referral.  Anything short of that and they will reevaluate whether you should be trusted with additional referrals.

That having been said, most clients understand that mistakes, miscommunications, and problems arise in business.  A single issue during the course of the sale to a referred prospect, even a major issue, will not sever your ability to gain additional referrals from you client if you address and resolve the issue in an exceptional manner.

Clients don’t expect perfection, they expect exceptional service—both for themselves and for those they refer you to.  How well or poorly you handle the issues will be a major factor in determining your future refer-ability.

Keeping your client informed of the progress of the sale with the referred prospect reassures them that you’re doing your job—and that all is well.  It is also your source of informing them if there have been problems and how they were resolved.

It is critical that you let your client know of issues involved with sales to prospects they have referred you to before the prospect has a chance to relate the incident.  You can relate the circumstances and the resolution in the most favorable light—the prospect may not.  This doesn’t mean that you can lie or gloss over it, just that you can give the background and the full resolution without the emotional involvement the prospect will have.  Of course, if you’ve done an exceptional job of resolving the issue, the tale told by the prospect should also be impressive.  However, you always want problems to be related to your client by you—you don’t want to get a phone call from the client asking what happened.

Keeping your client informed doesn’t mean bombarding them with emails, phone calls, and notes.  A simple “thank you for the referral” card immediately after receiving the referral and the occasional call or email will suffice.  The object is to keep them in the loop and to reassure them that their referral was well made for both you and the prospect.  Even better than the occasional call or email is to explicitly ask the client how and how often they would like to be informed of the progress.

Clients are interested in what’s going on with the referrals they make.  They want to know the prospect is being taken care of in the manner the client expected, and they enjoy knowing that they have provided you with a quality referral.  More importantly, they want to know that they haven’t embarrassed themselves in front of an acquaintance.

Simple actions will earn those additional referrals your clients have—you just have to earn them.

April 25, 2008

Stop Prospecting Forever

This is a repost of my article, “Stop Prospecting Forever,” which originally appeared in Advisor Today, the largest circulation financial services magazine in the world and the official publication of the National Association for Insurance and Financial Advisors. I’m reprinting this as I just learned the article has been selected as one of the 10 best articles written in 2007 according to Advisor Today. I hope you enjoy it.


If you’re still struggling with lead generation and not getting enough qualified prospects, you may want to try “referralspecting.” Instead of depending on cold calls, direct mail or company-provided leads, become an advisor who generates significant numbers of referrals. If you follow these four steps religiously, you can get most of your business—with more and better-qualified prospects—from client referrals within just a few months.

1. Set the expectations from the beginning.
To generate large numbers of referrals, you must establish the expectation of a large number of qualified referrals from the beginning. The traditional referral-gathering formula is: Make the sale, do a good job, ask for referrals. Most advisors seek referrals to new prospects using this typical formula with the “ask” at the end—and see typically poor results. Make it clear from the outset that you work on a referral basis and fully expect the client to have referrals for you at the appropriate time. Start during the initial meeting with the prospect, continue throughout the sales process, and follow up after the sale.

2. Agree on terms.
If you want to be a successful referralspector, you must take the extra time with your client to make sure you are both on the same page. There are three things you need to go over with him:

A: Make sure your client understands what you mean by referral. Sound ridiculous? Everyone has his own idea of what a referral is or isn’t. You cannot expect your customer to fully know what you want from him. Instead, explain in detail what a real referral is; otherwise, you stand an excellent chance of getting the same types of unqualified names and phone numbers you were getting from your lead service.
B. Spell out how many referrals you expect; otherwise, your client may only give you the minimum number of referrals he feels he can legitimately give you. So unless you are happy with one or two referrals, go ahead and give your client a benchmark to reach.
C. You must agree on what you will deliver in exchange for the referral. In other words, you have to earn your clients’ referrals, and they should know that upfront as well. To perform to your clients’ expectations, you have to understand what constitutes a quality job for them. You absolutely must make sure you understand their expectations—and they must understand your capabilities.

3. Over-deliver. OK, it’s an old cliché, but “under-promise and over-deliver” is an absolute in referral selling. Part of your relationship agreement with clients is that if you perform to their satisfaction, you will get referrals. You earn the referrals—they are part of your compensation. If you exceed their expectations, they’re more likely to give more referrals. So make “going one better” a top priority.

4. Get the referrals. Now that you’ve done a fantastic job, you want your payment. Since you’ve done steps 1 through 3 correctly, your client is probably ready to give you several names and phone numbers. Don’t accept them without asking lots of questions, such as what your client liked about your service, products, delivery and communication during the sale and other pertinent items. Take notes. Then ask about each of the individuals and companies on your customer’s referral list. Get as much information as you can about each.

After you have gathered this information, ask if your client would write a personal referral letter to each person or, better yet, if he would prefer you write the letters and submit them for his signature. Since you have notes about their experience with you, and you have detailed information about the referred person, you might be in a position to write a better letter than your client is. Or, even better, ask your client to call the person and introduce you—or arrange a lunch for the three of you. Regardless of whether it’s a call, letter or lunch, you are virtually guaranteed a meeting on terms that are favorable to you.

So, is it that simple? Yes and no. The above steps outline the process for generating large numbers of referrals. The act of putting them into practice and making them work does take thought, practice and time. Like everything else in sales, the devil is in the details. If you’re having trouble doing it by trial and error, you may want to consider hiring a sales coach to help you. But either way, you need to convert your sales business from a hit-and-miss prospecting system to one that is proven to generate results and increase your income even as you de-emphasize the “sell.”

For a fuller discussion of the process that will generate a large volume of high quality referrals from each of your customers and clients, see my best-selling book on referral generation, Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income: Sales Success through Client Referrals which is recognized by many as the authoritative work on referral selling. It is, of course, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and all fine bookstores.

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