The Art of Referrals (part 1)

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Referrals are the best way to increase your sales.  When you begin to build your business through referrals, you lessen your dependence on having to make cold calls and other less productive (and frustrating) prospecting activities.  Yet getting qualified referrals is not automatic by any stretch of the imagination.  There is a prerequisite.

The most important concept to understand about referrals is that you must provide outstanding service, superior products and be professional in every way in order for anyone to consider providing you with referrals.  No one will want to refer friends and business associates to you if they are concerned that their referral might have a bad experience with you or your products.

The vast majority of professional salespeople who do provide outstanding service and quality products still do not get nearly the number or quality of referrals that they should, missing out on the easiest way to build their business.  As a result, they work too hard, have to resort to other, less productive, forms of prospecting and their business and income suffers. 

Why Don’t Salespeople Get Referrals?

If referrals are the easiest way to build business, why don’t salespeople get more referrals?  It’s not always due to the lack of quality or professional standards, but rather other factors, and this chapter will address them all.

  1. They don’t ask for them
  2. They don’t know how to ask for them
  3. They don’t tell the referring source what they’re looking for

Our experience is that most salespeople don’t know how to ask for referrals and as a result, when they do, they hear things from the potential referring source like, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do, I’ll call you.” 

When someone asks you for a referral, what is your typical response?  If you normally say, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do…,” then you are very susceptible to having what might be called “referral avoidance empathy” – a belief that your client feels the same way you do.  Then your subconscious thought process goes something like this:  I normally don’t give referrals myself and suspect that he doesn’t either, so why bother asking?  If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re done; it’s over.  No referrals for you.

There’s a lot we could say about referrals, but simply understanding the following will help you improve your referral business.

When to Ask

     The best time to ask for referrals certainly depends on a lot of factors. But here are a few ideas.

  • Set the stage early in the relationship.  (“At some point when you’re totally satisfied with us as a supplier, I’d like to ask you for referrals.  How do you feel about that?”)
  • After you’ve just completed delivery of your solution and your customer is satisfied.  (“Who do you know…?”)

Dos and Don’ts

  • Ask them about their willingness to give you referrals.  Don’t assume they will.
  • Begin the question with “Who do you know that…………….?”  Don’t ask, “Do you know anyone ….?”  It’s too easy for them to say, “I can’t think of anyone right now, but if I do……”
  • Ask to be introduced to their friends and associates.  Don’t ask to be recommended – it puts too much pressure on the prospect and is presumptive.
  • Focus your question on the end result to the client – a benefit or problem you can solve.
  • Phrase the question as though the referring source will be doing the friend a favor.
  • Tell your referring source exactly what you will be doing with the referral.  Don’t forget to keep the referring source informed of your progress.

Click here to read Part 2: including how to ask for a referral, what your ideal client profiles are, how to “upgrade” your referrals, and finally how to give more to get more.