Referral selling expert Joanne Black wants you to stop cold calling – and I’m pretty sure your customers would be with her. Here’s her guide to referral sales.

Think of the overwhelming benefits of a sales referral over a cold call. You are instantly in front of the person who matters, rather than battling your way through their people. There is an immediate sense of trust, particularly if the referral came from a person the prospect respects. And you likely already know something about each other, meaning the ‘first-date awkwardness’ is removed from the meeting.

There are numerous other benefits, and many of these were discussed during a recent presentation at a Sales Masterminds breakfast (sponsored by Salesforce), by Joanne Black. Joanne is one of America’s leading authorities on referral selling, and her reasoning is difficult to argue against.

The new, customer-centric sales reality


First let’s remind ourselves of what we know about the current state of sales. The most important rule in today’s sales environment is that everything you do needs to be about the customer, not the product and not the sale.

Customers are connected and informed. They know all they need to know about the product. Selling is about customer experience. It’s about the relationship. There is no stronger way to begin that relationship than via referral.

Referral-based selling tips from the guru – Joanne Black


Joanne Black, author of bestselling books Pick Up The Damn Phone and No More Cold Calling, says nobody should ever have to cold call. In a perfect, referral-selling world, a salesperson should be able to skip the eight to 15 touches required to simply get to the decision maker and instead move directly to ‘Go!’ (and collect $200!).

If you receive an introduction from somebody your prospect knows and trusts, they will always take a meeting with you, Joanne said. Even better, you’ll have found out a little about the prospect from the person who made the referral.

The best part of all is that when you sit down opposite the person you’ve been referred to, your opposition automatically takes a back seat. Your only job now is to make sure the opposition stays in the back seat by nurturing and maintaining a fantastic relationship. It’s a fast track to conversion.

Why don’t we achieve 100% referral sales?


So if referral selling is so powerful, what’s getting in the way? Joanne explains the big roadblocks that she regularly hears:

  • Fear of ‘imposing’ on a personal relationship

  • Forgetting to ask for a referral

  • Not knowing how to ask for a referral

  • Fear of rejection (the potential referrer might say no)

  • Losing face – “If I have to ask for help then it must mean I’m not doing very well.”

A solid plan for referral sales


All of the roadblocks above can be overcome with a little training, along with recognition of the irrationality of the fears. Of course, a plan of action is needed, and Joanne recommends these five steps:

  1. Make a conscious decision to implement referral selling as your number one outbound strategy.

  2. Integrate referral processes into your sales processes.

  3. Create referral activity metrics – measures and targets in terms of number of meetings and contacts. Keep them simple and measure progress weekly, not monthly (and make these measurement discussions productive, not just a chance to shift expectations).

  4. Seek training or mentoring to build skills – referral selling is a skill, so takes disciplined attention and coaching for constant improvement and success.

  5. Create accountability to make sure it is happening.

A sixth step I would add is to celebrate success. Use the metrics you are gathering – numbers of meetings and contacts – and track the opportunities that have been influenced by these meetings and contacts. Acknowledging (loudly!) the impact referral selling has on results will show its value, reinforcing the behavioural change across the sales team.

Want to spend more time selling? Download our free ebook 4 Steps to Transforming Your Sales Process today to transform your sales process.