Every rep wants to get in front of qualified prospects as quickly as possible. But how much time and energy do reps typically waste cold calling lists of people who may or may not have decision-making authority, or following up on unqualified leads?

Far too much! And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The #1 way to stand out from your fierce competitors and exceed sales goals is to receive referral introductions from people your prospects know and trust. With referral selling, you get in before prospects even know they have a need. You get to ask smart questions, call attention to pain points, and suggest solutions to problems that prospects didn’t even know they had. In other words, you set the stage for how competitors are evaluated (if they even get a chance to be evaluated).And because people your prospects trust have vouched for you, they give you the inside track no one else gets.

While your competitors are still trying to get past decision-makers’ gatekeepers, you're on your way to achieving or even blowing past your sales goals.

Referral Programs: 5 Competitive Advantages

When sales organizations invest time and resources into referral programs, reps stand out in these five ways:

1. High Close Rates: Your success rate skyrockets, because you convert prospects into clients well more than 50 percent of the time. (Most salespeople tell me it’s more like 70 percent.)

2. Valuable Customer Relationships: You conduct more business with existing customers, and they become loyal referral sources.

3. Pre-Sold Customers: You shorten the sales cycle and close deals faster, because your customers already know who you are and want to talk to you.

4. Meaningful Conversations: You are credible in your prospect’s eyes from the moment you first connect. You have the robust conversations that you love—learning about the client’s business and ways you can help. You’ve earned the right to ask question after question, and to “peel the onion” until you expose the real issues.

5. Reduced Competition:Because you have an established relationship, your client shares important information about key decision-makers, budget, and expected timelines—information your competitors will never hear.

Will referral selling guarantee that you meet your sales goals? The short answer is no. Asking for referrals is one thing. But to scale those referral introductions and fill your sales pipeline with hot, qualified leads, you need more than an occasional ask. You need areliable referral program.

What It Takes to Get Referrals at Scale

Referral selling is logical and simple, but it’s not easy. Otherwise, every sales organization would have referral programs in place.

You’ll need to learn several new skills as you make the transition to referral selling—including who, how, and when to ask for referrals. Adopting a referral program is a strategic initiative driven by sales leaders. It requires referral metrics, referral skills, and accountability for referral results. Like anything worth doing, it takes work, but the rewards are almost instantaneous: better customers, better sales, and a better chance of exceeding sales goals.

When you’re introduced to someone you want to meet and who wants to meet you, you create business opportunities that are yours to win. You meet with decision-makers who could become your customers, or with people who could become your advocates within their organizations. Either way, you are starting with someone on your side. And that’s a powerful position for salespeople.

About the Author

Joanne Black is America’s leading authority on referral selling—the only business-development strategy proven to convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of NO MORE COLD CALLING™: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust and Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. To learn more, visit www.NoMoreColdCalling.com. You can also follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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