There's a saying in baseball: You'll never get to second if you don't take your foot off first. Winning the game means taking risks—in sports and in sales. Salespeople will never win deals unless they try a new approach, something their competitors aren’t already doing.
If you're a sales leader looking to ensure a quality pipeline, “smoke and mirrors" won't get you home. Your sales reps are active on social media; your marketing department is nurturing leads; your branding is top-notch.
None of these guarantees qualified leads. But referral selling does.
You've told your team to ask for referrals—because you know referred prospects are the most likely to become clients—but the results have been hit or miss. You recognize it’s time to implement a systematic, disciplined referral program with metrics, skills, and accountability for results.
Go ahead and take that leap. Put a stake in the ground and commit to referral selling as your #1 outbound prospecting strategy. It only feels risky because you've never done it before.
Work to the Beat of Your Own Drum
Joseph Magnin, a now-defunct women’s specialty store in San Francisco, hired me right out of college into their management training program. (Not telling you the year.) That’s where I learned my first—and most powerful—lesson about working differently in the business world.
I wanted to rearrange a display of elegant gifts, so I asked some older employees what they thought of the idea. They all told me it had never been done before. So I shared the idea with my manager. When I told her what everyone else said, she replied, “That’s the best reason I know for doing it.”
And that was the best career advice I’ve ever received.
I was 22 years old. Since that time, I have continued to challenge traditional ways of thinking and working. I challenge tired prospecting techniques like cold calling, direct-mail campaigns, and advertising—and the misguided expectation that these activities attract great clients.
They usually don’t. But a personal connection does, and that’s exactly what sales reps get when they ask for referrals from people their prospects know and trust.
When sales reps receive referral introductions, they get meetings at the level that counts and convert well more than 50 percent of prospects into great clients! Then those new clients refer them to other ideal clients who accept their calls and call them back. That’s how referrals scale and open the door to sales success.
Here's how to get started:
1. Make referrals a priority. For a referral program to scale, referral selling must be your #1 business-development outreach, tightly integrated into your sales process, and reinforced with rewards and recognition. Otherwise, your team will keep doing what they’ve always done and getting the same lackluster results.
2. A referral program needs metrics. Referrals can be tracked and measured just as easily as results from cold calling, direct mail, and advertising. Without metrics, there’s no accountability for results, and starting a referral program is a waste of time.
3. Teach them how to ask for referrals. Referral selling is a behavior change that requires new skills, coaching, and reinforcement. Simply telling your team to go get referrals isn’t enough, because most salespeople don’t know how to ask in a way that gets results. Many have tried in the past without any luck because they thought it was enough to tell people, “Hey, if you know anyone who could benefit from my services, please refer me.” But even the best-intentioned friends and clients will forget such a generic request after the conversation ends. Sales reps must make a case, not a plea.
Want to Change the Game? Change Your Strategy
There’s an old story about a little girl who watched her mother cut the ends off a ham before putting it in the roasting pan. When the girl asked why she did it this way, her mother thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know. My mother always did it that way. Why don’t you ask your grandmother?”
So the little girl asked her grandmother why she always trimmed the ham. The grandmother said, “That’s simple. The pan wasn’t big enough.”
Moral of the story: Don’t accept tired sales techniques that aren’t working, just because it’s what other people are doing. The truth is, they’re probably not getting great results either. Instead, challenge the status quo, take a leap, and ace-out your competition. It's really not as risky as you thought.