When you ask for referrals from your clients, customers, and networks, future sales success can be — quite literally — one phone call or meeting away. So, why don’t salespeople ask more often? Simply put, referral selling is hard. It requires a commitment and accountability to make it happen.
Just think about the opportunities, though. If account executives talk to one close contact a day, and clearly describe who they are looking to meet, they’re likely to get at least one referral introduction. And referred prospects convert to clients at least 50% of the time. Those are good odds.
By keeping the following steps in mind, you’ll be able to kick-start your referral selling, bring even more opportunities into your pipeline, and set yourself up to meet or exceed your sales quota.
1. Make a strategy and create accountability.
Why don’t more sales teams make referrals a priority? There are several reasons. First, sales leaders don't understand that there must be a strategy. You have to put a stake in the ground and say, "Referral selling will be our #1 outbound prospecting strategy." This is absolutely key. You also need to help your team build referral-selling skills and provide ongoing coaching to help them succeed. Just as importantly, you need referral metrics.
Your KPIs set your team’s priorities. If reps are accountable for the number of calls made and emails sent, or for their presence on social media, then those activities get the most attention. If you don’t do the same thing for referrals, your team won’t ask. Of course, it’s much harder to get a referral than to send a cold email. You don’t just click a button; you must have a conversation. But you’re far more likely to land a new client with a referral introduction from someone a prospect trusts, than by cold calling or pestering people with sales pitches on social media.
2. Build a list.
3. Never ask in a digital format.
I can’t emphasize this point enough: Salespeople should never ask for referrals in a digital format. That means no social and no email. Referrals are very personal. The “ask” doesn’t always have to be face-to-face. A phone call or live video chat will suffice. The point is simply to be talking, not typing. Why? Because people do business with people, not with technology.
I have one client — a sales VP — who tells her team, "We don't close deals by email." This couldn’t be truer for referral selling.
Asking for referrals via email or social media can actually damage salespeople’s relationships with their referral sources. Salespeople need to talk to referral sources to find out how well they even know the prospects. It’s also a great opportunity to say, "Tell me about that person. Do you think that I can solve some of their challenges?" Blindly asking for referrals on LinkedIn is presumptuous and might potentially annoy your customers and contacts.
4. Be specific.
It’s important to be incredibly prepared and specific when you ask for a referral. Too often, sales reps say, "If you know anyone who could benefit from my services, please let me know." What does that accomplish? Nothing. It puts the burden on the other person to think about everyone they know and try to determine who would be a good fit.
When salespeople are very clear about who they want to meet, and how they can help those people, it’s easy for referral sources to identify the perfect prospects. We get what we ask for, so it’s important to ask for what we really want.
5. Don’t be afraid.
Many salespeople are simply afraid to ask for a referral. They tell me, “I just feel weird about it” or “It feels too pushy.” Some also think a referral request might imply the company isn’t doing well.
On the surface, this seems completely opposite to what we do on a day-to-day basis in a sales role. We’re always inquiring. But referrals are very personal. We’re asking someone to put their reputation on the line for us. But if you’ve built a strong relationship and are confident in the delivery of your solution or services, a referral is not too much to ask. In fact, if you’ve built the relationship, your customer will probably want to share the experience of working with you.
Sales teams that can get over the fear, and get out of their own way, are the ones that get referrals. What are you waiting for?
“When salespeople are very clear about who they want to meet, and how they can help those people, it’s easy for referral sources to identify the perfect prospects. ”