By Jeff Beals
What’s the most efficient form of prospecting?
In an era when buyers are jealously protective of their time, a referral from a trusted source is your admission ticket. The higher up a prospect is in a company, the more important referrals are.
Reaching busy decision makers is not the only reason you should ask past/current clients for referrals. By asking for business leads, you could find out about prospects who otherwise would remain hidden from your view. There are essentially thousands of prospective clients out there who you do not yet know and who have not heard of you. A referral is your ice breaker, a chance to know someone who could someday become one of your best clients.
A referral can get prospects thinking about making a change even when the thought of changing hadn’t previously entered their minds.
For example, let’s say there’s a client who is marginally happy with their current vendor. They’re happy enough that they don’t feel compelled to look around but they’re not so satisfied that they wouldn’t consider an unexpected solicitation from someone who referred you. A referral could be just enough of a catalyst to make them consider a new provider. Referrals are catalysts.
Despite the power of referrals, some sales professionals are hesitant to ask their current/past clients. Perhaps they are worried the request will be an unwanted interruption in the client’s busy day. Perhaps they’re worried they didn’t do a good enough job for the client. Perhaps they fear “going to the well one too many times” — they already took time from the client when doing the deal, so they feel guilty taking more of the client’s time now.
If you have done a good job of serving the client while at the same time building trust, have no fear or hesitation asking for a referral. In fact, you could make the argument that the referral actually strengthens your relationship with them. It’s kind of flattering when a vendor wants me to make referrals on their behalf. It shows me that I was an important and prestigious client.
Asking for a referral puts you and the client on the “same team” and creates more of a friendship between the two of you. Furthermore, saying nice things about you to others reinforces and reminds your client why you’re so awesome.
Some clients might actually be a bit offended if you don’t ask for a referral. I once had a client with whom I worked a long time and built a nice friendship. After a couple years, I finally asked for a referral and testimonial. Her response? “I was wondering why you never asked me for that!”
Here’s a list of who you should ask for referrals:
- A person whose name, title and profile make you look impressive
- Someone who will say positive things about you
- Someone who is very pleased with your product or service
- Someone with whom you have mutual trust
- Someone who has a large number of valuable contacts
When Should You Ask?
There’s no set time in the sales process when you are supposed to ask for a referral. That said, it’s probably best right after you have done a great job and your client is basking in your good work. Some sales pros are hesitant to ask a client from long ago. Don’t fret if time has gone by.
Simply call and say something reminded you of them and how much you enjoyed working with them. Then ask for a referral.
If prospects agree to give you referral, the best option is to have the referrer connect you directly They could make a coffee or lunch appointment for the three of you or perhaps send an email introducing you (“There’s someone you need to meet!”). If this isn’t an option, perhaps the referral giver could arrange a three-way phone call.
The second-best option is for the referral giver to send an email or make a phone call letting the targeted person know you’ll be calling and why they should talk to you.
If the referral giver isn’t willing to do either of the first two options, you will have to initiate the contact with the targeted person mentioning the referral giver’s name. Before making this call, make sure you have referral giver’s blessing to go ahead and make the call.
Before you talk to referred targets, learn all you can by asking the referral giver about them and by researching them online.
Keep the referral giver informed throughout the sales process. It’s simply a matter of courtesy and is especially important if the referral giver is due a commission or referral fee.
Years ago, I once gave a referral to an affiliated office in a different city. The sales rep who received the referral was excited and thanked me profusely. I thought, “Well, I chose a great guy to do this deal!”
But that turned out to be the last time I heard from him.
Six months later, I ran into the client I had referred, and he told me he ended up doing a deal in that city. I asked how the rep at my partner office did. My client’s response was troubling: “I actually never heard from him, so I used someone else.”
I was incensed. I called the sales rep and asked what had happened. He stammered a bit and basically told me he let the client “slip through the cracks.”
He should have given the client extra attention simply because it was a client referred by someone within his industry. He should have sent me a short email each month during the deal keeping me up to date or at least notifying me each time the deal passed a milestone. I entrusted him with one of my precious clients, and he let me down.
Always be grateful for any referrals you receive. When clients allow you to use their names to seek business from their cherished contacts, they are putting their reputations on the line just to help you. That means you have an obligation to treat those referrals with the utmost care and respect. Caring for referrals is a sacred trust in the sales world, so take your job seriously.