Saturday, September 26, 2009



Want Referrals?
by Jill Harrington

Most of us love to receive referrals. It's an indication that someone respects what we do and is often the most comfortable, and fastest, route to quality new business growth.

It's therefore somewhat surprising to observe how few sales pros proactively, and habitually, ask for referrals from people who have the capacity to provide them.

Why don't salespeople ask for referrals? Responses I hear repeatedly...

“I don't want to appear desperate or feel like I'm begging.”
“I don't want to put people on the spot.”
“I don't want to jeopardize a good relationship.”
“It just feels uncomfortable.”

Time for a reality check
You only appear to be desperate or begging if you believe you are. You're not putting people on the spot because they can choose to say “no”. If asking for a referral will kill your great client relationship, you've got to question the strength of your relationship. And, yes, life can be uncomfortable. That's how we learn and grow.

When I ask people how they feel when they are asked for referrals, without exception the reply goes something like, “I respect people for asking. In fact I'd like my own team to be more proactive in this regard.”

So for the “comfort seekers,” here are half a dozen tips to get you asking for referrals.

1. First off, realize that, by not asking at every opportunity, you are missing one of the greatest opportunities to increase your sales effectiveness, your productivity, and, for most of you, bonuses and commissions.

2. Listen well. Be alert to opportunities in your client conversations. For example a client may mention, in passing, that the Calgary division is struggling with a specific issue. It may not be appropriate to ask for details at that moment (you don't want to break rapport) but when you are closing the conversation, or switching topics, be sure to refer back. “Fred, you mentioned your Calgary division is struggling with this issue. We've enjoyed helping you on this project. Is there someone specific out west that might benefit from having a conversation with us?”

3. Not all referrals are good business. Make it easier for your contacts to come up with quality referrals. Don't say “If you think of someone else who could use us, give us a call.” Unless they have someone top of mind it's unlikely you'll hear from them. Or they may send you on a wild goose chase because they want to appear helpful and throw out a name. Help focus their thinking. “Jane, we work primarily with professional women over 40.” Or “we find we do our best work with companies with large national sales forces.” Suggest other departments within the company, and also indicate that there may be someone within their peer, supplier or customer organizations.

4. Don't limit your thinking when it comes to identifying opportunities to ask. I have a colleague who is the master at asking for referrals from virtual strangers. When she receives the “we're not interested” response on a first time call, she'll close the call by saying “I'm sorry the timing isn't right for you, Mr. Prospect. Is there anyone else within your organization or within your industry who uses XYZ and who might benefit from a call from my company?” She figures she has nothing to lose. And yes, even “cold” prospects will offer names.

5. Think BIG. Make a list of the high level influencers in your customer communities and industries. Get to know them, and let them get to know your work. They are a superb potential source of referrals.

6. And for all of you “comfort junkies,” the natural place to ask for referrals is at the completion of a job well done. Always schedule a debrief conversation at the end of a project. Get feedback from your customer and, if you've got a delighted customer, go for it. Thank them, tell them how much you enjoyed working with them, and let them know most of your business comes from referrals from happy customers just like them. Then ask with confidence.

Make asking for referrals a consistent and “habitual” component of your sales process. On your call planning sheets, your prospecting scripts, your customer satisfaction surveys etc., always have a “request for referral” prompt so that you don't leave it to memory. Don't let some irrational fear hold you back from doing something that will earn you respect, grow your business, and allow people who admire you to contribute to your success.

Jill Harrington, president, salesSHIFT, has contributed to the success of thousands of B2B sales professionals around the world. She shifts your thinking and actions to enable faster, and bigger, sales results in extraordinarily competitive markets. For valuable sales tips and articles visit

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