Over the past few years I’ve worked with thousands of sellers, helping them learn how to radically increase both the quantity and quality of referrals they get from their clients. In the early stages of working with these men and women I usually hear the same comments and frustrations about referrals: from how asking for referrals is a waste of time because seldom do the referred prospects buy, to how asking for referrals makes the seller look weak, to how clients resent being asked for referrals.
There are dozens of reasons sellers have had less than great experience with referrals, and almost all of them are because the way they’ve been taught to seek referrals creates more problems than it solves.
Most sellers have been taught that all you have to do to get referrals is ask for them after the sale has been completed. Just do a good job for your client and then, after the sale, ask them if they know of anyone who could benefit from your products or services. Depending upon the seller you ask, that simple referral question can take many different forms, such as:
“Ms. Client, who do you know that could use my products or services?”
“Mr. Client, who do you know that I should be talking to?”
“Mr. Client, who else do you know that I could help?”
“Ms. Client, if you happen to run across anyone else that I might be able to help, would you give them one of my cards?”
No matter how they phrase the request, seldom will these questions produce quality referrals because they don’t address the basic anxiety that many clients have about giving referrals, and worse, the seller is asking their client to do their prospecting for them, an unrealistic request and one that puts the client in an awkward position.
By waiting until the end of the sale to introduce the idea of referrals, sellers are making it very difficult to acquire quality referrals. Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals and they certainly need time to think about whom to refer. Furthermore, they need a clear idea of who would make a great referred prospect. And since most clients do things for the same reason most people do things, because they see doing the thing to be in their own best interests to do, the seller needs to give the client a good reason to give referrals.
All of the issues above work to make getting quality referrals difficult. But in the end, the single biggest reason sellers don’t get many high quality referrals from their clients is because the client simply doesn’t know who to refer. We think it is obvious whom to refer—we want them to refer someone just like themselves. It isn’t obvious to them. Although we may think they do, our clients don’t really understand all of the things we can do or all of the needs and issues we can solve. Consequently, they really don’t know who to refer.
So if asking your client for a referral to someone they know who might need your products or services doesn’t work very well, is it possible to get a large number of high quality referrals from clients?
Yes, absolutely it is.
But instead of asking a silly, weak question like “who do you know that might be able to use my products or services,” ask to be referred to a specific person. Although the typical referral question is simple, it is very ineffective.
More difficult and extremely effective is doing a bit of detective work to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to and then asking for a direct introduction to that person.
This method demands more from you than popping off a throwaway question at the end of the sale, but it is powerful because:
- You are no longer asking your client to do your prospecting for you, taking an unwanted burden off them because you’re doing the work for them
- You are far more likely to get a positive response from your client because instead of asking them to rummage around their mental file cabinet trying to figure out who to refer, you’re asking for a specific and easy to fulfill action—an introduction to someone they know
- The introduction you get will be to a quality prospect because it will be to a prospect that you pick and that you know you want to be introduced to
- You will have a much greater chance of setting an appointment with the prospect by being personally introduced by your client than if you just get their name and phone number and call them out of the blue
- Over time, you can get multiple high quality introductions from each client. They become a never ending source of quality referrals by simply asking for additional specific introductions as you earn them
Top sellers have learned how to build their businesses from referrals, and for most of them, that weak referral question most sellers ask isn’t a part of their referral strategy. They’ve learned that if they make giving referrals easy for their clients, getting referrals becomes easy. Better yet, they’ve learned that if they control the referral process and get referred to the prospects they want to be referred to, their closing ratio from referrals doubles, triples, quadruples, or more.
Referrals can be the cornerstone of your sales business if you learn to do a little detective work and make it easy for your clients to give the great referrals you’ve always wanted.