Month: September 2015

Can You Really Build Your Business on Referrals? Depends on the Question Your Ask

By Paul McCord, President, McCord Training 

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.

Thank You

By Linda Richardson, President and CEO of Richardson

If you like feeling appreciated by your clients, if you want to strengthen relationships, and if you want to win more business, start making thank-you calls today.

Certainly the thank-you call after a meeting or when you win a deal is expected, but the ones after the sale at any time or triggered by a milestone (such as one month or one year after the project, pilot, or implementation…) to say thank you has tremendous relationship and selling power. For example, you could say, “It has been a month (a quarter, even a year, we just completed X and since…I wanted to call…) and I wanted to say thank you…”

Whether you get voice mail or actually reach your client, the power of the thank-you call is the same.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Tickle in your calendar making thank-you calls as a reminder (since there’s no deal at hand).
  • Be sure you are fully up-to-date on the status of the relationship and initiative.
  • When you make the call be positive.

– Prepare and keep it concise!
– State the purpose to position the call.
– Thank the client for confidence in choosing you or for his or her introduction to the head of IT or the support of your proposal that helped you win the business.
– Be enthusiastic. Show energy and conviction. Be upbeat.
– Give a five to ten-second summary of what’s been accomplished (of course, before the call check that things are going well and be aware of any snags or issues).
– Compliment the client’s team and be specific.
– State that you welcome feedback to serve him/her even better.
– Say the words “thank you” at the start and the finish.

One salesperson called a very senior decision maker at a Fortune 100 company and left a thank-you message to mark one year into the ongoing relationship. The salesperson’s reward – so far, a gracious complimentary call back from the senior who, in the course of a one?minute voice mail, said thank you to the salesperson six times!!!

The salesperson was so elated by the call that he went further. He called the former liaison who had been reassigned to another area to thank her (and identified a future opportunity) and called one of his own teammates on the account to say thank you. Goodwill leads to more goodwill and more good sales.

Another important thank you, from a senior, is also often overlooked. Ask your senior to make a thank-you call on your behalf and to express the organization’s commitment. Be sure to concisely prepare your senior. Enlisting the support of seniors in key situations will not only strengthen the client relationship but will also strengthen your internal relationship. And, of course, be sure to call and thank your senior. The holidays are a perfect time to make relationship calls, say thank you, and extend your best wishes for the holiday.

Make a thank-you call today!

How to Hire Great Salesreps

By Dave Stein, Author of How Winners Sell

During the economic downturn of the past two years, numbers of sales executives flushed their least effective salespeople from their teams.

In some industries, things are presently looking up. Many of my clients are hiring again, backfilling those open slots. This time however, they will be hiring differently.

The reason? The demands of today’s hypercompetitive, buyers’ market has forced sales executives to rethink their approach to hiring. They have learned, all too painfully, that their hiring methods of the past don’t apply any longer.

  • They’ve learned that a rep with a past record of stellar performance elsewhere will not automatically overachieve for them in the future.
  • They depend less on a person’s resume since resume accuracy is declining.
  • They’ve learned that some candidates are talented enough in the interview process to get hired, but are not actually skilled enough to deliver the numbers once they are aboard.
  • They realize that a misfire in the past–a salesrep who doesn’t make it through the first year–has cost them $150k to upwards of $800k including lost business opportunity.What insightful companies are doing now to assure that they are building a high performing team of winners is applying a process to what they did informally in the past.

    The process provides the sales executive with an objective assessment of the candidates. In addition, since a number of people are part of the process, each measuring the candidate’s abilities, a much more accurate and unbiased evaluation results.

    Here are the key elements of the process that I use with my clients:

    1. Multiple stakeholders must agree, prior to the start of interviewing, about the job description and the critical skills, experience, and traits of a successful candidate. For a smaller company, those stakeholders would include, for example, the CEO, VP of Sales, and VP of Marketing. For a larger company, the senior VP of sales, regional sales executive, and sales manager might be included. In addition, stakeholders agree on how the position and the company will be “sold” to the candidate.

    2. A benchmark is established against which progress will later be measured. Data points include performance against quota, average tenure, time to first sale, etc.

    3. An internal hiring team collaborates on building a profile for each unique sales position, which defines the critical skills and traits required for success. Those skills and traits are prioritized and each is categorized with three levels of candidate compliance. You can imagine that the profile for a sales hunter would be quite different than the profile for a sales farmer.

    4. Accurate job descriptions are constructed, which are then provided to recruiters or sites like for posting on the web. The more closely these descriptions are, the less “noise” you will have downstream when reviewing the resumes that will be generated.

    5. Your HR staff or other resources within your organization are provided with a Resume Screener that will assist them in effectively filtering out candidates with “fatal flaws.” This saves time for the members of the internal hiring team, allowing them to dedicate more time to more qualified candidates.

    6. This hiring team (generally 2-4 people) is organized and trained to work in an integrated fashion to interview candidates.

    7. A set of First Round Interview Questions is engineered. When used as directed, they will enable the internal team members to probe for key skills and traits based upon the candidate profile. Interviewer responses are recorded and analyzed.

    8. A set of Second Round Interview Questions is devised. That tool enables further exploration for critical skills and traits and enables the interviewer to size weaknesses uncovered in the previous interview. Again, interviewer responses are recorded and analyzed.

    9. A behavioral interview is performed. A colleague of mine, Debra Howard, is a trained behavioral interviewer. She and I both recommend conducting a “behavioral interview” for all candidates that make it to the final round, especially for those applying for sales leadership positions. Deb says, “This is a rigorous interview technique that’s been in use for a long time, and has been shown to significantly increase the accuracy of predictions about a candidate’s future job success. Behavioral interviews are difficult to conduct, which is why most companies hire an expert to train their recruiters and HR staff, or they ask an expert to conduct and code the interviews directly. A behavioral interview takes two hours or less, and can assure you that the candidates you hire are high-performers, not losers taking you for a ride.”

    10. A highly effective reference checking process is employed that validates candidates’ claims and uncovers inconsistencies. Be aware of different categories of references, sample questions to ask, and know how to harvest names of references from candidate interviews.

    11. Final candidates are required to participate in sales call and presentation simulations. The candidates are evaluated against required skills and personality traits derived from the profile.

    12. Individual ramp-up plans are engineered. These assure that the gaps between the profile and the candidate’s proven skill set will be closed during the first thirty to ninety days of employment.

    13. Continuous improvement component. In order for this process to continue to work into the future, there must be a mechanism that will provide the stakeholders with feedback.

    Initially some executives and managers who are exposed to this have reacted somewhat negatively. “It will take too much time,” is the most commonly voiced objection.

    But it has quickly become clear that the actual number of candidates making it to the final stages is limited. This process in fact, works like a sales funnel, with numbers of candidates “qualifying out” of the process along the way. The result is that the hiring team has time to focus on the most qualified candidates. In addition, candidates are left with the impression that the company with whom they are interviewing is serious and well-managed. Finally, both the candidates and the company have awareness of the gaps between the candidates’ capabilities and what is required to get the job done.