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6 Strategies for Asking for Referrals

asking for referrals

richardsonsalestrainingFebruary 15, 2018Blog

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As we’ve discussed in previous posts, overcoming the status quo is a central challenge for sales professionals. Part of this problem stems from diffused decision-making across an increasing number of stakeholders.

Additionally, as competition rises, businesses need greater assurance of the ROI of a proposed solution. The barriers are significant. Overcoming them requires a strong start. Effective sellers do so by leveraging referrals.

Referrals are powerful because they establish an early connection between the sales professional and the customer. Essentially, the sales professional comes vetted. Here, we look at strategies for requesting referrals and how they can help jump-start a relationship.

1. Start with Mutual Contacts

A mutual contact is the strongest referral. In this case, the referral is someone the sales professional, and the potential customer both know. If the customer trusts the referral, they’re more likely to extend that trust to the sales professional.

This is critical because trust remains a major hurdle in developing a sales relationship. Moreover, starting the relationship with a mutual contact is a powerful strategy for small and large selling organizations alike.

For all the capabilities of today’s robust CRM software, sometimes a simple phone call is the most effective way to start.

2. No Referral? Consider a “Hinge”

Sometimes there is no referral. In this case, it’s helpful to have a “hinge,” a mutual event both the sales professional and the customer attended. A hinge can be a recent trade show, a shared business interest, or a personal connection like graduating from the same school.

This approach still requires preparation. It’s easy to assume that a point of commonality will spark effortless conversation. In truth, the customer is in the middle of a busy day and managing deadlines.

Take the time to plan your words.

3. Use a Relationship Map

Referrals aren’t just for starting a relationship with a new business. Many sales professionals are successful in cross-selling by using referrals from other divisions or groups within a business where a relationship already exists.

In this scenario, a relationship map is helpful. A relationship map is a visual representation of both the reporting relationships between the stakeholders and the power structures between them. The reporting relationships are the “organization chart” of the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.

The power structure relates to which stakeholders are favorably inclined to the sales professional. Consider this customized approach to finding a referral.

4. Leverage the Power of Reciprocity

Sales professionals can be proactive by giving their customer a referral first.

This approach takes some foresight because its best to give referrals to customers that are in industries relevant to the markets likely to present future opportunities. Success in selling sits on a foundation of mutually beneficial outcomes.

This approach exemplifies that idea perfectly. The customer gets a boost from the referral while the sales professional lays the groundwork for their own referral request later.

5. Prepare and Follow Up

Jumping to the referral process is tempting. However, the sales professional needs to follow the normal routine of understanding the target customer first.


Otherwise, the referral is flying blind. Their lack of knowledge will overshadow the value they can offer by vouching for the sales professional.

Make sure to ask questions about what the new contact might be interested in and how the contact prefers to communicate. Follow up and express appreciation after the contact has made the referral.

Without follow-up, the whole exchange can feel very “you”- centered instead of “client”- centered.

6. It’s All in the Timing

Some of the strongest sales professionals can make the referral come to them. That is, they generate excitement with a new product offering or an especially compelling white paper.

An existing contact may share one of these things on social media. This is the perfect time to ask the contact to provide a referral. Moreover, if the product offering or white paper happens to be relevant to the target contact, the referral can use that material as a conversation starter.


Referrals are the single best way to ignite a sales pursuit strategy.

They allow the sales professional to bypass the gatekeeper with a “pre-sold” message. Additionally, the sales professional reduces the exhaustion and diminished morale that comes from churning through leads because, with referrals, more clients come from fewer leads.

Finally, remember, the referral must be more than an introduction. They must legitimize the sales professional by personally vouching for their ability to solve business challenges.

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