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Make Referrals a Winning Part of Your Prospecting

asking for referrals in sales


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Of all of the possible sources of leads, referrals are often the hottest and most desirable. Brokered by someone who knows you first-hand and trusts your work, there’s an implicit recommendation instilled, which carries considerable weight.

The problem is that sales reps too often fail to pursue these opportunities. Here’s a four-step process to bolster your long-term success by getting your sales reps to take a proactive approach to gaining referrals.

1) Timing

There are always busy business cycles to avoid when approaching your contacts for something that’s not essential to them. You should obviously avoid those occasions, but is there a right time to ask for referrals?

Use common sense — ask when your contacts are happy, not frustrated. Realise that each person is different and has varying attitudes and receptivity to being asked to provide a referral. Therefore, trust your instincts, and ask when you are comfortable with your relationship and the work that you may be doing for them. When you’ve just finished a successful project, reached a significant milestone, or have otherwise helped your contact, these are likely good times to broach the subject.

When circumstances are different, you should hold off. For example, if you have something big to deliver but haven’t yet done so, avoid appearing distracted and looking toward your next target. You’ll look selfish and unprofessional.

The other aspect of timing is frequency: How often do you ask? There’s no rule, but monthly is likely too often and annually too infrequent. You want it to feel natural and not like you’re being a mooch or pest.

2) Obstacles

What prevents sales reps from asking for referrals? As is often the case with prospecting, there’s discomfort in calling people we don’t know. Most obstacles are behavioural, not procedural. If you have something of value to share, then you shouldn’t have anything to hide or be shy about.

People get stuck and feel timid because asking for a referral is more personal than cold calling or blasting mass e-mails. The risk of your contact saying “no” or failing to make a personal connection is enough to stop people from trying.

Present yourself as a resource. This mirrors how aggressive you are (or aren’t). Offer to help, and set yourself up as someone who can be useful, even if your prospect isn’t interested in buying now. There’s no harm in asking — if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

Other common obstacles include a clash of culture (“That’s not how we do things here — we’re not so forward!”) and a lack of process (“How do I know who my contacts know?”). Once detected, these can be corrected.

3) Sources

Learn to leverage LinkedIn, which provides a great network of your connections and theirs. The more robust your network, the more opportunities you can identify.

Consider traditional sources, such as current and former clients. Also tap into nontraditional sources, such as former colleagues, classmates, neighbours, and relatives.

The closer your connection is to the prospect, the better. It should be someone whom the prospect would consider credible and working in his or her best interest.

Hopefully, your common connection has already experienced “the value” that you bring and would be willing to broker the connection. You want your contact to feel positive about making the referral — it shouldn’t be hard for your contact to understand why you’re asking. If you’re pursuing a nontraditional source, then provide additional context or reasoning to help quell any concerns.

4) Making Contact

Ideally, your contact would make the introduction for you via e-mail or a meeting. Simply giving you a name and contact details to use on your own might fall flat. Draft an e-mail that your contact can send to the prospect, copying you and getting the ball rolling.

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