Why Salespeople Don’t Ask For or Receive Referrals

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Getting referrals are one of the most powerful strategies for gaining access to new clients and decision makers. 

When salespeople are referred into an account, there is increased credibility and trust, which accelerates the sales process. You can cite a bunch of statistics to build the case for referrals, but let’s just apply common sense: An introduction from a happy client to one of their colleagues is a heck of a lot easier than making multiple phone calls, sending emails or attending networking events.   

But the sad reality is when I ask sales managers and salespeople if they consistently ask for referrals, the answer is “no.” I generally receive one of two answers:

  1. “I forget.”  (You forgot to ask a question that could make you lots of money and save you lots of time? I’m not buying that reason.)
  2. “My clients don’t know anyone that can use our services.”  (Just as I thought: Your clients live in a cave with no access to other human beings.)

Those answers are predictable and my standard response is to ask, “Did you forget or are you uncomfortable? Do your customers not know anyone or are you making it difficult for them to help you?” The answers 99 percent of the time are, “I’m uncomfortable and yes.” 

It’s time to work on the right end of the problem. Your sales team doesn’t need any more lectures on asking for referrals. It needs help on getting past self-limiting beliefs and ineffective selling techniques when approaching their best clients for introductions. Let’s look at each referral-asking obstacle.    

#1. Self-limiting beliefs.  Most salespeople don’t ask for referrals because they believe their customer will think they are needy, desperate or pushy. To change this belief, ask your salesperson how they would feel if one of their favorite and good vendors asked them for help in growing their business. The answer is usually a resounding “yes.” So ask the powerful question, “Then what makes you think your great customers, who like and appreciate you, would respond any differently?” Shift your salesperson’s thinking and you will shift behavior. 

Joanne Black, author of No More Cold Calling, shares some great insights.   “Referral selling is simple, but it’s not easy. If it were, every sales team would adopt this unparalleled prospecting approach. Sales leaders must develop a referral strategy and discipline, commit to referral selling as their #1 outbound prospecting approach and build the skills of their teams.  And most importantly, reinforce and coach these new referral behaviors. Just “telling” account based sales reps to go get referrals, accomplishes nothing.” 

#2: Poor selling techniques. When salespeople aren’t getting referrals, it’s because they are executing a  drive-by referral strategy. They wrap up a meeting with a very satisfied and happy customer. Then out of the blue, they ask their customer, “Hey, who do you know that could use my services? “ The customer isn’t prepared to answer, so they stall and say, “Let me get back to you.” The salesperson hangs up the phone or gets into her car complaining, “My clients aren’t good at giving me referrals.” 

Eliminate the drive-by referral strategy by teaching your team to set up meetings with clients, specifically to ask for introductions. Make sure your sales team knows how to prepare for this conversation.

It’s important to make it easy for your busy customers to think of opportunities for you by giving them traits of your ideal client -- people like them. That includes both demographics and psychographics of your best clients, such as size, number of offices, progressive thinkers and partnership mentality.

Create a list of industries that you best serve and the best level for an introduction. Remind them of the pain points you solve for clients, since you’ve already eliminated your client’s pain. This approach eliminates a random mental scan and helps your customer gain clarity on how best to help you.    

Work hard to service your clients in order to build a base of advocates and raving fans. Then help your clients help you grow your business.  Provide a clear picture of who you best serve.  Your clients will provide great introductions—if you ask and ask the right way!

Good Selling!