Asking for referrals – 5 sales best practices

Sales Referrals

We were recently talking with some sales managers about helping their teams build their book of business.  While the managers noted that some prospects come from corporate marketing campaigns, several remarked their sales people were not personally doing a good job developing referrals and they needed to. When we took a deeper dive into why, two reasons stood out.  First … discomfort. Simply put, some sales reps just aren’t comfortable asking their customers for referrals.  And the second?  Many sales reps don’t know how to ask for referrals.  After batting this topic around with the sales mangers, five best practices were identified for asking for referrals. They are:

  • Don’t start the conversation with “I want to build my business and I can use your help.” In that conversation the focus is on the sales rep – not on the customer. Even when you’re seeking a referral, it is good to remember the focus should be your customer.  So before asking for a referral, check to determine if the customer has a problem they would like to address.  Customers may be able to make a referral, but not be willing – if they have some issues that need handling.
  • When asking if the customer knows others who might benefit from your services, be specific. Are you asking for referrals related to other divisions within the company or for referrals for other companies?  Are you asking for   referrals at the manager level or the executive level?  For what type of service are you asking the referral?
  • Remember timing matters. Some times are better than others.  For example, after you have just completed a very successful piece of work is a good time and the middle of the sales cycle is not.
  • Plan the level of commitment you are requesting. For example, are you asking for permission to us the customer’s name or are you asking the customer to make a prior phone call?  Make sure the customer knows up-front the level of help you are asking for versus some type of rolling request.
  • Follow-up with the customer when the contact is made – and note the outcome of the contact … including, of course, a thank you for the introduction.

From our experience across industries, developing leads through referrals yields more qualified clients than any other approach.  And, the good news is, if you have a good relationship, most customers are more than willing to provide referrals and to be supportive.  In today’s competitive market asking for and managing referrals is a core selling skill.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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