Referral Request Reluctance

Gaining referrals can seem harder than cold calling. It’s something I’ve recently noticed. There are many salespeople who would rather talk with relative strangers in the form of prospects than to ask current clients for referrals. I know that I struggled with it previously in my career.

Why Is It So Hard?

I believe there are two reasons:

  1. The salesperson is concerned about imposing on the client. They don’t want to ruin any goodwill nor do they want to seem like a pest. This is related to a little thing we call Need for Approval whereby the salesperson is too concerned with what the other party thinks about them. Sure, we want salespeople to be empathetic and tone-deaf but caring too much about the other party hinders one’s sales success. The data reveals that 60% of salespeople have this issue, so a good majority of salespeople struggle with the need to be liked by their clients and prospects. This makes it hard to ask for referrals.
  2. We have all been exposed to bad referral asking. You know what I mean. Lines like, “Hey can you give me 5 names of friends and family that I can call?” In some selling environments it is a requirement to ask for referrals regardless of the relationship status between buyer and seller. So, salespeople just blurt it out and buyers feel put-upon and these bad experiences cause salespeople to feel uncomfortable asking for referrals.

The Fix

It consists of three parts and it works well regardless of which cause above is to blame for referral request reluctance.

  1. Be precise in the language used to ask for referrals. Instead of just blurting out “Do you know anybody else who could use our services?” Be precise as to why this particular client would be a good referral source.

Example A: “You are a really great client of ours because of X, Y, and Z. And we do best when we help clients with the same situation you had, of blah, blah, blah. Do you happen to know others who could benefit from the services we provided you to fix this problem?”

Example B: “We really appreciate your business and feel like we have helped you. The typical type of client we help suffers from X, Y, or Z. Do you happen to know any other people/businesses I could help who struggle with any of those things?

Example C: “I love working with you and you know my business grows ostensibly through referrals. I have identified five companies that I think I could help. Would you happen to know the CEO at any of these companies?” (And then always have a list of five companies you want to do business with.)

  1. Practice asking for referrals as part of sales role-playing. Even if you help salespeople craft the right referral asking language, it still may be uncomfortable for them to ask because of the negative thoughts running around in their head. So, asking must be practiced. Make it part of a sales meeting to role play it. Or if you are helping a salesperson prepare for a meeting with a client, be sure to ask them what they are going to say to seek referrals. People don’t get better at this skill by just thinking about it. The more they practice the better they get.
  2. Referral gathering should be part of the standard sales practice. While this might sound contradictory to what I said above, it’s not. Referral gathering must be part of the sales process, but not in the sleazy way, especially after just closing business. Rather, if a piece of business is won, make it standard practice for the salespeople to say, “Mr. Client, as the final step to this process, I am going to check in with you in 30 days (or 30 days after installation, or go-live date, whatever is appropriate), and my purpose is to ensure you are completely satisfied with what we have provided. I will know if you are happy by the way you will respond to my request for referrals. You see my business grows by recommendations from happy customers and I plan for you to also be in that category. However, if you are not ecstatic at that time for any reason whatsoever, I do not want you to refer anyone to me. I want to hear the truth from you about how we are doing and what we can do better. Agreed?”
  3. And in the event the salesperson does not win the business, referral gathering should be part of the sales process as well and it sounds like this, “Ms. Prospect, I am sorry that we are not going to be able to work together. I respect your decision not to move forward with our services. Since you are now familiar with what we do, however, can you think of anyone that you might refer me to that struggles with the problems we solve such as X, Y and Z? I would be very appreciative.”

There You Go!

That’s all there is to it. Just like most of selling, the significant amount of garbage in salespeople’s heads is what causes the issue. By following the three-step process to overcome the reluctance to ask for referrals, business will be plentiful. Closing business via referrals is far easier than cold calls.

If you seek more information about referral gathering, Joanne Black wrote a great book “No More Cold Calling”. I don’t agree with Joanne’s hypothesis that cold calling doesn’t work, but the book is phenomenal. And if you require more assistance in helping your sales team with this or other sales skills let me know,

Source: Objective Management Group