A Pragmatic Way of Asking for Referrals

By Colleen Francis

Getting your sales team to ask for referrals can be a challenging process in and of itself. As we have discussed in a previous article, sales reps often avoid asking for referrals due to fear and ego. By incentivizing your sales reps to ask for referrals, you can shift their thinking from that of a “lone wolf” who doesn’t ask for help to a sales rep who understands how powerful referrals can be to increase sales without any additional effort.

But even if your team is willing to put energy into referral sales, they may be uncomfortable asking for the referral itself, and worried about the best language to use to avoid looking desperate for new business. The vast majority of salespeople ask for referrals the wrong way. Many of them look their client in the eye and ask,

  • Colleen, do you know anyone that would be a good fit for our business?” Or,
  • Colleen, who can you introduce us to that would make a good client for us?”

While those questions seem obvious, they’re useless because they’re too broad. Almost always, the response you’ll get is, “I don’t know, but let me think about it.”

Most clients will then go back to their desks, get busy with their day, and your request will slip their minds. It’s not because they don’t want to help with  a referral, but because there are other things going on and they can’t think of anyone at the moment. A referral for you isn’t a priority for them. And the way you’ve asked requires them to use extra thought and energy. Quickly, your request goes by the wayside.

In order to successfully acquire referrals , you must fundamentally change your requests First, do the work for your client. The best thing to do is go to the client equipped with the names of people, the positions or the companies to which you want to be introduced. Then ask for that specific introduction.

For example, you might say, “Casey, I’d like to meet Chris in your office, because I think he’d be a good fit for our product. Could you help me with an introduction?” Or, if I didn’t know Chris’s name, I might say, “Casey, I’d like to meet your VP of Finance. Can I tell him we do business together?” Maybe it’s a different division you want to be referred to, and you might say, “Casey, I’m really hoping you could introduce me to your West Coast division. Could you help me with an introduction?”

The word “help” is almost magical; it makes it almost impossible for the customer to say no, because people want to help. So do the work for your customer, ask for specific introductions, and ask for help.

I do have a trick for asking for referrals, and it guarantees a 100% success rate. It’s an approach I call “indirect” or “don’t ask, just tell.” I do some research, and discover that Chris is the person that I want to be referred to, and I know that Casey knows him, because they work together. What I will do is say, “Casey, I’m going to be calling Chris next week. Can I tell him about the success that we’ve had?”

Pay careful attention to the language here; I’m not asking Casey’s permission. I’m telling her I already have a call scheduled. What that means is that I’m already an insider; I already have a relationship. It makes her easy for her to say yes.

Avoid using language like, “Can I use you as a referral?” or, “Can I talk about business?” Instead, say, “Can I share your success with him?” Everyone wants to brag about their successes, and that makes it even easier for Casey to say yes.

Asking for referrals is actually quite simple, but you can’t forget that it’s your job to do the work for your clients. By asking a bad question, you get a bad answer, so refine the way you ask for referrals in order to double the success of your closing rate.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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