In the first post in this series I pointed out why the traditional referral “training” that most of us in sales have received is worthless. That “do a good job for your client and then ask for referrals” training has proven to be a waste of time and energy for most sellers, and a very unwelcome surprise question for many clients.
Yet, I also said that referrals could be and should be the cornerstone of most sellers’ businesses. So, if what we’ve been taught doesn’t work, what does work?
The Vocabulary is All Wrong
I’ll get to the process that does work in a minute, but first I need to address the language used in referral selling. We need to quit using the phrase “asking for referrals.” That phrase relates to the lame question the old referral “training” taught sellers to ask: “Ms. Client, do you know of anyone else who might be able to use my products or services?” (Or some variation of thereof). We need to get that whole concept out of our heads. We don’t ask for referrals, instead we need a process that works closely with our clients to generate referrals.
When we ask a question we are at the mercy of the person of whom we asked the question. We may or may not get the answer (result) we want. Historically, most sellers have not been rewarded with a ton of great referrals when asking that question.
Instead of asking a question, we need to learn to generate—to birth, to create—referrals. Every client we have has many potential referrals to give us. Asking for them isn’t going to get us very far. Even if we get quality referrals by asking, we’ll only get one or two. Instead, we must partner with our client to spawn multiple referrals.
So, Where Do We Begin?
One of the issues with the traditional way of asking for referrals that we discussed in the last post is the feeling of being ambushed by the seller at the last minute. In most instances, the seller has not mentioned a word about referrals previous to the last minute request after the sale has been completed and the goods or services fully delivered. The request comes out of the blue as a total—and usually unwelcome—surprise.
A corollary issue is that by ambushing the client at the last second, the seller hasn’t given the client an opportunity to become comfortable with the idea of giving the seller referrals. Again, as discussed in the first post, clients need time to acclimate themselves to the idea of giving referrals. A referral from the client’s perspective is a big deal—it’s putting their reputation on the line with person they refer the seller to.
Sellers who are great at generating referrals begin the referral generation process as soon as they meet a prospect. As quickly as possible they introduce themselves as being referral-based. This isn’t an in-your-face referral discussion by any means. They introduce the subject of referrals as a natural part of the conversation by saying something like: “Don, do you know Judy Sloan? She’s a client of mine who was referred to me by one of other clients about 6 months ago, and since she’s an architect also, I thought maybe you might know her?” Or when making a cold call: “Ms. Prospect, although most of my clients are referred to me by my other clients, I ran across some information about you that made me think that I might be able to . . . .”
These sellers simply take the natural openings in the conversation to introduce the subject of referrals in relation to themselves. No sales pitch. No asking for referrals. No direct statements. Just introducing the idea of referrals as a way they build their business.
From that point on while the prospect is still a prospect, the seller will simply drop additional referral seeds when opportunities arise. Again, nothing forced. Just a casual comment like: “Wow, John, I didn’t think I was going to make it on time. I was on the other side of town meeting with a newly referred client and the traffic coming back was terrible,” or, “John, I’ve got a meeting next Tuesday at 10 with a newly referred client, do you think we could get together right after that at, say, 11:30?”
The concept of introducing the subject of referrals early in the relationship and then weaving in referral seeds as opportunities arise is simple—prospects and clients aren’t stupid. If you consistently bring up referrals in these contexts, they’ll eventually figure out that referrals are important to you and they will assume that sooner or later you’ll be bringing up the subject with them. Referral’s intimidation factor is removed by familiarity.
So, Where Does the Generation Part Come In?
Once your prospect makes the conversion from prospect to client, things begin to pick up regarding referrals. You have a direct conversation with your client about referrals.
For some a direct referral conversation at this point sounds intimidating. It sounds like it is being too forward. It sounds like it is far too early.
It is at this point that you are going to explain to your client that your business is built on referrals; that most of your clients give you several quality referrals; that it is in the client’s best interest to give you referrals; that they don’t just give them, you earn them; you agree on what you must do to earn the referrals; explain what a good referral for you is; and get your client’s agreement to give you referrals after the sale.
Sound like a lot? Sound impossible?
In fact, your conversation really is quite short and very matter of fact. A typical conversation will go like so:
“Mr. Client, as you’ve probably gathered, most of my business is built on the referrals my clients give me. Let me ask you a couple of questions if I may:
Have you ever had the experience where you’ve made a major transaction and the seller didn’t keep you informed of what was going on, frustrating you? (Everyone has had this experience, so the answer is always ‘yes’)
Have you ever had a major transaction where the seller either didn’t return your calls in a timely manner or didn’t return them at all, leaving you in the dark? (Again, everyone has, the answer is always ‘yes’)
Have you ever had a major transaction where something went wrong and the seller failed to inform you until it was too late for you to make other arrangements? (Again, everyone has had this happen)
Mr. Client, the reason those things happened isn’t because the sellers didn’t care or didn’t want to take care of you. They happened because those sellers had to spend 70, 80, maybe 90% of their time looking for their next client, not taking care of their existing clients. My clients give me 4 or 5 high quality referrals to prospects just like them who have the same issues and needs because by doing so they know that unlike the other sellers they’ve dealt with in the past, I will be spending the vast majority of my time making sure those past issues don’t occur. I’ll be staying on top of things to make sure their experience is exactly what they want, not what happens by chance. What would you like to happen while we’re working together to make this the exact experience you want? (Work through with the client what needs to happen—that is what you must guarantee will happen to meet their expectations) Great. My clients don’t just give me referrals, I earn them. I’d like to be able to count on you that if I make sure this happens as we just discussed that you’d give me 4 or 5 quality referrals just as my other clients do, is that reasonable to you?”
Almost every one of your clients will say ‘yes.’ You have just given your client a reason to give you referrals that makes sense and that addresses many of the worries and frustrations clients have with making major purchase commitments, given them a way to determine if you’ve earned the referrals, and gotten them to agree to give you 4 or 5 quality referrals based on the definition of a quality referral you gave them.
Didn’t take 5 minutes. No arguments, no stress, no fuss.
No guarantee you’ll get referrals either.You’ve done half the work—you’ve gotten a commitment from your client to give you quality referrals and you know what you have to do to earn them. Now you have to do the other half—figure out a way to actually get them. We’ll deal with that little issue in the last post of this series.