Slaying the Referral Demons

Perhaps one of the potentially easiest ways to get more appointments and sales is through referrals. Notice I said potentially. The ease that most sales people ask for referrals depends greatly on the relationship developed with the client or prospect. For the rest of us, asking for referrals can be uncomfortable to say the least.

For those in the first category, if you are asking a friend, family member or an established customer to suggest the names of your next prospects, the whole process is somewhat easier. You already have built the rapport, trust, and confidence that you need to get the names you want. When your business relationship is first being formed, it might be a little more uncomfortable, since the trust isn’t fully formed yet. In essence, people want to make sure that their friends and associates will be treated well before names are given out.

The people contacted on the phone by sales people are no different. Whether or not a prospect or client gives you a referral is dependant on how they relate to you, and what they think of you, as a business professional as well as a person. How you present yourself, and your products or services can either lead to more referrals or more dead ends. The choice is truly yours.

For those of you who don’t want to grow your business by referrals alone, it is important to realize that you are in the majority. While that fact might not bring you any comfort, it could bring you help, simply by knowing that you are not alone. In fact, many producers do not ask for referrals. The reasons are varied, but one of the most prevalent might just be fear. What might be very casual to the average observer can be fraught with pitfalls and demons. The simple statement of “Do you know of anyone who would be interested in hearing more about our investment opportunities…. retirement community…or printing services” can be daunting indeed. It’s little wonder why many choose not to ask this simple question of their favorite clients or prospects.

The fear of rejection is always a viable reason why many producers do not ask for referrals. There are a number of reasons to fear rejection, probably as many as there are people in the sales profession. Insecurity and uncertainty are also usual suspects when it comes to asking for referrals. Inexperience can cause us to approach the whole process incorrectly, or forget an important step in the process. Working with these fears is no easy task, and many will try, unsuccessfully to rid themselves completely of these fears.

Truth is, these fears are truly part of being human. It would probably be easier to stop your heartbeat than get rid of these fears completely. The trick is to work with them, and use them to fuel your drive for more and better business. The first step in this process believes in your product, your message, and the value that it can bring to your clients and prospects.

Once you have that information, the next step is to present and deliver your product in the best light possible. There are a select few that can improvise and pull it off successfully. For the rest of us, a lot of support and work is needed. It takes detailed preparation to get to the point where we know enough to be comfortable to present the goods or services with a reassured smile. In fact, fear and insecurity are more prevalent when the sales person doesn’t know what they are talking about. One of the easiest ways for the sales person to gain increased confidence is to script the calls.

Scripting is used by a number of different professionals to get their message across. Movie actors and directors follow a script during the movie, and an off-Broadway play isn’t very enjoyable without the script. A well written, well-organized script will provide your prospects and clients with the right information, and give them the reassurance that you know what you are talking about. When you sound like you know your product or service, you can instill confidence in both yourself, and the product you offer. Here are some examples of items that you can add to your script to help build your confidence.

  • Ask your client if they could do you a favor. If you’ve done your job well, most will respond favorably.
  • Ask them “Who do you know that I should be talking to about this type of work, I do?” By asking this way, instead of the common “Do you know….”, you’ll be giving the opportunity to give you an actual name, instead of just a yes or no answer.

In the end, though, we have to earn the right to ask for a referral. A recommendation from a customer is a direct result of how effective you have been at gaining their trust, and delivering a product that fits their needs. If you are paying attention, you should know when to ask your client for a referral.

How you earn that right, as a sales person to ask for a referral depends greatly on how much people trust you. Think for a moment. If you had a friend or a family member, someone you wanted the best for, would you refer them to someone like you? Often, if someone provides a referral, they feel that the actions of that sales person will reflect on them, for good or bad.

For example, a client of mine asked if I knew of an individual or organization that worked with sales people on their image, or how they should interact with a prospective customer. I referred them to one of my contacts, knowing full well that they were more than capable of providing the training that their sales people needed.

After I gave them the name, I called my contact and made the effort to prepare her for this client, who was conservative, and not one for flash and showy materials. I felt good about connecting these two people in my networking circle.

About a week later, I got a call from my client asking me what in world I was thinking when I made the referral. Despite me informing my referral that the potential client was conservative, she showed them a number of risqué ideas and liberal techniques. It was as if my words fell on deaf ears. From that experience I learned to be much more careful about how and when I made a referral.

The dynamics of human interactions are often complex, and the relationship between sales people and their prospective clients are no different. Given that, it is important to be patient with the whole process. It is equally important to understand and honor our customer’s reluctance to share this information. By understanding both sides of the equation, we create a little bit of respect that can help strength the relationship with those we serve.