Estimated Lesson Time: 6 minutes
Imagine a referral so powerful that with it, you become an instant success in anything you do. Such a referral did exist at one time—it came from the daytime talk show queen Oprah Winfrey. A referral from her on her show meant the author’s book would be an overnight guaranteed best seller (yes, I did send her a copy of my book). Other powerful forms of referrals come from critics, as in art, food, film, and others. However, the most common form of referral is the personal referral, which can be just as powerful but is usually directed to a much smaller audience or even a single individual. It is the personal referral that helps the employee get the job they desire, the salesperson make sales, and the businessperson succeed.
It is understood that prospecting can be one of the most difficult parts of the sales process. Successful sales is about being efficient with your time. The average salesperson wastes much time breaking down the door of resistance to each prospect he or she approaches. A referral is like the key to the door that allows the salesperson to walk right in. A referral is based on the concept of trust by association; if someone you trust trusts a third party, then you will most likely trust that third party as well. Consider the woman who agrees to go on a blind date with her best friend’s cousin, just because her best friend thought it would be a good idea. Or the office supplies salesperson who gets an instant appointment with the very busy president of a large corporation, just because they both share the same good friend who speaks highly of the salesperson. Good referrals will increase your sales success rate significantly.
The referral process can be broken down into three important parts:
- Who and when to ask for a referral
- How to ask for a referral
- How to use a referral
The goal in this process is to be as smooth as possible so as to avoid resistance from those whom you ask for the referrals, and from those on whom you use the referrals.
- Who and when to ask for a referral. The best source of referrals are current or past customers whom you believe are satisfied with your product. Some feel it is a little aggressive to ask for a referral the moment a sale was made and would rather wait until the first follow-up call. However, in some cases it is best to ask for referrals the moment service is rendered while the customer is “hot.” Asking friends and family for referrals can be effective, but also a source of much conflict if anything goes wrong. Use your own judgment here.
- How to ask for a referral.
- Ask in real time. Many studies have shown that you are much more likely to get referrals when asking in person or on the telephone. It is generally not a good idea to rely on forms that customers must fill out and return.
- Ask for three referrals. When you ask for a specific number, such as three, you most often will get it. By asking specific questions, you will get specific answers. If you were to ask for just “referrals,” you might get the response, “Let me think about that, and I will get back to you” which is generally a blow-off answer.
- Ask about the relationship. When you ask for the referrals, do not only ask for contact information but ask how they are associated with the person. For example, after the customer gives you the names and numbers of three people, you may ask, “And are these business associates?” This information will come in handy later on.
- Make sure the customer is satisfied. Asking for referrals from an unsatisfied customer can be a very awkward experience. You can use “yes” questions to turn a neutral customer into a satisfied customer. For example, ask “Is [the product or service] working well for you?,” “Do you feel it was money well spent?” Ask questions you are confident will give you “yes” answers that will help the customer realize how satisfied they really are.
- Show the benefit. Remember the question that is on the mind of customers, “What’s in it for me?” Before asking for the referrals, show the customer how he will be helping those he refers, not hurting. This can usually be done by saying something similar to, “Mr. Customer, since [your product or service] has helped you [benefit], can you think of three of your [business associates, friends, family, etc.] that I would be able to help as well?”
- How to use a referral. Remember a referral is your key to the door of resistance. If you encounter a secretary, administrative assistant, or other gatekeeper, take out your key. If you are asked the question, “What is this regarding?” say, “Mr. Smith, from XYZ Corp., suggested I give Mr. Jones a call.” Identify both the person who referred you and their company. When you do get to speak directly to the prospect, mention the person who referred you and their relationship to the prospect. For example, “I have been helping your brother, Tim, with [project], and he thought I might be able to help you as well.”
Never be afraid to ask a good customer for a referral or ask a friend to “put in a good word” for you in a social situation. One good referral can potentially lead to an endless supply of prospects, most of whom will give you little to no resistance. This is the secret of the efficient and successful salesperson.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)