The other day I was talking with a sales manager who was lamenting that his people were having a very tough time getting appointments with quality prospects. We talked about all the ways we recommend salespeople warm up otherwise cold calls, but we ended up focusing on perhaps the most powerful way to get a warm reception — a referral from a current, satisfied client. The problem is, most salespeople simply do not ask for referrals because they are not accustomed to doing it. So we decided we would instruct everyone to ask five clients for a referral in the next week. Simple, yet new! You know what is going to happen here.
So, how should one ask for a referral? The sales manager observed he has a few people who simply pose a direct question to their loyal clients — "Mary, who else should I be talking to?" But that doesn't feel right to everyone. So we discussed another, less threatening approach. Why not ask your client for a little coaching? Coaching is a culturally positive word. "Mary, I could use a little coaching here. You and I work together very well and we've solved many problems in our work but, many prospects who don't know me yet don't know how I can help them. Are there some people you can think of that I should approach to put together solutions like we have worked on?" A good client will want to help you. Try it.
So, what sounds more compelling to a prospect? "I'd like to come in to talk to you about our products and services and how we add value." or "Bill, I am calling today because Mary Thompson and I have worked together on plans and solutions for her company, Acme Widgets. Knowing something about you and your business, she thought you and I should get together to talk about how we do business and how we can develop ideas tailored for you."
Don't ignore the power of referrals just because you are not in the habit of asking for them. If you are a manager, you might ask your people to try asking for referrals for a week. If you are salesperson, don't wait for your manager. Just try it yourself. You're going to be happy you did.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on August 8, 2012 and has been updated.