"When selling services (or the service to support your product) you must provide evidence that you will deliver on your promises. This is where the referral comes in. When a prospecting client meets you through a referral, the evidence is already high. It’s as if the referral source has testified on your behalf."
Author Bill Cates (not that Bill, Bill Cates), has written what should be considered the go-to book for getting referrals and putting the cold call to bed. Let’s face it, we really don’t like to cold call, so why do it if we don’t have to? Referrals are the answer.
Cates gives you the reasons, the know-how, and yes, as you would expect, referrals from users of his system to help you understand how to do it properly. The first part of the book deals with giving awesome service – exceeding expectations. I am going to assume that you already do that and move on.
The Big Idea
Planting Referral Seeds
"Great movies give us foreshadowing. So do great salespeople."
Cates gives us a few reasons why we need to plant the referral seed, but the most important one in my opinion is to foreshadow your request. If we let our clients know that we may ask them in the future for a referral, it makes it easier for us to ask and easier for them to do so. By making it clear from the beginning that you build your business on a referral system, the client knows that service and high quality performance is very important to you.
Cates recommends using a couple of techniques:
- Plant seeds in your promotional literature. “94% of Bill’s clients are obtained through referrals because they like his work and trust him enough to recommend him to their friends and colleagues.”
- He references a sales coach named Ramon, who has “By Referral Only” printed on his business cards. Genius!
Some other ways to plant the seed:
- Tell clients not to keep you a secret.
- Tell prospects and clients “I’m never too busy to see if I can help any of your friends, family, or colleagues.”
- Give your clients your business cards to carry as a benefit to them – write their account number on your card and it becomes an important document.
Ask for Referrals at the Right Time
"You must ask for referrals at the right time, and not a minute before."
You can ask for a referral any time that you have served them. Notice it is served and not sold.
Delivering value is what counts, but they must recognize that value – sometimes they will come right out and tell you and sometimes you will have to ask. Cates has a formula for knowing when to ask – when value has been given and value has been recognized. Pay attention to the ways in which they have seen the value in what you do. Listen for “Thank you for fixing the problem”, “I didn’t know that”, “Why didn’t my last guy tell me that”, and “I should have done this 20 years ago”. When you hear these things, what do you do? Do you just say, “You’re welcome”?
The right thing to do is to say, “I’m glad that you see the value in the work that we do. You know, I am never too busy to see if I can help your friends and family through my work. I hope you won’t keep me a secret.”
The three keys to asking a prospect for referrals:
- Serve them before you sell them.
- Plant seeds that you are building your business from referrals.
- When the rapport is good, ask them directly for referrals.
Correct Mistaken Assumptions
"Our assumptions drive our behaviour. Trouble is, most of the time our assumptions are wrong."
As my sales coach tells me constantly, “head trash” is one of the biggest challenges that sales people face. Asking for referrals is no different. Cates gives us a few reasons why we are afraid to ask, but the mistaken assumption is a home run.
Here is a short list of the most common mistaken assumptions that is keeping you from maximizing potential:
- “I often don’t feel like I’ve served my clients enough yet to ask.” If you ask value seeking questions during most encounters with your clients, you’ll always know you’ve provided value.
- “I don’t want my clients to think that I am unsuccessful.” Sales people sometimes feel that asking for referrals is like begging for business. But as long as you ask based on the value that you have provided and your intention of bringing it to others, you won’t look like you are begging. In fact, the more confident you are in your abilities and your problem solving, the more confident you should be with asking for referrals. It’s the next logical step.
- “Most clients feel uncomfortable when asked for referrals.” No, some clients will feel uncomfortable because you are uncomfortable in asking and you are projecting this on to them. Be confident and ask anyway and if they don’t want to, back off. No harm done.
Most people will be happy to help you if you have exceeded expectations. Just give them good value and ask. Don’t let the fear hold you back.
In today’s world with social media, especially Linkedin, there is no excuse for not using referrals. Cates has a great book that was an easy read and full of useful techniques and tips. Stop cold calling and ask for referrals.
What techniques have you found useful in getting referrals?