How to Get More Referrals

Cold calling is no longer the way to increase sales and get more referrals. Start by listening to what the people need.

The most powerful marketing tools for any business are business referrals. People are inclined to trust business referrals if they come personally from somebody they know. According to research by Nielsen, 77 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a new product when they learn about it from friends or family.

Getting out the message about how great your business is, does not depend so much on the size of your social network, but on how memorable your brand is. You should be able to leave consequential strangers with a clear understanding of what you do, in just one brief conversation. To expand your reach, you want to give them enough information to further recommend you to their network, but not so much information that they lose focus on what to remember. Their recommendations can be quite valuable; they build trust with both the potential client and the referral partner. If the outcome is positive, it creates a ripple effect and word spreads. Here’s an example of how one successful independent executive built a career on referrals.

Case Study – No More Cold Calling to get more referrals.

Joanne spent much of the early part of her career in training and development, either managing or selling high-profile training programs. Each role was greater than the next, and she saw each as an amazing learning opportunity. She was fortunate to be referred into each role and learned to pay attention to what was going on around her and identify opportunities that made sense.

When Joanne decided to start her own company, she thought about what she had been doing for the past decade. She worked with companies of all sizes, and she noticed a common theme. Companies had business plans, but the sales plan was buried someplace in the larger plan and easily got lost. In most small companies, the founders typically have no sales background. Most of them have technical skills, or they come from finance, research, and development (R&D), product development, or marketing; very, very few come from sales. They don’t have a sales strategy with their go-to-market position. What’s the value of their offering? How are they going to communicate it? Using the process and techniques that she had developed selling consulting and training to these companies, she decided to work with companies focusing on their sales strategy.

Her very first client was a referral and they needed help developing a sales strategy. They were doing a customer satisfaction survey with fifty of their best clients. Joanne added a question that had not been in prior surveys. “Would you be willing to be a referral for this client?” She can’t recall why she asked that question, but it was a seven-point scale. Seven was high.

The results came back a six-point-five. So, this company asked fifty of their best clients if they would be referrals for them. There they are. Were they asking? No.

That was Joanne’s “aha moment.” She’d been selling and managing sales teams her entire career. Her best business had always come from referrals. She was paying attention to what she was seeing and knew there was something more there, so she started talking to salespeople and asking if they liked to get referrals. They gave her the same answer then, twenty years ago, that they give her today. “Yes! We’re presold. They know us. We have trust. We have credibility. Our sales process is shortened. Our cost of sales plummets. We win deals from the competition, and we convert prospects to clients well more than fifty percent of the time.”

Okay, so that’s great. The next question became, “do you have a systematic, disciplined referral program with strategy, metrics, skills, and accountability for results?” The answer was “no” twenty years ago, and the answer is still “no” today. The fact is, everybody says referrals are great, and they happen, but companies don’t have referral discipline. Joanne needed to figure out what was going on. If referrals are so great, why aren’t companies pursuing them? Why aren’t referrals their number one outbound prospecting strategy?

Joanne then leveraged her background and structured a very simple, straightforward referral program with key building blocks that have to occur before you can ever ask for a referral. What’s interesting is that, twenty years later, those building blocks are identical. They haven’t changed because the basic premise behind referrals hasn’t changed. That’s how Joanne has ended up working with companies on systematically getting more referrals. She had no initial plans for it, but like so many successful executives, she paid attention, did her research, and leveraged her background each step of the way.

Joanne was listening to what people needed. You don’t just go create something because it’s your passion; there has to be a need in the marketplace for what you have. There’s even more of a need today, but the issues are exactly the same. The two major challenges every sales executive tells her they face are: number one, getting a consistent stream of qualified leads, and; number two, getting meetings with decision-makers. Now, there are a lot of others, but those are the two big ones.

Joanne had a lot of options when she started her business. She could have conducted sales training on just about any topic, offered sales assessments, been a part-time sales manager, and so on. Instead, she paid attention to the biggest pain point of her marketplace and zeroed in on what she saw as the top solution for it—training sales teams on a systematic and accountable program to get more referrals.

The advice Joanne gives is to test the offering. “Make sure there is a market for what you’re selling. You need to get that reality check. You also can’t look like everybody else. That could be something brand new, or it could be a twist on what you’re already doing that is perceived as different. That’s something people can resonate with. You need to continually listen to what the problems are. Unless you solve a problem, it’s just like throwing spaghetti against the wall. You’ll never be successful. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are.”

Joanne leverages what she does throughout her brand. Rather than using the term “referral selling,” she created her brand around the pain her clients experience and appropriately named her company, “No More Cold Calling.” That is the foundation of her brand strategy, and everything else ties back to it. She actively engages social media as part of the strategy. The way people are having conversations today differs, so she is very active on social media. She posts regularly and ensures her brand is out there.

Many times, people know what their brand is. They just don’t know how to position it, or they may be hesitant on really put it out there. Joanne’s advice to someone who isn’t sure on whether to hire a marketing/ brand consultant is to figure it out with outside help. We all get too close to our company, our message, and ourselves, and we need to have an outside expert help us. Know what you are good at and what you are not good at. Leverage what you are good at and get outside assistance for the rest.

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