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4 Reasons Your Sales Team Isn’t Getting Referrals

profitsReferral selling is a disciplined process sales leaders need to learn.


Are you “all in” with referral selling, or just trying it on? Are you telling your team to ask for referrals? Or do you unequivocally believe and trust that you have a referral process in place to drive revenue, save your job, and position your company for sales success?

Referrals don’t just happen, at least not at scale. Yes, occasionally a well-served client will mention your company to another buyer and you’ll magically get a sale. But how often does that really happen? Unless you have a systematic, disciplined program in place to ensure your reps ask for referrals from every single client, your team is leaving money on the table.

So what does it take to implement an effective referral program ASAP?

Step #1: Attitude

Committing to a referral program begins with a shift in attitude. To get it right from the start, you must be unwavering in your commitment, because others will try to talk you out of it. They will tell you referral selling takes too long, that you still need to cold call, that it seems too “touchy-feely.” Rubbish!

Address any concerns from your team with referral-selling data. Demonstrate your own confidence in the power of referral selling. If you’re not committed to the process, your team won’t be either.

Step #2: Strategy

Every sales professional understands the power and value of referral introductions. Everyone (yes, everyone) tells me that with referrals, they arrive pre-sold, have trust and credibility already earned, shorten the sales process, and convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time (usually more like 70 to 90 percent). Oh, and did I forget to mention that it also lowers the cost of sales? There’s no cost to referrals. You actually extend the reach of your sales team by drafting satisfied clients and colleagues into your referral army.

No other sales or marketing strategy comes close to these results. Yet, almost no sales organization has a systematic, disciplined referral process that includes metrics and accountability for results. And there isn’t a single large-scale sales organization that has figured out how to build a 100 percent referral-based business.

If referrals are so great, what are the challenges that prevent companies from using the most successful prospecting strategy out there? I’ve discovered four compelling reasons:

  1. It’s a new skill that requires practice and coaching. Most salespeople don’t know how to ask for referral introductions. Many have tried asking in the past without any luck, because they thought it was enough to tell people, “Hey, if you know anyone who could benefit from my services, please refer me.” But even the best-intentioned friends and clients will forget such a generic request after the conversation ends. Make a case, not a plea.
  1. Referral selling is very personal, and most salespeople are uncomfortable asking. They fear doing so might jeopardize a relationship. They say it feels pushy, or that the other person will say “no.” (Fear of rejection is much stronger when salespeople talk to people they know, rather than cold calling strangers.)
  1. Companies don’t understand referral metrics. Leaders aren’t aware that referrals can be tracked and measured just as easily as results from cold calling, direct mail, and advertising.
  1. Sales leaders haven’t made referrals a process or a priority. Referral selling must be your #1 business-development outreach. “Priority” is a singular word. Referral selling is either a priority, or it’s not. Referrals must be tightly integrated into your sales process and reinforced with rewards and recognition for referral achievements.

Adopting a referral-selling system is simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires a complete shift—in the way your team thinks about referrals, and in how they go about getting them.

Step #3: Accountability

Look back at your own sales history. How many times have you been to a training session, left all hyped up and eager to get started, but a week later realized that you’d abandoned or forgotten most of what you were so excited about? Perhaps you tried to apply what you learned but were told to continue doing what you used to do. Or perhaps you didn’t take the time to apply your new learning, and no one followed up with you. So before long, you abandoned the new approach, because it was just easier to do things the old way. We’ve all been there.

Salespeople need sales managers to support and coach them, especially when learning a new prospecting strategy or sales process. They also need to be held accountable for results.

When you adopt a referral process, the way success is measured changes, because you establish metrics for both referral-selling activities as well as referral-selling results. Set goals around both—for your team and for each individual. Then follow up on a regular basis to ensure they have the skills and resources needed to meet those goals.

Step #4: Process

I’m the first person to run screaming from a room when people start talking about the need for “process.” It drives me nuts. As a salesperson, I just want to be with my clients. I don’t want to memorize a process that doesn’t fit with my buyer’s process. I don’t want to fill out a lot of paperwork. I just want to do my job.

That being said, I have great respect for a strategic process—one that I believe will actually help me sell more. I’m willing to take certain essential steps if they’ll increase my chances of making more sales. The same goes for your team: They might fight the process at first … but only until they start getting commission checks from all those referred prospects.

My experience in helping hundreds of organizations shift to referral selling is that everyone does better if they consistently follow a straightforward methodology. You do need a process: Build your team’s skills, help them get over any discomfort around asking for referrals, establish new metrics, and integrate referral selling into the way you work.

The hard truth is that this transition will be tough work. But once you have a referral system in place, your sales will take off, and your team will thank you for ensuring they never have to cold call again.

Test Your Referral Savvy

I’m conducting a new study on referrals, and I need your help. Please take my 14-question Referral I.Q. Quiz. The questions are mostly “Yes/No,” and it should take less than four minutes to complete. Once you’ve finished, you’ll be bounced over to a results page, where you can see the aggregated answers from everyone who has participated.

Check Out Joanne’s Referral I.Q. Quiz now.

My goal is to get a 1,000-person sample, so please invite your network to take the quiz as well. Participation is anonymous, and I promise you won’t be added to any lists. Thanks in advance for your support!

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