If I had to identify a “silver bullet” for adding quality opportunities to your pipeline, I would argue that it would be referrals. Today, I make it a priority to ask for at least three referrals every month. I started this January of 2021, and the outcome so far... I have been able to break into accounts that I tried cold calling for months/years. Now, this is not a "stop cold calling – it is a waste of time" blog. This is a "work smarter not harder" blog that should be able to help you identify where you could ask for a referral instead of cold calling.
Below are the three areas of focus that have brought me success in asking for referrals.
Master The “Ask”
Looking back on my time in sales, there were two main reasons for not successfully asking for referrals. The first was because I simply did not ask for them. For some reason, I was scared to ask. Sometimes it was the fear of being rejected. Sometimes it was because I did not think the relationship was strong enough. If this is you…STOP! How did I overcome this? First, I changed my mindset and realized the individuals I speak with are people, too, and they understand this is how I make my living. Then, I role-practiced my "ask." I made sure I was comfortable in all different situations and was genuine (not sales-y).
The second reason I lacked success with referrals was my timing. When I did finally have the courage to ask, I asked at the wrong time. The majority of the time, I asked too late. Circling back to needing to feel that relationship was "secure," I asked long after I provided solutions for my client. My service was no longer "new." While I was still adding value, the excitement around our new partnership had faded. My recommendation? Ask for the referral as soon as the deal is finalized or immediately after you helped solve their first challenge.
The other thing to be aware of is the words you choose when you ask. Asking “Do you know anyone that could benefit from my company?” will lead to the response “Hmm…let me think about that and get back to you!” followed by zero referrals. Get specific. Do your homework and see who they may be connected to or what companies they may relate to. Once you identify that, don’t beat around the bush. Ask them specifically for an introduction.
Below is an example of both:
“Hey Mike, I am very excited to begin our partnership with you and look forward to your future successes. Quick question – I saw that you are connected with and previously worked with Maria McGee, the VP of Sales at ABC Company. I would love to connect with her because I think we can help her, too. If I drafted up an email for you for an introduction, could you send that to her and CC me?”
Slice The Apples
Quick story time – the term “slice the apples” is a term that we use at Butler Street daily. It comes from a study around apple consumption and grade school kids. Long story short, kids were given apples with lunch, but few were getting eaten. Not because they did not like apples but because eating a whole apple in front of your classmates can be awkward. Throw in having braces…forget about it. The following week, they were offered apple slices rather than whole apples. The outcome? Apple consumption went up significantly. Summary? They made it as easy as possible for kids to eat the apples.
When asking for referrals, make sure you are” slicing the apples” for the individual making the referral. I made a mistake early in my career by only doing 50% of the work when asking for an introduction.
Early conversations would go like this…
Me: Hey, I saw that you were connected to Robert Reid with XYZ Company…Could you make an introduction for me?
Client: Yeah, for sure!
Me: Awesome. Thank you! …followed by me never getting the introduction.
For a long time, I was confused why this was happening. I had a strong relationship with this person. On some occasions, they were a close friend. I finally realized that they have their own work to focus on, and I was asking them to take time out of their day to write an introduction for my benefit. They weren't going to sleep thinking, "Man, I really have to help Dominic grow his pipeline." Advice? After you ask for the referral, tell them you will send over an email that they can literally copy & paste. Always tell them they can “edit as needed” but make it as easy as possible for them to make the introduction. After all, you are the one benefiting from this directly…not them.
Referrals are the easiest way to build your brand and add strong, quality opportunities to your pipeline. As we enter the second half of 2021, make it a priority. I promise it is worth it. This is a best practice we cover in every Butler Street training. If you have further questions regarding referrals or prospecting, I welcome your time to connect!