I sold harmonicas over the phone for an entire year and didn’t even know how to play. It’s not a major highlight of my resume but here’s the thing. I know that I can call a few of my old customers to get great referrals right now. Really. They grew to trust me. Okay, not initially. It was kind of absurd that this girl who couldn’t even play the harmonica was trying to sell them harmonicas! I made a big, crazy first impression but I followed that up with the discipline to touch base with every few weeks. I had the best harmonicas at fair prices. I tried like crazy to learn everything I could learn about harmonicas. I even tried to learn how to play one. (I never did learn). Music stores can be pretty quiet during the day so we would have some good conversations. I had the emotional intelligence to get lost if they were busy. When I made a sale I did all the right things. I thanked them, obviously. I made sure it shipped properly and quickly. I followed up with a call to make sure they were satisfied. If anything went wrong I corrected it quickly. Long story short—I gained their trust over time.
Gaining Trust was Kind of Easy—Here are the Steps
- Think about the relationship first—then the sale.
- Treat customers like friends—be honest.
- Be yourself but use common sense—too much information is not cool.
- Be great at your job—know your product and don’t waste their time.
- Learn how to deliver bad news tactfully and have a solution or a back-up plan ready.
This post is about how to get great referrals. Gaining trust is the groundwork for that. As salespeople, we go all day long asking for sales yet when it comes to asking for a referral we suddenly clam up! Why? It’s so personal. A “NO” could cause emotional pain. Or worse, they could say yes and then just not do it. That puts us in a a difficult position. We have to decide what to do. Do we ask again or just forget it? We have to decide what to think. Do we think they don’t like us? Do they think we aren’t worthy of a referral? Do we think we aren’t worthy of a referral?
Most of us have feelings and we can’t let them get in the way of business. The only way to know if someone is open to giving us a referral is to do the work of gaining trust. Once you know your customer or colleague and have their trust, you know they will give you a referral.
The Top 5 Reasons People Don’t Give Referrals
- You didn’t ask them for one—make sure you actually ask.
- You asked but you weren’t specific—be specific about what you need.
- They are super busy and it’s not a top priority for them—make it easy for them.
- They only give referrals for spectacular work—were you spectacular?
- They were satisfied but the relationship is too new—they want to make sure you’re consistent.
What Type of Referral Do You Want?
There are a few kinds of referrals. LinkedIn personal referrals, ratings, referral to a specific client and reviews. Each are different in nature and purpose. Each carries it’s own value. Only you can decide which one is most valuable to you and which type to ask for. It’s rare that you’ll get someone who is so blown-away by your performance that they give you all of them but if they do then that customer has a high CRV—or a high Customer Referral Value. In the customer-centric environment that most businesses live in today, they are your most revered customers. Not only do they buy your product—they also act as evangelists for your brand by spreading “the good word” about your products and services.
LinkedIn’s Professional Business Referrals
LinkedIn platform is social in that people have made connections through work or through others they have worked with. As a member you can join groups that are related to your industry or interests and you can ask for an endorsement for a skill you have or you can specifically request a written referral from a colleague or co-worker. Having key skills endorsed by colleagues is great but a glowing reference in quotes right on your page can be very powerful. It can be especially valuable if the person who wrote it is a respected member of your industry circle. Once you begin writing content or posting and sharing articles you’ve found of interest it will become easier to determine who you want to approach for a referral. Choose carefully. You want that reference to impress potential clients or employers so make sure you choose people who write well and think highly of you. They should be well-respected in their field also. There is some truth to the old saying, people judge you by the company you keep.
How to Ask for Ratings
Ratings are important for many reasons that your customers may be unaware of. Unless you are actively marketing products online you may not live and breathe for Search Engine Optimization. Ratings help products move up in the ranks of most online databases and search platforms. The more ratings you have the more likely your product is to be seen in a search. If one of your customers is very happy with your product or service, a brief discussion about SEO may help them understand why it’s important to you.
If a customer found value in your product you can explain the value of their rating for your company. The more your product is seen, the more you can sell, the more you can buy, the lower you can make your cost, the less you can charge them, etc. Make it easy for them to give you a rating by including a link to the ratings page. Add a ratings link to your signature on every email you send. Subtle reminders in all your communications can persuade them to take action. I always believe that a verbal request, face-to-face or on the phone, is the best way to make it happen.
How to Ask to be Referred to Other Clients
You may want to find a new customer who has similar buying habits to an existing customer. This type of referral can be tricky. In some B2B industries competition between distributors is high. Your customer may want to keep you and your product as their own little secret. To get this kind of referral think about the industry you are serving and then think about what your customer sells. You don’t want to ask them for names of their own competition, but maybe they have industry friends who sell a different type of product that you carry. For example: in the image apparel industry career uniform sellers and school uniform sellers don’t always compete for business. Consider asking if they can refer you to one of their non-competing colleagues.
Some business owners belong to industry networking groups. You may open the conversation by asking about those groups. Some people show the groups they are members of right on their LinkedIn profile page. Do a little research and bring it up in conversation. It may seem like stalking but If they didn’t want you to know about it it, they would hide it. LinkedIn also makes it easy to ask for an introduction through its interface. Consider joining a few of those networking groups and meeting some new people.
Need a Referral? Give a Referral!
One of the best ways to get a referral is to offer something of value in your request. Some people send an infographic or a copy of some valuable industry research they recently collected. If you write an informative blog you can invite them to join a VIP email list for special content delivered right to their inbox. I think one of the most valuable gifts you can offer your client is the exact thing you are seeking… a referral. Try offering to do a referral swap and send along a great review or quote that your customer can post on their website or their social media sites. Make sure you are honest in your referral. Only do this with people you admire. You don’t want to be phony of course! Just remember to ASK for the referral!
To Get Great Referrals Be Persistent—Not Pushy!
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pushy as aggressive often to an objectionable degree. Pushy is not an admirable quality whereas persistence tends to describe acts of achievement. “His persistence in pursuing his PHD was admirable.” It carries a much more positive vibe. If you want to get great referrals be persistent—not pushy!
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