The Sale After the Sale … Getting Referrals.
Referrals have always been the single most valuable commodity a salesperson can acquire. The more referrals a salesperson is able to collect, the more income he is going to make. After we have created a new client, it is time to start selling again. We must sell the new client on giving us some referrals.
In my 20-plus years of selling and coaching salespersons, I have noticed that most salespersons are very poor at getting referrals. There may be a number of reasons. If a salesperson is having a “run of success,” he may be meeting all of his goals and therefore he does not “feel the need” to ask for referrals. If the opposite is true and the salesperson is doing poorly in sales, he may have a sever lack of confidence and therefore he feels uneasy about asking for referrals. In both of these examples the salesperson is really hurting himself. In the case of the salesperson who is doing well, he will never be in a better position to ask for referrals. His recent successes should give BOTH him and the prospect a justified sense of confidence that this product/service should be shared with others. In the case of the salesperson who is doing poorly, he should realize that the easiest sale to make is to a referral. So he should be asking for referrals ALL the time to help him get out of his slump.
I must make a confession at this time. It took me many more years to understand why salespersons have a problem with this process than any of the other sales processes. The solution occurred to me one day when I was asking myself, “Why don’t my salespersons ask for referrals?” At last an answer surfaced that I had never considered before. The reason why salespersons are reluctant to ask for referrals is because they perceive this act as “asking for a favor.” If the salesperson is speaking with a person who is a prospect for his product/service but has not yet become a client, the salesperson feels uneasy about “asking for a favor” prior to making the sale. If the salesperson is speaking with a person who has just become a client, the salesperson feels uneasy about “asking for a favor” after having just created the relationship. If the salesperson is speaking with a person who has rejected his product/service, the salesperson does not believe that the prospect “will do him a favor” by recommending them to another.
Many salespersons told me they believed my premise that they felt they were “asking for a favor” was accurate. So I asked myself the next question, “How can a salesperson feel differently about asking for referrals?” The answer was to find a way to turn asking for referrals into an act that was of “significant value to the person being asked.” How can giving a referral to a salesperson be of value to the prospect, “missed prospect” or client? The answer to this question and the technique that was created to address this issue will make us a lot of money.
We need to think carefully through this process. Are we selling a product/service that is of real value to our client? If our answer to this question is “No,” we need to get out of that business and find something else to sell. If our answer is “Yes,” than answer this question. If our product/service is of real value to our client, isn’t it possible that our product/service could be of real value to other persons our client may know? There are some salespersons who are selling such a specifically applicable product/service that it may not be so easy to identify other potential users. Therefore, if our product/service is specific in its application, a user would be likely to know others with the same need. For example a person who needs very wide shoes is more likely to know of others with the same need than a person with a typical shoe width. So we need to ask our best source! We need to ask our client.
If we are like most and sell a product/service that has application to a broad base of prospects our challenge is different … and absolutely doable! Follow this example for a moment. A salesperson is selling a “business to business” product/service. This salesperson calls on business owners or perhaps buyers for a business. Let’s assume that the product/service that this salesperson is selling provides either a way to “reduce costs” … OR … a way to “increase profits.” What products/services can we think of that could do such a thing? What about: photocopiers that save on printing costs, advertising that increases sales, safety equipment that reduces injury costs, delivery systems that improve customer service, accounting software that saves money on tax preparation, computers that increase production throughput, or perhaps insurance that reduces costs due to misfortunes.
If a salesperson is selling such a product/service, doesn’t it make sense that his client knows of others who could use the very same benefits? Of course, but why would he be willing to give us the names of others? He will give us others to call upon when we “sell him” on why it is his best interest to do so! How can we communicate that our product/service will benefit our client when it is purchased by another company? We need to ask ourselves this question, “If my client’s suppliers were using my product/service would it help them?” We answer ourselves, “Of course!” If my product/service helps my client’s suppliers, how does that help my client? The answer is not so obvious, huh? Well, it really is. Try this answer, “If my product/service saves money for the supplier to my client, wouldn’t that allow my client’s supplier to sell for less … therefore, saving my client money? If my product/service increases the profits of my client’s supplier, couldn’t that allow my client’s supplier to produce even better products/services for my client … therefore, giving my client better quality supplies?”
Doesn’t it make sense that, IF our product/service either “saves money” or “increases profits,” this benefit could eventually positively impact the clients of our client? Of course it could! So why not tell our client that as we ask for referrals. We should try the following “word track.”
Salesperson: “Mr. Client, once again thank you for your business. May I ask you just a few additional questions?”
Client: “Of course.”
Salesperson: “The word ‘Partner’ is often used by my other clients in describing how they see the role of their suppliers. Would you agree that organizations like mine and the other organizations that serve you with products,solutions or services should consider ourselves as being in partnership with you in helping you deliver your best possible product/services?”
Client: “Yes, we do see our vendors as our partners and they should be committed to help us to the best of their ability.”
Salesperson: “Well, if your vendors are your ‘Partners,’ isn’t it a good idea that they run their organizations as effectively as possible so they can give you ‘their very best?’”
Client: “Well, we certainly hope they do.”
Salesperson: “The reason I ask is because you have seen that our product/service is going to give you some very valuable benefits that will help you run your organization more profitably, so doesn’t it make sense that it would help your vendors do the same?”
Client: “Yes, I believe you probably could help them.”
Salesperson: “Let’s assume for a moment that we are able to help your vendors run their organizations more profitably. Would they then be in a better position to provide their clients, which would include you, with better products/services?”
Client: “Yes, I think you are right about that.”
Salesperson: “Which of your partners would you like for me to call on first?”
Will they always give us the names of their vendor partners? Of course not! I do not know of anything that works every time. However, we have just executed a highly professional and logical technique that will greatly increase the chances of us getting referrals. After getting the names, we need to get the addresses and phone numbers. Once we have gotten this list of referrals we can, once again, multiply our chances of succeeding dramatically with the following dialogue:
Salesperson: “Thank you Mr. Prospect, I promise I will approach them as honestly and professionally as I have you. Let me ask you another question. Which of these suppliers do you think could use my products/services the most?”
Client: “Well, I think Gautam Kumar Roy at GVK Bio could use your product/services the most.”
Salesperson: “You must have a good reason for saying that, do you mind if I ask what it is?”
Client: “No, I do not mind telling you. Goutam recently mentioned to me that he was having a challenge in the area of identifying a capable service provider.”
Salesperson: “Mr. Client, at this time in my life I would not suggest that I would be able to do a very good job of selling your products/services were you to ask me to do so. And, I do not expect that you could do a very good job of selling mine. But I do believe you could do a great job of simply introducing me to Goutam Kumar Roy. Would you mind calling him now and simply telling him I am in your office and hand me the phone?”
Client: “That is not a problem. I will call him now.”
Will he always make the phone call for us? Of course not. However, if he makes the call to the supplier he feels is in greatest need of our products/services, there is a very good chance our client will call the others as well. If he does not, we still have a wonderful list of referrals.
A less impactful but very professional alternative to asking the referral-giver to make a phone call for you would be to ask for a written introduction. We have had tremendous success over the years with getting into see decision makers that are hard to see by using this method. You need a small pad of yellow Post Its. Use the questions above to establish that he will give you some referrals, but rather than asking for him to phone you ask the following:
Salesperson: “Mr. Client, I am going to send a letter of introduction of myself and our product/service to each of the persons you have recommended that I contact. I would like them to hear from you as well. Would you please take my pen (hand it to him now) and this pad of Post Its (hand it to him now) and write each of them a one or two sentence introduction. Simply put the person’s first name in the upper left hand corner and your name in the bottom right hand corner. Between your two names just suggest to your friend that he would benefit by giving me an appointment. I will place your Post It intro on the letter I mail to each individual. I appreciate it. Thank you.”
Client: “Of course.”
Are our client’s vendors our only source of good referrals? Of course not! We should consider turning our attention 180 degrees in the other direction. What about the possibility of being able to sell our client’s clients? Once again the premise is the same. If we can help our client to “decrease costs” or “increase profits,” couldn’t we do that for our client’s clients? If we could do that, how would that help our client? We should ask ourselves this question, “If my client’s client is running his business more profitably does that increase or decrease my client’s chances of continuing to sell him his products?” It increases his business opportunity. So, after we have asked for referrals from his vendor list, we should ask for referrals from his list of clients. It does not matter whether he has given us any of his vendor to call upon or not, we should still ask for referrals from his client list. The book that outsells them all says, “We have not because we ask not.” The dialogue could sound something like this:
Salesperson: “Mr. Prospect, now that you and I agree that we can help your organization by helping your vendors, is there any reason to believe we could not do that with your clients as well. Here is what I mean. Would you agree with me that, if your clients were able to improve how they run their organizations by using my product/service, they would have more money in their organization?”
Client: “Well, yes I imagine they would.”
Salesperson: “Would you agree with me that if your clients had more money that they might be able to grow their business in size?”
Client: “Well, that certainly is possible.”
Salesperson: “If you clients became more profitable and bigger, would they need MORE or less of your products/services?”
Client: “Well, if they became bigger, they would need more of my products/services.”
Salesperson: “Well, which of your clients would you like for me to help to grow first?”
Now we follow the same process and dialogue that we use when we get vendor referrals. If the preceding example and dialogue do not closely match our relationship with our clients, we may still be able to use the concept to identify how to approach our clients for referrals. If we practice this concept, memorize these dialogues and execute our request for referrals with positive anticipation, we will greatly increase our referral base. Guess what happens when we have increased our referral base? Correct, we have just made making money as a salesperson more profitable and a lot more fun.