#2. Obtain referrals to take the chill out of cold calling
This second article in a series of five pieces will look at referrals and how they can help take the chill out of cold calling. Finding new customers is a major challenge for sales people everywhere and that’s reflected in the top questions asked in our recent poll, in which our readers ranked the top sales issues in their respective organizations. That challenge is part of a growing trend—one we’ve been tracking at Engage for the last several years. Companies are consolidating their purchases to known buyers. They’re doing this to reduce the risks they take when dealing with suppliers.
Here are two reasons why that’s happening. First, those who are already known to a buyer carry a brand of familiarity and that—to their mind, at least—means less risk. True, there’s no direct correlation between being unfamiliar and creating greater risk for a client. New suppliers out there may offer a much better product or service. However, this isn’t a battle based on facts. It’s a matter of what customers feel is true rather than what they know to be true. Even if it’s based on a faulty assumptions, perceptions can be a very real barrier to selling to new customers.
The second reason why buyers have become risk averse is that many are working in a really tough environment. Many companies have been laying-off staff over the last two years, meaning there are fewer people involved in the buying process. These people are receiving an increasing number of cold calls from sales people who, in turn, are under relentless pressure to sell more. Understandably, this is not fun for buyers.
That’s why many have developed an aversion for taking cold calls. Instead, they triage those calls and the entire buying process by saying to themselves “I’m just going to stick with suppliers I know and trust.”
Bridge the risk gap with referrals
Referrals can help you bridge that risk gap with a potential new customer, helping to transform you from an unknown quantity to one that’s known and trusted. Let’s look at how you can obtain referrals so you can start using them right away in your sales organization.
The first thing you need to do is look at your existing list of customers. Work from the list you created for targeting and reach out to your best clients. Next, make a list of your top-25 or even top-50 prospects. Now ask yourself if there are any links between your best clients and your best prospects. Where there is a link, call your existing client and ask for one of two kinds of referrals.
Inside and outside referrals
The first kind is an inside referral, which involves getting connected to someone inside the company you are currently working with. Let’s say you just sold a product to the VP of Sales for the North American division of a company, and you’d like to do the same with their European division. The request for an inside referral could sound like this: “Dan, I would love to meet your VP of Sales for your European office, can you help me with an introduction?” Notice that I’ve included the person’s name in the request. It helps personalize your message, so you get the results you’re looking for. Also, be specific with your questions. For example: “Janet, I’m going to be giving Cole McCarthy a call next week to talk about the work that we can do to help his sales team…can I tell him about the success we’ve had working together here in North America?” When you ask direct questions, it is much easier for someone who knows you, likes you and trusts you to say yes to your request.
Outside referrals involve somebody in a different company than you’re currently working with. Let’s say your targeted prospect works for Acme Widgets—a company that currently supplies your customer in a different field than yours. Your request could sound like this: “Stephen, I’m looking to meet the VP of Sales at Acme Widgets…do you know her?” If your client says yes, then you follow-up with: “Would you be able to help me with an introduction?” The keyword is “help.” It’s an incredibly powerful word and using it in your request will almost always get you a satisfactory reply.
Treat referrals as something you obtain from clients as a rule—not as an exception. They are vital to your long-term success in sales. Not only do they help generate new customers, but they also help you broaden your network. However, let me emphasize again…it’s really important that you be as specific as possible when asking for that referral. One of the biggest mistakes people make when asking for referrals is they are too vague or too general in their request. It’s simply not enough to ask: “Who else do you know in your organization?” …or to say in passing: “If you know anyone else who needs my services, don’t hesitate to pass my name around.” It’s too easy for the person to whom you’re speaking with to say: “Gosh, no one comes to mind right now, but let me go back to my office and think about it and then I’ll be sure to pass your name along.” You can guess what happens next. That client goes back to the office, handles 25 calls and a mountain of tasks in their inbox, and before the day is over, they’ve forgotten about your request.
I suspect over the next year, we will see an even greater disparity between making cold calls with and without referrals. The perceived risks in the mind of buyers aren’t going to go away, and as a result, people are going to be more prone to sticking with who they know. Referrals keep you in the “know and trust” category in the minds of buyers.
Click here to go to the next in this five-part series.