Danger, Will Robinson!

Beware of classic mistakes when asking for referrals

 Referrals can be really powerful selling tools when used correctly and as part of a formalized plan. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask for referrals. Too often, sales people and business owners commit classic mistakes in asking for them and assume, based on their disappointing results, that referrals might simply not be worth all the effort. Referrals do work. Working with our own clients at Engage Selling, we’ve seen closing ratios on sales calls tighten dramatically when referrals are incorporated into the sales script…some as much as three-to-one (in other words, obtaining one sale out every three sales calls placed). We even wrote about this success in Honesty Sells at www.honestysells.com

 Referrals have the potential to connect you to new customers through a network that’s built on trust and familiarity. That means there’s more on the line than just your own reputation: the person doing the referring has to first be sure they are doing the right thing by recommending you, your products or your services with others.

 Given this, let’s look at what you can do to avoid the top 3 mistakes when asking for referrals…

 1. Don’t ask too soon

 The worst time to ask for a referral is when you’re still at the point-of-sale stage in the sales cycle. If the ink isn’t even dry on the deal that your customer has signed with you, odds are good that they haven’t yet had the opportunity to fully try your product or service and form complete opinion. Success in sales is about building and maintaining relationships. Making the sale is just the start of that relationship. In a sense, it’s a relationship that is much like a marriage—a lot of work needs to be done to keep that relationship working well.

 Give your customers time. Don’t ask for a referral until you’ve earned it. While it’s acceptable to ask after a product has been delivered or installed and the client has told you they are satisfied, I still think there’s a better approach. Use the request for referral as a means of adding value to the customer’s buying experience.

 2. Remember to show your thanks

Forgetting to say thank you is a big mistake…so big that it’s cringeworthy. Think about it for a moment. If a client makes the decision that you’ve earned that referral you’ve been hoping for, and you miss the opportunity to thank them for that gesture, you risk shutting off that referral pipeline…maybe even permanently.

 When it comes to referrals, there are in fact two instances where a thank you is in order. First, you ought to thank your client when they refer your name to a friend or colleague. Send a card to express your appreciation. An email message is simply not enough. A card is personal and it sits in someone’s hand, making it memorable in a way that email simply can never be. The second instance for expressing thanks is when that new referral buys from you. Again, sending a thank-you card is a nice touch. Include a small gift as well, but only if the customer is able to accept it (some organizations, including government, have a no-gift rule). A small token of thanks can be as simple as a gift card for coffee from the local Starbucks, or even a donation to the client’s annual golf tournament. The key is to make a gesture that says: “I really appreciate you thinking of me.”

 3. Be specific and a resource

 A component of an effective referral program should include asking your customers if they know someone who could benefit from the products or services you are selling. However, it’s important that you be specific. For instance, you could ask: “Are you the only one in your department that uses this service?” If there are others who do, in fact, use your services, then those are the people you want to meet, and your existing customer is ideally positioned to make that happen. 

 Find ways to be a valuable resource to your customers. One approach is to develop a program that encourages customers to become advocates for your products or services. Arrange for a luncheon once a month between yourself, an existing client and someone in their organization with whom you’d like to connect. Or maybe you have two clients that you feel could really benefit from meeting: send the lunch invitation to them. The objective here is to become a resource to your clients—that go-to person on whom people know they can pick up the phone and call when they need a favour or advice.

By avoiding the top 3 pitfalls of asking for referrals, you can very quickly leverage the incredible power of word-of-mouth generated by those who know your work and your products best: your customers.

 Dedicated to Increasing your sales,


3 responses to “Danger, Will Robinson!

  1. Great advice as always, Colleen.

    The trust factor is certainly an issue if you ask too soon. I remember meeting with a financial advisor many years ago and after our initial meeeting he thrust a sheet of paper at me and asked for 10 references. I handed the sheet back to him and said, “If we choose to use your service AND we’re pleased afterwards, I will give you a few names but not before then.”


  2. […] Referrals are an important part of gaining new business, but there are right, and wrong, ways to go about getting them. Many in sales make mistakes while procuring referrals, and they ultimately come to believe referrals just don’t work. According to Colleen Francis, founder of Engage Selling Solutions, referrals do work when the salesperson avoids three common mistakes. Can you guess what she says are the top three mistakes? I’ve included the first one below, and the remaining two can be found here. […]

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