By: Lee B. Salz – President of Sales Dodo
So you read this title and you are probably thinking that I’ve lost my mind, that I’m suggesting that you relax and just let sales happen. Take the pressure off and ignore all of the sales training you have received in your career. Forget what that sales manager is telling you to do.
Not the case! If you are in the sales profession, there is no time for R & R when it means rest and relaxation. Have you seen the news? Gas prices are skyrocketing. The stock market is in a state of flux. Foreclosures are at record levels. Flying on a plane costs about the same as a trip on the space shuttle. How can you possibly think that this is a time for taking a break?
This is the time when you need to sharpen your skills and improve your game. People are still buying, but they are more circumspect when making a decision. Thus, the game of sales is more competitive than ever before. When I say R & R, I don’t mean taking your foot off the accelerator. I mean building a reference and referral program to drive your sales.
Why group references and referrals together? In addition to having the first letter of the word in common, they share something else in common. That commonality is that the time in the process when you can ask for either a reference or referral is the same. And, there is only one time in the buying process when you can ask someone to provide you with a referral or serve as a reference. But, when is that time? One of my favorite questions to ask of sales people is when is the only appropriate time in the process to ask for those? Some say, at closing. Others say, when you implement or upon delivery. Still others say that any time is the right time to ask.
None of these are correct! The only time when you can ask someone to serve as a reference or provide you with referrals is when you have earned the right to ask them to do so. This is the absolute only time. That said, you may earn this right with a prospect without them ever buying anything from you. Maybe, you introduced them to a strategic partner that can help them in their business. Perhaps you helped them to identify areas of concern that need to be addressed in their business. In those instances, you have earned the right to ask for referrals. (There is also a unique strategy for using references which is presented in my article titled, “The Most Underutilized Strategic Advantage.”)
But, how do you ask for a referral? (This is another fun one for me.) Many years ago, I participated in a train-the-trainer program for facilitators. The biggest takeaway for me was learning how asking a question different ways yields different results. Think back to elementary school with the curmudgeon school teacher who finished the lesson, looked over the top of her glasses and asked the class, “Any questions?” How many people raised their hand? None! Why? The inference here is that no one should have any questions, thus, no one asked.
Across the hall, another teacher finishes the same lesson and asks the group, “What questions do you have?” How many people raised their hand? Three? Five? Ten? Both teachers finished the same lesson and both checked the class for understanding of the knowledge. What was different was the inference. Asking what questions do you have, infers that you should have questions. It invites a response.
So, what does this have to do with referrals? Sales people often ask for referrals by saying, “Do you know of anyone who might be interested in our services?” Rarely does that generate even a single name. The knee-jerk response is, “No, not off the top of my head, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
Try asking the question like the second teacher in the story above. “Who do you know that would be interested in our services?” The inference in this question is that they should know someone who would be interested in your services. That slight tweak in your approach will yield far more referrals than you ever have received before.
Another reason why I group references and referrals together is that I find that sales people are often not disciplined in asking for them. While some commit a faux pas and ask at the wrong time, most don’t ask at all. They are so focused on the next sale that they forget to squeeze all of the juice from the opportunity in front of them. What is the easiest sale to make? Other than a repeat sale to an existing client, there is no easier sale than one that comes through a referral with the support of a reference. It boggles the mind that sales people don’t uncover these sales nuggets.
In most selling situations, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is trust. Think of all of the horror stories out there on selling. The list is endless. For buyers, sales has the stink of bad fish on it. The standard buyer move is to shake the sales person’s hand and then cover their back pocket where their wallet is stored.
As a sales person, when you work with a referral, you start with a high-degree of trust since this person was referred to you by someone who has had a positive experience with you. These sales come together more often and with a shorter cycle. Need a reference for this prospect, already done! Since the prospect was a referral, the “referee” can also serve as a reference.
If you are a sales manager, put a program in place to drive R&R behavior. Have weekly goals for your sales team to develop references and referrals. Monitor the progress and reward those who exhibit the behavior.
If you are a sales person, don’t wait for your sales manager to put this in place for you. Control your destiny and hold yourself accountable for developing a specified quantity of references and referrals each week. This strategy will lead you to generate exponential sales under any economic conditions.