One of the critical parts of generating a large number of quality referrals, of course, is getting quality referrals as opposed to just getting names and phone numbers. But at times, despite your efforts go get quality referrals from your client, they simply cannot or will not think of anyone to whom to refer you.
Nevertheless, you need not walk away without a number of quality referrals.
In order make sure you get the referrals you want—and to increase the number of referrals the client gives you—you must do your own homework well before you meet your client to ask for referrals. Homework simply consists of putting together a list of people you have good reason to believe your client knows and to whom you would like your client to refer you.
How do you create this list? Knowing your client is the first step. During the course of the sale you need to be aware of everything you discover about your client. Does he or she have signs of membership in organizations in their office or home? Are there bumper stickers on their car? Photographs that might indicate involvement in organizations or clubs? Has the client referred to a meeting or some other indicator of involvement? Can you gather information about past employment, other vendors or customers?
All of the above are relatively easy ways you can investigate who you client might know. Lets look in more detail at some of these possibilities:
Memberships: If you meet your client in their office or home office, you will often have the opportunity to discover their memberships by simply looking around the room. Do they have plaques from the Lions Club or Chamber of Commerce? Membership directories from an industry association on their bookshelf? Photos of them at an organization gathering?
Bumper stickers/Lapel pins: Some people advertise their political or social associations on their car. Though not a guarantee, if you notice a bumper sticker it is often a sign that they have a commitment to the organization or movement represented by the sticker. Lapel pins from an organization or association almost guarantee involvement by your client. Few wear the pins who are not active members.
Vendors/Customers: Simply investigating whom the individual deals with can give you great insight into whom the client might be able to refer you to. Does he or she or their company sell to or buy from someone you are interested in getting in front of?
Awards: Are you aware of any awards your client has received from any group, association, client, or vendor?
Emails: Some clients will put you on their social email list when they send copies of articles, jokes, etc. that they think are of interest. Often these lists are sent to a large number of individuals and all of the recipients names are in your email header. Most people will simply delete these emails without a thought. Don’t! Examine the names of the other people the email was sent to—sometimes you’ll find some amazing names. I’ve received emails with the personal email address of nationally known sports, political, entertainment and business figures. Most of the time I have no reason to ask to be referred to these people, but if I ever want to be referred them I know who to go to ask for the referral—and I already have their email address in my database.
Family: Are there photos of their kids playing sports? What school or team do they play for? Has your client mentioned anything about their spouse having to do something with an organization or association? Who does their spouse work for?
Past employers: This can be a particularly lucrative area to investigate. Most people have worked for several companies during their lifetime and often they will still have contacts at their past employers. If your client has worked in a capacity where they had the contacts you want, take note.
If you take the time and effort to do a little investigation, you should have at least a few areas to investigate further. Once you have your list of associations, vendors, past employers, etc., explore those organizations to determine whom within the organization you would like to be referred to by your client.
If they are members of the chamber, make a list of several chamber members you know you want to meet. If they are a member of an industry association, what other companies would you like to sell? Who in that company do you need to be referred to in order to have the best shot at selling them? Are any of your client’s past employers of interest? How about your client’s spouse’s employer?
You will need to investigate each of the organizations, companies, associations, etc. to discover whom you want to meet. You’ll need to come to the referral meeting with a list of 15 to 25 names to insure that your client will know at least a few of the people and will be comfortable referring you to them.
During the referral meeting, go over your client’s referrals first. If, after your client has finished with his list, there are individuals on your list that your client has not mentioned, take a few minutes and ask your client about each person on your list.
Of course, you want more referrals from your client in the future. Start preparing for your future referrals during your client acquisition meeting. Note during the meeting how your client reacts to each of the people you bring up on your list. If, for example, you have three people each from three different organizations, but your client really doesn’t know or is not comfortable referring you to any of the people from two of the organizations but is willing to refer you to all three of the people from the third organization, make a note to approach you client about more individuals from the third organization at some point in the future. Also, note where the referrals your client had prepared came from. Were they all family and friends? All business acquaintances your client only knows casually? Are they all vendors? All people within his company? Who your client refers you to will give you a strong indication of both how well he trusts you and where you might be able to make future suggestions about people you would like to be referred to.
Do not contact any of the people on your list by using your client’s name without his or her explicit permission. Trying to manufacture referrals is a surefire way to lose credibility with both your client and your prospect. If you contact someone on your list your client has not referred you to, it is OK to mention you have done work for your client, but don’t imply the client referred you to the prospect.
You can easily double or triple the number of high quality referrals you receive through careful listening and observation. Every client you have knows people and companies you would like to be referred to. Unfortunately, clients often forget about those potential referrals. Your job is to help your client make quality referrals—the easier you make it for your client to give you quality referrals, the more referrals you’ll receive.
Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org