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The 6 Worst Mistakes Salespeople Make With Referrals

Salespeople who want to generate a consistent influx of leads should actively seek referrals. But there's a right way to go about it, and a wrong way. 

Are you making one of these mistakes that limit the number of referrals you receive? For the sake of your business, I hope not! 

1) Lack of Commitment to Referrals

Here’s a thought for you. How would your next great (maybe even best ever) client prefer to meet you? Through a cold call? No! From a direct mail piece? You’ve got to be kidding! Study after study has demonstrated that the best clients want to meet you through an introduction from someone they already trust, like a friend, family member, colleague, or center of influence.

Why would you make referrals a passive process and not become proactive? Instead of just dabbling in referrals, make a commitment to building your business the way people want to meet you.

2) Making Referrals All About You

When you get a referral without asking for one, why did that client give it to you? It’s because they saw the value in the work you’ve done for them and wanted to introduce others to that value. Perhaps they want to help you become more successful too, but that’s secondary motivation.

Use a client-centered approach to asking for referrals. Make it all about the value you bring to them and can bring to others.

3) Forgetting to Ask for Referrals

When someone tells me they forget to ask for referrals, what they’re really telling me is, “I don’t feel comfortable asking.” My response is usually, “I understand. I know that many people don’t feel comfortable asking for referrals. Let’s work on a way that does feel comfortable."

Here’s a simple way to never forget about referrals again. You may wimp out or you may decide it’s not the right time, but let’s take the “forgetting” off the table. Run all your meetings with clients with an agenda. Put the words “value discussion” as the next to last item on the agenda. The value discussion is your trigger to check in with your clients to see how the communication and overall relationship is going. Assuming that there aren't problems, take the time to ask for help in helping others.

4) Not Being Referable in the First Place

Are you referable? How do you know? One barometer of your referability is that you’re getting referrals without asking for them. Are you?

Every business owner, salesperson and professional -- you name it -- should be getting referrals without asking for them. So how do you become more referable? In many cases, your actual product or service is not what fully determine your referability. It’s the process of doing business with you. Having great products certainly helps, but the greatest product in the world won’t prompt a client to give you referrals if your process is not referable. Think process, not products.

5) Thinking Great Service Alone is Enough

Many salespeople walk around under the illusion that “If I just serve the heck out of my clients, they will refer me to others.” Well … some will. But many more won’t unless you nudge the process along and become proactive.

Let me give you the 60% rule that I share in my speeches, seminars, and training programs. Everyone’s numbers are different, but it goes like this: 20% of your clients will give you referrals -- almost no matter what. These are the folks whose brains are wired to give referrals. 20% of your clients will never give you referrals -- no matter what. You could run into a burning building and save their children and they wouldn’t give you referrals. They have different “wiring.”

And the remainder? That's the 60% of clients who will have a conversation with you about referrals, but not unless you bring it up. Not all of them will give you referrals on the spot, but some will do so over time. 

6) Not Using a Systematic Approach

Asking for referrals is like playing pool. As you’re trying to make a particular shot, you’re also looking ahead to your next shot. You’re trying to leave your cue ball in position to make your next shot. In pool, one shot leads to the next.

That’s how we should think about our client acquisition process. We convert the prospect into a client. That’s good. We make the shot. But without a simple referral process in place, what happens next? Do you have to get back on the phone and make cold calls? Do you have to gear up to do another seminar or another direct mail piece? Or maybe you just wait around for your next referral?

With a referral process in place, you bring a prospect into your sphere of influence and convert them into a client in such a way that not only do they become a client, but they lead you to others. The good news about referrals is that one client can lead to two, and two can lead to four, and four can lead to eight. With a steady referral process in place, your business grows exponentially.

So there you have it. Six common referral mistakes. Are there more than these? You bet, but these are some of the key mistakes for you to consider and to avoid.

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