Referrals: Appliances, Lobster Ravioli, and Your Sales Pipeline

lobster_ravioliA common tool for the sales executive who crushes their numbers every year is having several potential customer referrals always in the sales pipeline. Do you? If not, you should probably be asking for more. Why don’t you? Are you afraid you’ll bother your customers or seem salesy (combination of sales + cheesy)? Let’s take a look at the ‘Other-Centered’ reasons why you should be asking for potential customer referrals.

Earlier this spring, we remodeled our kitchen. As we were wrapping up the project, some friends came over to visit. They saw our shiny new appliances and asked, “Where did you get your appliances?” We were happy to provide the information, share our good experience, and even add in a strong recommendation that they call our contact, Liz. Two months later, my friend, Jim, calls me to say “Thanks for referring us to Liz. She was great, and we love our appliances and the service we got.” Everybody won. Liz did a good job for us and got a referral and more business. Jim saved a lot of time shopping for the right appliance store and ended up with a good experience. I enjoyed the sense of satisfaction from helping my friend, Jim, with a good referral.

As a customer of a good product or service, you probably make referrals or suggestions to your friends and family all the time about what they should buy and where they should buy it. “You have to get the Lobster Ravioli – it’s awesome.” Why, because you sincerely want them to have a good experience, and selfishly, you want to take some credit for discovering it.

The same applies to your business customers. They want colleagues to have a good experience. They just need some help. So how would you grade your efforts at asking your clients to provide referrals? I bet most of you would grade yourself at a B or lower. You might also admit you just don’t ask for referrals as often as you could or should. The question is, “Why not?” Usually, the reason is that you don’t feel good about asking. It’s a favor, and you don’t want to bother the client or company they might refer. As you start the year and customers are in an energetic, “keeping-their-resolutions mode”, why don’t you make a goal to get two to three good referrals. The key to your success will be doing it in an ‘Other-Centered’ way. Set up a business review or status update conversation and be prepared to thank them, review your relationship from last year, and ask how you can help improve this year. Then, follow these keys during and after the meeting to ensure the referral request enhances your existing relationship, regardless if you get and/or close a new referred customer:

During the meeting

Focus on benefits: During the business review or project recap, drive the conversation to have your customer share the benefits they’ve realized by working with you. This will be the bridge for you to ask who else they think would potentially value the same benefits in their business. “Did you find working with us beneficial? Why? Who else can you think of that might also find it beneficial?”

Explain your ideal client: Avoid forcing a client to give you a bad referral that is not worthwhile to pursue. Explain the type of client your products and services have the biggest impact on and where you can benefit the most – profile, size, industry, etc. The more you describe, the more likely they are come up with some ideas. Be sure to remember the profile of the customer you are talking to. After your description of your “ideal client”, they should see themselves as part of that group vs. a one-off customer that doesn’t really fit.

After the meeting

Keep the referrer informed: Reach back out to your customer or original referrer to keep them in the loop. Did you contact the person? What happened? Why will/won’t you be working with them in the future? You can let them know you haven’t heard back, but you’ll try again in the near future. Do not ask them for help, they’ll offer if it’s appropriate.

Thank them – Sincerely. Send a note. Give a small, personalized gift, provide an unexpected free service. Later, give them a referral. Better yet, get the new client to thank your referrer. Maybe even take them out for that Lobster Ravioli. It really is awesome…

Good luck.

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