As a business owner, I deal with outside salespeople on a regular basis. Most naturally ask for referrals at some point after the sale, or in many cases, several times after the sale.
Some never stop.
Here’s the problem: The sales reps who get referrals from me don’t need to ask. They’ve earned them in advance, and I offer them up without having to be asked.
Let’s take it a step further: When I’m so happy and pleased with a product, or a service, or the quality of customer support I’ve received, I can’t wait to tell others about it! And that’s where most of my referrals come from.
Requests for referrals run from the timid, “Do you have anyone you think I can call?” to the pushy, “I’ve done a good job for you so you’d better give me some referrals,” to everything in between.
As I’ve already mentioned, the people who get referrals from me never have to ask. They’ve earned them in advance, and I’m happy to provide them.
In my books I talk about the concept of doing such a good job for your customers that they stop thinking of you as a salesperson. They consider you a trusted advisor instead. Once you reach this level of customer satisfaction, you’ll likely never have to do any sales prospecting again, because people will be begging to meet with you.
What most salespeople don’t understand is that people want to buy your products!* Yes, they really do want to buy! In spite of all the confidence-destroying “how to handle objections” lesson that every corporate sales program teaches (a lesson that causes salespeople to expect objections and therefore get objections), lots of people want what you have. Probably more than you think.
And guess who has access to those people? Yes, your existing customer base! It only makes sense that they have access to similar people. Business owners hang out with other business owners. Doctors hang out with other doctors. And so on. Make a customer very happy, and that customer is going to talk about you whether you ask for a referral or not.
I recently relocated and had to find a new dealer to service my car. There are two in town. One is ten minutes from my house, and the other is over thirty minutes away. I chose the latter and drive that far because a trusted friend referred them to me.
More importantly, I was told to stay away from the other dealer because their service is terrible!
Your customers will give you hot referrals too, if you perform for them. If you don’t meet their expectations, they’ll tell people to stay away.
There is one situation that you really can’t do much about: If you work for a company that has lousy service, you’re in a tough spot. I’ve been there too – I worked in the telecommunications industry for several years, which is notorious for horrible customer service. If you’re in that position, find a new job. If you need to find a new industry then do it. It isn’t that difficult – sales skills are the same no matter what you’re selling. Human nature never changes, and it isn’t that difficult to learn a new product line.
Remember, if you deserve referrals, you’ll never need to ask for them. Do right by your customers and they’ll do right by you!
*NOTE: There’s a catch – you do need to be selling a product that people actually need and want. For example, I got out of the telecom industry when it denigrated into, “We can save you $50 on your monthly phone bill.” Few small business owners can be bothered taking time out of their day to save such a small amount of money. And most know that cheap services are bad services. If you’re representing an obsolete product or a dying industry, it’s your responsibility to re-educate yourself and find new employment before you find yourself unemployed.