Approaching Referrals – How To Ask


606px-Target_223_Savage_10FP_5_shot_closeupThere is considerable rhetoric in the market around referrals.  Similarly, there is always a constant friction between sales management and sales teams about asking of referrals.  Some do it, most don’t.  Few do it well.

 The common theme with most referral strategies is a ‘low threat’ request.  Asking the expansive, all encompassing questions around ‘Do you know anyone…’ and iterations like this.  Shotgunning referrals – casting the net wide and far to ensure you capture everyone. 

 What’s wrong with this?

Well, nothing in essence,  It will secure you referrals – though it does create some problems.  Framing the question as ‘anyone’ makes it very difficult for someone to think of someone specific.  They will suddenly not be able to see the wood for the trees mentally and it will be difficult for them to give you a specific name.  Usually, you will get the most recent interaction they’ve had which could be a referral – rather than the best.

 Also, whether you discuss it or not, your client will make assumptions as to what type of clients you would like to be referred to.  You are at the mercy of their view of your ideal client.  Worse, once referred, you have to action it.    This strategy is very much like fishing with a net.  Sure you can target the specifies you want to catch – however you also have to deal with many which you don’t. 

Most sales people adopt the above strategy because they actually don’t know who their targets are, so can’t/don’t ask for them by name. 

What many referral strategies and sales courses forget to say is referrals are part of a Prospecting Strategy – not to be tagged on to the end of a sales process (like most courses propose).    What does this mean?  Before asking for referrals – you need to invest a bit more time.   Understand what your ideal clients look like, develop a list of target clients and understand why you want to deal with them.  Then find out who deals with them that you know.

Invest time in this and suddenly referrals are easy and far more successful.  Better, you end up dealing with clients you’re interested in.   Instead of ‘Do you know anyone….’ you are asking ‘I see from XXX, that you know John from YYY, I’d love to talk to him….’

Here’s an example.  I rang one of my intermediaries to ask if they could introduce me to a large business I see they had recently engaged with.  They told me they believed they were quite happy with their current bank, however were seeing them next week and would ask if they were interested in meeting with me.  As it turns out, they were unhappy with their bank and, yes, were most certainly interested in meeting me.

My intermediary, if I had asked the well worn ‘Do you know anyone…’ would never have mentioned this business given he thought they were happy with their current bank’.  Also, I got referral in to my ideal client, not any client.

So, when asking for referrals moving forward – ask to be introduced to specific businesses/people by people in your network who you know are engaged with your target.  Your referral success will increase dramatically.



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