The Secret To Predictably Finding New Sales Opportunities

Randy Illig

Ready to hear the elusive secret to reliably growing your sales revenue? Ask for referrals.

But you knew that, didn’t you? Every salesperson does or at least claims to know. When it comes to referrals the problem is the vast majority simply don’t ask, don’t ask well, and don’t deliver when they do secure a referral.

The best salespeople have a high referral rate, and they develop “evergreen” sources, meaning a constant flow of referrals. To get to that level you need to improve your ability to ask for referrals, then deliver such exceptional service that the experience reflects well on your existing clients, making them eager to refer more people in the future.

Here’s how to get really good at this:

Illuminate the opportunity. Take this quick quiz to see where your referral opportunity lies. Jot down these numbers—a back-of-the-envelope estimate is fine:

  • How many people do you know who could give you a referral?
  • How many of them have you asked?
  • Of those that you’ve asked, how many agreed to give you a referral?
  • Of those who agreed, how many actually did?
  • Of those that did, how many meetings did you get?
  • How much revenue did you book as a result?

Most people stumble at question two; they simply haven’t asked most of their connections for a referral, leaving an incredible resource on the table. The real trouble area is question 4. Many people if asked will politely say yes. It is up to you to turn that yes into an actual referral.

  • Be direct. A general-purpose ask won’t cut it: “Do you know anybody else I should talk to?” or “If you think of it, would you give me a referral?” Or worse, “Can I leave this card with you?” If those are your standard lines, don’t be surprised when you get very low-impact results.

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Instead, be very specific in your ask, down to which organization, locale, role or person you’d like to be connected with. Browse your client’s LinkedIn connections and suggest a name.

  • Ease the burden. Give them text to share, whether they choose to share that by text message, voicemail, in person, or email. Another option is to ask if you can copy them on an email they would then reply to. For example: “Could I copy you on a note to your IT director, introducing myself and referencing you? Would you then please reply to that note with whatever you’d like Sam to know, perhaps that I’m a good person to talk to and that I’d be helpful and not pester him?”
  • Make it clear you’ll add value. The last thing your client wants to do is to send a pesky salesperson to their friend, colleague or associate. Set your client’s expectations about what will happen if they refer you. Consider saying something like, “If you’re willing to make this connection, here’s what’s going to happen. I’ll reach out to them and give them the white glove treatment. I’ll make sure it’s very clear that if they’re not interested, that’s totally okay, I’ll take them off my list, and I won’t call them again. If they do decide to have a dialogue with me, they’ll get my very best effort and my very best pricing. And if they buy something from me, I’ll make sure they are satisfied with the product/service.” Your client should be confident their referral will be treated well and the experience will reflect well on them.
  • Close the loop. Express thanks to the person who made the referral in multiple stages. Immediately after they make the referral, send them a handwritten note. If that’s old-fashioned for you, send an email or text, but either way, make sure they immediately know you’re thankful. If you end up making a sale, consider sending them a book, a bottle of wine, a gift card, or some other gesture that closes that loop. And then when the referral succeeds with your product or service, send your original client a follow-up note letting them know of the great results.

“Guarantee” is a strong word, but in this case, it’s apt: if you become more skilled at asking for referrals from your existing relationships, I would guarantee that your sales will increase significantly.