Many selling professionals are of the mindset that it’s inappropriate to ask clients for referrals until after the clients have experienced the outcomes promised by their product or service. Their thinking is that if they deliver the intended outcomes, and do so in an exceptional manner, clients will be more willing to provide a name or two when asked. While there is some logic to that thinking, it is an after-the-fact strategy. That is, the requests for referrals occur after the sales are closed, the products are delivered, the services implemented, and the outcomes are achieved - which can be several weeks, months, or longer after the initial interactions with clients. More importantly, by relying on the outcomes created by the product or service, to justify the request, the significance of the selling professional’s role in creating the relationship for generating referrals is devalued. Clients’ willingness to provide referrals is primarily a matter of trust. And, selling professionals can earn that trust not only by providing products and services that ultimately deliver exceptional results, but also by “delivering” exceptional experiences… starting with the initial interactions.
How does one deliver exceptional experiences?
• By being well-informed about their prospects, their industries, their markets, and their competition. And then, by using that information to keep conversations focused on issues relevant to the prospects’ concerns.
• By asking thought-provoking questions that help prospects examine their situations from alternate perspectives and discover things they didn’t know before the interaction.
• By refraining from talking about their products and services until after the need for them is established.
• By being up-front with prospects when they determine that their product or service is not the best-fit for their prospects’ intended needs.
When you think of “trust” as something that is established at the beginning of your interaction with prospects, and not something that is only created after the sale is concluded and the intended results are proven, you will recognize that the opportunity to ask for referrals is created at a much earlier time in the relationship. And when is that time?
Immediately after you close the sale. But don't ask for referrals (names and contact information), just ask for a referral-based relationship. And don't use the word "referrals" - instead use "introductions." Your prospects and clients have heard the "referral" request too often, and the word "referral" is amateurish and outdated. So remember, you only want to establish a referral-based relationship initially - the introductions will come. It might sound like this when you close the sale:
"Linda, thanks for the opportunity to work together. There is something else that I would like to share with you. Our company's goal is not to meet, but to exceed your expectations. In order to do that I will continue to be involved. My responsibilities are to find others like you that we can do business with, however making sure that we have a successful implementation here is more important to me. You may not always see me, but I will be in the background inquiring with our team frequently to make sure all is well. Additionally, I would like to communicate directly with you from time to time - to understand from your perspective how we are doing. When we do speak, first and foremost, it will be to understand if we are meeting (or exceeding) your expectations. However, along the way I would also like to know if there's anyone else that you might know where you might feel comfortable giving me an introduction. Will you be okay with that type of relationship?"
Your new clients will never say "No" to this. Most all will readily agree, and a few may respond with something like, "Well we have to see how everything goes with us first." What is wrong with that! What I hear with this is, if everything goes well, I will help you. It's human nature - most people want to help others whenever they can. And I believe our clients want to help us, but we have to be the ones to initiate this. Also, in the example above notice that the word "referrals" was not used, and we are only asking for the relationship initially.
If prospects have enough trust to place their business with you, they most likely have enough trust to refer you to colleagues or business associates who could also benefit from what you have to offer. The only obstacle preventing you from establishing a referral-based relationship early on is your reluctance to ask and/or not having a preplanned strategy for asking. Let’s deal with each.
If you are of the mindset that you must first deliver the promised results before it’s appropriate to ask for referrals, the only way to get over that type of thinking is to STOP thinking it. It can be difficult to simply switch off that belief, and you need a process to help you do so. Grab a sheet of paper and write the following 100 times:
"By developing rapport and creating an environment of trust with my clients, I earn the right to ask for a referral-based relationship."
If you actually attempted the exercise, somewhere between the twelfth and twentieth iteration, you will begin to buy into the notion.
What is the best strategy for asking for referrals?
Just ask by using my example above and modify it where necessary.
But, you must ask intelligently. That is, first frame the question in the context of the relationship (like the above) when you close the sale. And then at a later date, at the appropriate time, share with your client the profile and position, or title, of the people to whom you would like to be introduced.
Will you receive introductions from all of your clients by doing this? Of course not. But you will receive far more than if you don't do this with your new clients. Plus, you have nothing to lose by asking. And, you will have planted a seed with them for future cultivation.
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