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The Key to Unlocking Referrals

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As salespeople, we understand that, generally speaking, referred prospects accelerate through the sales pipeline at a much faster rate than other types of opportunities. Furthermore, they also tend to be more receptive toward providing referrals themselves.

What are the biggest barriers to getting referrals? If you can incorporate asking for referrals into the sales process, you will have a rigorous method for measuring and monitoring how many referrals are generated and what the conversion rates are for closing client-referred business.

Energy goes where attention flows, so without specific attention given to the act of asking for referrals, you may be coming up short in this area. For many salespeople, asking for referrals can be uncomfortable. Perhaps they feel unsure about how to do this effectively or they aren’t confident they will get the desired response.

If you don’t know how to do something and you believe that it may damage your existing relationships, then you may be inclined to avoid it all together. Additionally, if you make the common mistake of asking for referrals too early in the relationship, this can result in a refusal, which can erode your confidence.

The following are the main components of referral-based selling:

  • Asking for referrals needs to be incorporated in the overall sales process.
  • The metrics of referrals needs to be evaluated on a regular basis, because this furthers the rationale for generating them.
  • Your sales team needs to be trained to maximize the impact of referrals and feel confident in this skill.

When is the best time to ask for referrals? People will freely give referrals when they have benefited from your product/service and have an established relationship with you. This rarely occurs during the initial meeting because, while they may like you, they haven’t yet validated what you can do for them. That’s why asking for referrals should occur when the relationship is strong enough to ensure the client’s trust and belief in you.

You can assess the strength of an existing customer relationship based on factors such as how frequently you communicate, the length of your relationship and the client’s level of satisfaction. Customers with the highest scores based on these relationship criteria should be approached for referrals.

When a client gives you a referral, ask for permission to use his or her name when making contact. Alternatively, where your relationship is “rock solid,” ask the client to make the initial introduction by letter or email. Often clients will give a glowing testimonial and create a relevant context when introducing you.

And don’t forget to thank your clients for the referral and keep them apprised of your progress. This creates a positive association in their minds—the referral is then their success, too—and encourages more referrals in the future.

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Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, consultant and chairman of The JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. For more information and tips from Jonathan, visit, or go to his blog at