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5 tips for a successful referral request

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You’ve probably been told your entire career that you have to ask for referrals and that if you don’t ask for referrals, you will not succeed. But if you’re like most salespeople, the referrals you have gotten have been about as targeted as a dart thrown blindly at a phonebook. You may have come to the conclusion that referrals are nothing more than a myth and given up seeking them out of frustration.

However, referral generation fails primarily due to strategy. The “do a good job for your client and ask for referrals” approach is woefully inadequate. Let’s take a look at the primary problems the traditional referral “method” creates:

1. The referral question comes out of the blue. Most clients are not comfortable when put on the spot. When we ask for a referral, we may be thinking that we’re asking for a small favor, but most clients take the request far more seriously than that. When clients give referrals, they may believe they are putting their reputations on the line. If we really want quality referrals, we have to allow our clients the time to become comfortable with the idea of giving us referrals before we ask for them.
2. We don’t give our clients sufficient opportunity. When we follow the traditional do-a-good-job-and-ask-for-referrals approach, we literally ask them to go through their mental file cabinet and come up with great referrals in the course of 10 or 15 seconds. That is an unrealistic expectation, and when we put our clients in this position, we usually get what we deserve: little to nothing of value.
3. Our clients don’t know who we’re seeking. Not only do we expect our clients to be able to give great referrals off the tops of their heads, but we also expect them to know exactly who we might be able to help. Many times, our clients haven’t yet had the opportunity to fully appreciate what we’ve done for them, much less know the breadth of our capabilities. We’re asking our clients to do the impossible: know our businesses as well as we do.
4. It ignores human nature. The traditional referral request is one-sided and offers the client no incentive to participate. There are clients who will give referrals even when there is nothing in it for them, but human nature being what it is, the referral request can be far more successful if it can be shown to benefit the client as well as the seller.
5. It makes the client do the work. Rather than making it easy for our clients to give us referrals, we make it difficult by asking them to do something they are ill prepared — and often disinclined — to do: work. If you can spend some time exploring your clients’ contacts before you make a request, you may be able to do some of the work for them. Make it so easy that literally all they have to do is say “yes.”

When practiced properly, referral generation can be a highly successful business tool — one that lays the foundation for lasting success.

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Paul McCord is a best-selling author, speaker and leading authority on lead generation. He has more than 20 years’ experience coaching and mentoring salespeople. For more information, go to