How To Get More Qualified Leads From Your Network
Behind Door No. 1 are one dozen warm leads. Behind Door No. 2 are three times as many cold suspects. Which door would you want to open? I’m sure you said Door No. 1. But what if in order to gain access to the leads behind Door No. 1, you have to ask someone to refer you to them first? Which door would you open now? Regrettably, for too many salespeople and business owners, the answer to the second, qualified question is not an automatic “Door No. 1.” When it comes to asking people for referrals, they suddenly shrink away from the opportunity.
This seems to fly in the face of logic. The benefits of asking for referrals are obvious. Because you are being introduced by a trusted intermediary, you have immediate credibility. You avoid having to spend time (a) identifying the appropriate person in an organization and (b) placing multiple calls trying to reach that person, to whom you are an unknown quantity.
So why, then, are many of us reluctant to ask for referrals? Curious to know, I’ve asked several people. Here is a sampling of the responses I got:
- “The client paid us and I got my commission. I don’t feel I have the right to ask for anything else.”
- “I feel like I’m imposing on people.”
- “I’d like to, but I don’t know how to do so tactfully.”
As you can see, these are emotional reasons. They are all reasonable, but the fact remains that these people are missing out on the tremendous benefits provided by referrals. So how do they — and you — get past these concerns? To begin, you may need to get out of your own way. Here’s a three-step process for doing so.
Question your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way when so many other people clearly don’t?
Play out a referral-asking scenario in your mind. What’s the worst that could happen? Will the new client cancel his order? Will the happy client suddenly become unhappy and bolt for the competition? Not likely. What’s the best that could happen? “Craig, I’d be happy to give you a couple of names! I was wondering why you’d never asked. Our salespeople ask for referrals all the time.”
Try it. The most effective way to overcome our fears is to confront them. Take your best client to lunch, and — at the appropriate time — ask who he thinks would like to hear from you.
Next, you need to identify whom you can reasonably ask for referrals. Clients who are pleased with your product and service, and with you, are an obvious place to start. But they’re not the only ones to seek out. People in your network — professional relationships you’ve established, former colleagues and people in organizations, clubs and places of worship to which you belong — are all sources of referrals.
But why would any of these people want to give you a referral? Well, some won’t. But some will — and they’ll have any number of reasons for doing so. Some might do it to return a favor you did for them in the past. Others may do it because they believe that what goes around comes around. And some may do it simply because they like you and want to help. For example, in the last two months, I have referred six people to others in my network. I connected one person who was looking to hire an intern with a college student who had once worked for me. I sent four job leads to people looking for work, and one candidate to someone looking to hire. In each case, I asked for nothing in return.
Don’t you agree that each of these people would welcome — even be eager for — the opportunity to reciprocate? In order to create this reciprocity, you have to get out and establish relationships; that means networking. Build up a reservoir of goodwill by serving others. Provide unexpected benefits. Doing so sets the table for the reciprocity you seek to create.
Next, it’s important to know when to ask for a referral, for as they say, timing is everything. There’s a school of thought that says the best time to ask for a referral from a client is right after you close the sale. I disagree. The best time to ask for a referral is after the person feels he’s received value from you. What value have you provided by closing a sale? Wait a while, then circle back to make sure the client is satisfied. Then wait a short while longer so you don’t appear predatory. The client, by now, should be happy to provide you with a number of referrals.
Similarly, if you’ve helped out people in your network who are not clients, you’ll want to approach them for a referral — but not immediately after, lest it look like you did the good turn for the sole purpose of getting a reciprocal benefit. The point is, you have to start building your reservoir of goodwill before you can start tapping into it.
Lastly, it’s important to know how to ask for a referral. You don’t want to come across as a beggar. Be self-assured; really ask for the referral. Too many people are vague — “Here are some business cards… let me know if you know anyone.” And, of course, nothing happens. Instead, make a direct request. Your goal should be to get introduced, by e-mail or by phone, not simply to get a name and phone number. In asking for the referral, be sure to help the person help you by telling him what a good prospect is: the size of your ideal prospect company, geography, industry, etc. Prompt him to think about the people he knows — the organizations and clubs he belongs to, his former employers, his clients and suppliers, people in his spouse’s circles. But don’t put him on the spot by asking for those names now. Most likely he’s not going to be able to think of anyone right then and there. Give him time to think, and to go through his Rolodex. Ask when a good time would be to follow up, then be sure to follow up on that day. Providing this guidance will yield many more names than just asking, “Whom do you know?”
The example below puts all of these principles into practice:
Salesperson: I’m just following up to make sure you’re satisfied, that I delivered on the value you expected when you hired me. Did I?
Salesperson: Good. May I ask a favor of you? Would you feel comfortable connecting me with people in your network who you think might be in a position to benefit from the kinds of services I provide?
Client: No, I wouldn’t mind making some introductions.
Salesperson: Great. Now, I know from experience that it’s almost impossible to come up with any names on the spot. So why don’t we reconnect sometime next week, say, Wednesday? Would that give you enough time?
Client: That works.
Salesperson: Great. And just to help you determine who would be a good candidate for an introduction, let me tell you what that would look like.
A good referral for me is
-An owner of a 10- to 20-person business
-Located within 40 miles of my office
-In the software/high-tech industry, or sells a product with a high price tag
I’ll circle back to you next Wednesday. Until then, have a great week!
The bottom line is, if you are providing value, you’ve earned the right to ask for a referral. So go forth confidently and open Door No. 1, behind which are your best leads — referred leads.