Developing new business has many avenues, and given that many sales people are reluctant to cold call, getting introductions through referrals from existing customers, friends, and business associates is a far more pleasant way of starting the selling process. And that, of course, is the unfortunate truth; it’s only an introduction and it’s only part of a process to take you to a closed piece of business.
The fact is the referral still needs to be intelligently engaged, qualified for need, budget, and ability to make a decision.
I know many people in sales who belong to referral groups and some depend on the group members to keep them in future contacts. There’s nothing wrong with referral groups, but they do not take the place of prospecting, cold calling, networking or many other proactive business development activities. There is a danger that we can become dependent on these leads and not take personal responsibility to find new opportunities ourselves.
Referrals are step one of a process. Just because you have a comfortable introduction, you can’t depend on it being a match for future business. Does your system allow you to quickly qualify or disqualify the referral prospect? Can you tell if you have a quality referral?
Ideally, quality referrals will include an introduction from your existing contact and some information about the prospect and the issues you might be able to solve. The key to getting referrals outside of structured referral groups is to ask for them. Many times we think if I do a good job for my client or I’m outgoing and charming to prospects, they’ll give me referrals. It rarely happens. Think of the last three people you bought from who did a really good job. Did you call them and give them a list of contacts because you were pleased with their product or service? Probably not.
Referrals are great and you should constantly ask for them from existing contacts. However, they do not replace prospecting, they do not turn into a sale without superior systems, and you can’t expect them to be given to you.
Don’t let your fear of cold calling make you a believer that building your business on referrals will take you to increased growth, as well as to your personal and business goals. You must be more than a one-dimensional salesperson.