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Referral Reluctance: What Are You Afraid Of?

In a recent post, I wrote about the importance of referral business and promised to share with you ways to consistently produce referral business.

Here we go…

With so much evidence proving why referrals are important – and enough consensus among sales professionals regarding the positive nature of referrals – why are they still underutilized?

It comes down to what I call “referral reluctance,” the overwhelming psychological state that paralyzes salespeople and prevents them from cultivating referral business. Working through this requires more than a rousing pep talk or dress-down, as you’ll soon see.

Here are four major reasons why so many sales professionals don’t do more with referrals:

1 They don’t want to ruin a positive new relationship. 

Sometimes people will say to me, “But, Mark, I’ve just closed the deal, and now I have to ask for more business?” 

This reluctance is understandable. The early stages of a new relationship between a salesperson and a customer can seem especially fragile. In fact, this is often why salespeople are reluctant to have colleagues interact with their own clients or customers.

Take another look at the language used above. The term “closed” suggests that the relationship is so tenuous that it took everything the seller had to convince the buyer to commit, and now the seller doesn’t want to jeopardize that delicate condition.

So what’s the solution? Make sure you’re on firmer footing with your buyer. Your relationship needs to be based on mutual trust and respect. Go out of your way to impress with your willingness to work hard. Be honest and forthright, too. And keep your promises – early, often and always. It’s essential that this relationship be a strong one.

In essence, be like your favorite leather jacket: comfortable and relaxed. (Then ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, the fragility of this new relationship exists largely in your own mind.)

2. They don’t want to sound like they’re selling encyclopedias. 

You’ve probably noticed there aren’t too many of those door-to-door peddlers around anymore. There’s a reason for that, and never mind the Internet: Customers don’t want to interact with stereotypical, high-pressure salespeople. (Read this in your best Rocky Balboa voice: “Yo, you know anyone else who might wanna buy from me?”)

To counteract buyers’ fears of high-pressure attacks, acquire the strategies, tactics and skills necessary to prove you possess the confidence to make any sale.

3. They don’t want to put the customer in an awkward position. 

And they shouldn’t. If you can’t ask for referrals properly, don’t do it. Next reason.

4. They don’t know how to ask. 

I’m dumbfounded by sales managers who growl, “Everyone knows how to ask for referrals.”

I don’t think so.

Asking for referrals is a specialized skill, unlike any other aspect of selling. Generating referrals broadens the scope of the interaction between buyer and seller, boasts a social component and boosts your own credibility. This is actually complicated stuff.

Developing formal instructions for requesting and acting on referrals is a dynamite idea. The notion that someone should just naturally “know” how to get referrals is ridiculous. 

That said, here’s one technique that isn’t complicated. It leverages the age-old persuasion principle of reciprocity, which is that we want to repay others in kind. If you do this consistently with all your customers, you will see results.

Call all your existing customers and leave the following voice mail message:

“Hey, Steve. Mark Rodgers, your Harley-Davidson connection, calling.

I know you’re in commercial real estate, and I want you to know that if anyone ever mentions they are in search of commercial property, I will mention your name.

Hopefully, if anyone you know is interested in buying a Harley-Davidson, you’ll do the same for me.

No need to return this call — just wanted you to know that I am spreading the good news about you!”

This requires – of course – that you document the person’s profession in your CRM.

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard this idea, but it’s a good one. Do it every month with all of your buyers. Some may ask you to “stop with the voicemail messages already!” But deep down, they’re smiling knowing they’ve got someone else out there advocating for them.

Because, if you’re advocating for them, they just may be spreading the good news about you, too!